British academy


26 Jul 2011

Chomsky critic gets more than a monkey for prestigious psychology award

American developmental psychologist, Professor Dr Michael Tomasello, has been named as this year’s recipient of the prestigious Wiley Prize in Psychology, awarded by the British Academy in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell, the scientific, technical, medical and scholarly publishers of the global publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The £5,000 prize for ‘lifetime achievement by an outstanding international scholar’, is in recognition of Tomasello’s work identifying the unique cognitive and cultural processes that distinguish humans from their nearest primate relatives, the great apes. Professor Tomasello also works on child language and is a strong critic of generative grammar theory, expounded by British Academy Fellow, Noam Chomsky, subscribing instead to the cognitive linguistics school of linguistic theory.

Tomasello was a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1980s and 1990s, until he moved to Germany where he currently studies the social cognition of great apes at the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center in Leipzig.

Michael Tomasello, Winner of the 2011 British Academy Wiley Prize in Psychology said:

“I am of course surprised and honored to receive this award - no one doing research ever expects anything like this. We are engaged in a labor of love and prizes are always surprises.”

Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy said:

“We are delighted to be able to recognise the considerable achievements of Professor Tomasello by awarding him the 2011 Wiley Prize. His signal work has made a considerable contribution to our understanding of social cognition and linguistics.”

Philip Carpenter, VP and Managing Director, Social Science and Humanities at Wiley-Blackwell, said:

"John Wiley and Sons has a deep commitment to supporting reserach and publication in psychology and linguistics, and is delighted that the third British Academy Wiley prize is being awarded to Dr Michael Tomasello for his distinguished work in those fields, including some key contributions in Child Development, Developmental Science and other Wiley publications." 

Other medals and prizes awarded by the British Academy for 2011 are listed below.


For further information on the prize, or to request an interview with Dr Tomasello contact:

Jayne Phenton at the British Academy 020 7969 5263 or


About the British Academy

The British Academy is the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in these disciplines throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. For more information about the Academy please go to our website at

About Wiley:

Founded in 1807, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., has been a valued source of information and understanding for more than 200 years, helping people around the world meet their needs and fulfill their aspirations. Since 1901, Wiley and its acquired companies have published the works of more than 400 Nobel laureates in all categories: Literature, Economics, Physiology/Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Peace. Wiley’s core businesses include scientific, technical, medical and scholarly (STMS) journals, encyclopedias, books and online products and services; professional/trade books, subscription products, training materials, online applications and Web sites; and educational materials for undergraduate and graduate students and lifelong learners. Wiley’s global headquarters are located in Hoboken, N.J., with operations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Canada and Australia. The company's Web site can be accessed at The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbols JWa and JWb.

British Academy Medals and Prizes awarded 2011

Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies
PROFESSOR ANDREW MAYES, Trinity College Dublin

Derek Allen Prize (Numismatics)
DR MARK BLACKBURN, Fitzwilliam Museum

John Coles Medal for Landscape Archaeology
DR CONOR NEWMAN, National University of Ireland

Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for English Literature
FIONA STAFFORD for Local Attachments: The Province of Poetry

Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Prize for English Language and Literature

Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies and Archaeology

Serena Medal for Italian Studies

Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize
MS JULIA JOHNSON, MS SHEEN ROLPH and MR RANDALL SMITH for Residential Care Transformed: Revisiting ‘The Last Refuge’

British Academy President’s Medals
SIR NICHOLAS KENYON, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre
MS GILLIAN TETT, author and journalist, US Managing Editor, The Financial Times
MS SHARON WITHERSPOON, The Nuffield Foundation