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Celebrating our successful junior researchers

At the MPI, we strive to guide and train the next generation of academics. This week, four young researchers are placed in the spotlight after winning awards at an international level. Their awarded work showcases the diversity of language research done at our Institute - varying from studying bat calls to the way in which language colours the information of our senses.

Otto Hahn Medal

Each year, the Max Planck Society awards up to 30 young scientists and researchers for outstanding scientific achievements with the Otto Hahn Medal. Sebastian Sauppe and Jolien Francken of the MPI for Psycholinguistics received this prestigious award for their 2017 dissertations. The prize comes with a monetary prize as recognition, with which the winners could run a small research project. On June 13 2018, the Medal will be awarded during an official ceremony in Heidelberg.

Sebastian Sauppe

Sebastian Sauppe Sebastian is generally interested in the way the large diversity of the world's languages is processed in the brain. “For this I have studied the Philippine language Tagalog in my dissertation project. Due to its grammatical properties it is very different from the often studied European languages – Tagalog sentences start with the verb, for example,” Sebastian explains.             

By tracking the eyes and pupil size of speakers of Tagalog while they were describing pictures, and comparing this with German speakers, he showed that Tagalog is processed in different ways.

“I am happy that my work is recognised as innovative and highly relevant by a larger community of researchers and this encourages me to continue exploring how linguistic diversity and cognition influence each other.”

Sebastian was a former PhD student at the MPI’s Language and Cognition Department. He now works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Comparative Linguistics of the University of Zürich.

Jolien Francken

Jolien FranckenIn her Phd project, Jolien Francken investigated whether and how language colours the information provided by our senses. She tested this by showing participants a cloud with moving dots, for example in a vertical or horizontal direction. Just before, a word such as ‘taking off’ or ‘falling’ was presented.    

“It turned out that those words influenced how people perceived the movement even though the words were irrelevant,” says Jolien. The experiment was repeated in the fMRI  scanner, which revealed that the language system is involved in this process. “Language thus plays a very important role in interpreting the visual world around us.”

Jolien was a former PhD student at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour and MPI's Neurobiology of Language Department. Jolien now works as a postdoctoral researcher in the field of neurophilosophy of consciousness at the department of Psychology of the University of Amsterdam

Hurford Prize

During the Evolution of Language (EvoLang) conference, which took place between 16 to 19 April 2018 in Toruń, Poland, MPI PhD students Ella Lattenkamp and Limor Raviv won the Hurford Prize. This prize for the best student presenter of the major conference is normally awarded to only one student. The jury found the presentations equally outstanding and chose not one, but two of our doctoral students for this prestigious prize.

Ella Lattenkamp

Ella LattenkampBats show clear indications that they belong to the few mammals that are capable of learning to produce novel vocalizations. “We aim to provide evidence that by studying bats we can gain insights in the genetics and neurobiology driving this capacity also in humans,” Ella explains.                                          

“Winning the Hurford Prize made me feel greatly appreciated outside my normal field  of expertise. Furthermore, in our group meetings, we often practise our presentation skills. To see that this pays off for a neutral  and impressive audience is truly rewarding!”

Ella is a PhD student supervised by Sonja Vernes, head of the MPI’s Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication Group and Lutz Wiegrebe of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.

Limor Raviv

“One of the hottest topics of this year’s limor ravivconference was the way culture and community differences could help explain all the grammatical structures in the 7,000 languages around the world,” Limor says. “Our results were  the first ever demonstration of the  effects of community size on language structure in the lab, so they got quite some attention.”         

“It was a great honour to get awarded, since there were many excellent student presentations. I think that the "Art of Presenting Science" presentation workshop offered by our IMPRS graduate school really contributed to the clarity and structuring of my presentation, and that my topic was of great interest to a lot of people at the conference.”

Limor is a PhD student supervised by Antje Meyer, director and head of the MPI’s Psychology of Language Department and Shiri Lev-Ari of the Royal Holloway University of London.

More information

  • Our ongoing research projects provide ample hands-on training opportunities for Master's and PhD students. Are you interested in working with us? Visit our Vacancies page to read more about our open positions.
  • We coordinate the International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences (IMPRS), a cooperation in Nijmegen between the MPI and the faculties of Science, Medicine, Arts and Social Sciences of the Radboud University. The graduate school enriches the research programmes of outstanding doctoral students in the language sciences by bringing together the expertise its partner institutes to provide a multidisciplinary training and research environment.
About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


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