Science Faculty Spotlight: Loraine K. Obler

April 12, 2017

Dr. Loraine K. Obler, a neurolinguist, is a Distinguished Professor in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences and in Linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is internationally known for her book opening up the field of neurolinguistic study of multilingualism with her 1978 Academic Press book (with Martin Albert) “The Bilingual Brain: Neuropsychological and Neurolinguistic Aspects of Bilingualism”. In this book, they were the first to report right-hemisphere brain involvement in early, less-proficient stages of new-language learning; this finding has been replicated many times since.

At the Harold Goodglass Aphasia Research Center, she expanded her research foci beyond aphasia to include studies of language in aging and Alzheimer's Disease. Her Language in the Aging Brain Lab (where she and  Martin Albert are co-PIs) has been funded from 1976 through the present by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Veterans Administration. Among their most-cited findings were the still unexplained discovery, often-replicated across languages, that the average patient with Broca's aphasia is about ten years younger than the average patient with Wernicke's aphasia. Most recently (Obler et al., 2010) they have found right-hemisphere involvement complementing left hemisphere processes in the naming and sentence-comprehension of better-performing older adults.

Dr. Obler was, as well, among the earliest researchers to associate a trajectory of language changes across Alzheimer's Disease. Her cross-language aphasia work with Lise Menn has been credited with demonstrating differences among spared and impaired morphological elements linked to languages' peculiar morphosyntactic repertoires.

Currently Dr. Obler has students working with her on dissertations on 1) semantic-category decline in Alzheimer's Disease, the Primary Progressive Aphasias, 2) transcranial Direct Cortical Stimulation (tDCS)), a cutting-edge technology that may improve declining lexical retrieval in healthy elderly, 3) memory as it interacts with processing a proficient second language, and 4) using verb structures to enhance language recovery in bilingual aphasia. Recent graduates from her Neurolinguistics Lab have used structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) data to study decline in naming among older adults (Hyun, 2016), tDCS to study the role of the anterior temporal lobes in lexical retrieval in young adults (Ashaie, 2016), electrophysiology to study the effects of second-language syntactic structure on the first language (Higby, 2016) and discourse analysis to study language mixing in Kannada-English bilinguals with aphasia (Paplikar, 2016).

Dr. Obler has received a number of awards, among them Honorary Doctorates in recognition of her research from Stockholm University in Sweden and from Turku University in Finland and a Senior Specialist Fulbright award to contribute to the Multilingual and Multicultural Issues in Speech-Language Pathology program at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem , She has been invited to give numerous keynote lectures and to teach short courses in Europe and Latin America at a number of institutions including at the St. Petersburg Institute in Russia, PUCI in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and University of Oslo's MultiLing Center.