Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

What happens in the brain when we hear a sentence or form one? Why is it that children and adults can all learn languages, but children are usually far more successful at it – or is that a false impression? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Dutch city of Nijmegen are getting to the bottom of questions like these in the course of their work. They are also interested in how language and thinking affect one another, what role the cultural environment plays in this. The five areas of Language Development, Neurobiology of Language, Psychology of Language, Language and cognition, and Language and Genetics define the Institute’s scientific framework. These areas are heavily interconnected through close collaboration between departments and research groups, in line with the interdisciplinary nature of this research field.

Contact

Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen, Niederlande
Phone: +31 24 3521-911
Fax: +31 24 3521-213

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Language Sciences

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

<p>Culture shapes the brain</p>

Culture shapes the brain

April 20, 2018
From a research perspective, reading and writing is a fascinating phenomenon. After all, the first writing systems date back less than 6,000 years – the blink of an eye in the timescale of human evolution. How the human brain is nonetheless able to master this complex task is a key question. more
Seeing sounds
Researchers gain new insights into why people connect sensory experiences more
<p>Gestures provide instant answers</p>
Hand movements and facial expressions are a crucial component of communication more
The amazing flexibility of the human mind
Even learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms brain networks more
Defects in non-coding DNA could cause brain disorders
Researchers identifiy 26 variants in the 3’UTRome in patients with neurodevelopmental disorders more
Our bodies, our behavior and even our brains are anything but symmetrical. And this seems to be an important factor in the seamless functioning of our thought, speech and motor faculties. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen are currently searching for genetic clues to this phenomenon. They want to decode the fundamental molecular biological mechanisms that contribute to asymmetry in the brain, and to identify possible causes for neurological disorders.
During everyday conversations, we often begin to speak before we have decided exactly what we want to say. Antje Meyer and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen are investigating how we plan sentences and what obstacles may stand in the way. To this end, the researchers test volunteers on a treadmill, construct virtual environments and travel to India to study whether illiterate individuals process language differently.
Around 7,000 languages are currently spoken worldwide. Quite a number of them are at severe risk of dying out though, as they are spoken by only a small number of people and are no longer being passed on to future generations. Scientists therefore anticipate that a third, at most – but perhaps only one-tenth – of the languages spoken today will still exist by the end of the 21st century. The significance people attach to their own language depends heavily on social and economic circumstances. Particularly under threat are the languages of population groups with a low social reputation. Even worse is the fact that, with each language that disappears, cultural and intellectual identity is also being lost. In order to at least document languages and dialects under threat and preserve them for posterity – and for future researchers – the DOBES Program was launched in 2000. As part of this project, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics are conducting research in many parts of the world. In northern Namibia, for example, they are focusing on the Khoisan language ǂAkhoe Haiǀǀom, which contains many click sounds. In standard orthography, these are represented by the symbols !, ǀ, ǀǀ and ǂ. In preparation for a workshop on minority languages in southern Africa, one of the project’s local staff members, teacher Mariane Kheimses, interviewed Abakup ǀǀGamǀǀgaeb about his thoughts regarding his mother tongue. The members of the community couldn’t imagine allowing just a single representative to speak for everyone at the workshop. Instead, a series of video interviews was shown at the event, enabling all possible opinions to be represented.
Experts from various disciplines discuss whether what is widely perceived as beautiful can be expressed in universally applicable formulas.

Chatty bats and the biology of language

2018 Vernes, Sonja C.
Cognitive Science Linguistics
How the capacity for human language evolved and is encoded in our biology is one of the great unanswered questions. Studying language relevant abilities in animals, such as the ability to learn new vocalisations, will make it possible to decipher the basis of these traits. By studying the genetics, neurobiology and behaviour of bats we will advance our knowledge about the origins of mammalian vocal communication and may ultimately gain insight into the biological encoding and evolution of human speech and langauge. more

Complex psychiatric disorders are thought to lie at the extreme end of an underlying continuum of behavioural traits. The opposite end of this continuum is embodied by milder symptoms that can occur in many of us. By studying social communication difficulties in the general population during the course of childhood and adolescence, scientists at the MPI for Psycholinguistics discovered recently a genetic overlap with factors affecting risk for autism and schizophrenia that is disorder-specific and developmentally sensitive.

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Turn-taking in human communication and its implications for language processing

2017 Levinson, Stephen C.
Cognitive Science Linguistics

Most language usage is interactive, involving rapid turn-taking. The turn-taking system has a number of striking properties: turns are short and responses are remarkably rapid, yet turns are of varying length and often of very complex construction, so that the underlying cognitive processing is highly compressed. Although neglected in cognitive science, the system has deep implications for language processing and acquisition, just now becoming clear.

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I see what you don’t say! How language colours our perception

2016 Flecken, Monique; Francken, Jolien
Cognitive Science Linguistics
The hypothesis that our native language influences our perception of the world has fascinated scientists for decades. Using neuroscientific methods, researchers at the MPI for psycholinguistics are investigating to what extent and under what conditions this hypothesis can be confirmed, by means of within- and across-language comparisons. It could be shown that the language system is automatically involved in the perception of both simple as well as more complex scenes (depicting objects or motion events). These effects occur very rapidly and thus operate almost unconsciously. more

Genetics of left-right differences in the brain

2015 Francks, Clyde
Cognitive Science Linguistics
The left and right sides of the human brain are specialized for different cognitive functions. For example, language is lateralized towards the left hemisphere in most people. The genetic mechanisms that underlie brain lateralization are unknown. In addition, dyslexia, language impairment, schizophrenia and autism are sometimes linked to altered brain lateralization. Understanding the genetic basis of lateralization is an important question in human neuroscience, with relevance for learning disabilities and psychiatric conditions. more
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