Yearbook 2004

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Only humans have the gift of language. Yet the human race has not one language, but rather five or six thousand different ones. Moreover, these languages differ from one another in myriad ways, their variegated patterns of sounds, words, sentences and meanings forming a dazzling kaleidoscope of linguistic diversity. Nevertheless, all human languages share profound structural design features which, together, form part of what makes human beings special, distinguishing them from all other creatures. Such features are a reflection of linguistic universality. The Department of Linguistics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology seeks out diversity and universality in the realm of human language. Thus, the researchers are constantly looking for patterns of variation, pushing the outer limits of how different languages can be from each other. However, when the limits of such diversification are encountered, they try to establish common properties which are then said to be shared by all human languages. By discovering such patterns of linguistic diversity and universality, the department contributes towards the broader goal of the Institute, which is to gain a better understanding of the nature and the origins of mankind. more
The research team "Property Relations" of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology has focused primarily on the both economically and socially disappointing outcomes of decollectivisation processes in the postsocialist countryside. In terms of theory, the work moves beyond the dichotomy of private and collective property that has traditionally characterised European concepts of property and continues to play an ideological role. Instead, the group makes use of an analytic model, developed by colleagues in legal anthropology, which brings out the plurality of property arrangements and their multi-functionality. This model proves useful in analysing the property relations of all human societies, including those with "simpler" technologies. It can also be applied in the field of intellectual property, for example when indigenous groups stake claims to unique "cultural property". Recent calls for scientific knowledge to be made available under "open access" raise similar issues: the enunciation of categorical principles of property must always be complemented by careful attention to institutions and practices. more
Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are characterised by a high frequency of intergroup conflicts along ethnic and economic lines. Tensions between farmers and herders are amongst the most prominent examples. One way national and international institutions try to cope with these emerging conflicts is by a policy of avoidance, by separating groups, promoting individual land rights, at the same time attempting to increase economic productivity. However, comparative anthropological research between two West African States, Burkina Faso and Cameroon, shows that conflicts are not necessarily negative, but may actually serve the groups’ integration and create a framework for social coexistence and economic cooperation. As the example of the Cameroonian Grasslands demonstrates, segregation may even have adverse consequences and aggravate existing tensions. more
After the first successful tests of the mid-infrared interferometric instrument MIDI at the ESO Very Large Telescope at the end of 2002, the phase of Science Demonstration followed in the year under report. MIDI fully met the high expectations and thus opened up a new field of astronomical observations: for the first time a resolution of one hundredth of an arc second can be achieved in the mid-infrared spectral range. Observations of circumstellar disks around young stars as well as of the dust ring in the center of an active galaxy demonstrate the enormous power of the instrument. MIDI was built by a consortium of German, Dutch, and French teams under the leadership of MPIA. more

Neutron Stars as kosmic cannonballs

Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics Janka, Hans-Thomas; Kifonidis, Konstantinos; Müller, Ewald; Scheck, Leonhard; Plewa, Tomek
Scientists at the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics in Garching and the University of Chicago have substantiated an explanation for the high space velocities of observed pulsars. Their computer models confirm the likely connection with asymmetries during supernova explosions. more
If the dark matter in the universe consists of weakly interacting elementary particles that can annihilate each other, it should be possible to detect their annihilation radiation directly. High-resolution cosmological simulations of the distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way can be used to make detailed predictions for the expected annihilation radiation from the galactic center and the satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. If the dark matter particles are neutralinos, these predictions imply favourable detection possibilities for next generation gamma ray telescopes. more