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27,6 million euros for Language in Interaction consortium

The MPI for Psycholinguistics, Radboud University Nijmegen (Donders Institute, Centre for Language Studies) and University of Amsterdam (Institute for Language, Logic and Computation) have been awarded funding of €27,6 million for their joint proposal for fundamental research on language from genetic building blocks all the way to social interaction. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded consortia of world leading researchers in the Netherlands. These subsidies are intended to help ensure that first-rate proposals bear fruit as world-class research.
27,6 million euros for Language in Interaction consortium

November 15, 2012

Human language is the most powerful communications system produced by evolution. It is the foundation of culture and social life. Languages are very varied: more than six thousand languages are currently in use. Why is that? Do our genes play any role? How does language relate to other cognitive processes?

Language in interaction

To answer these questions requires a broad approach that embraces the genes that encode our language-ready brains, social interactions between listeners and speakers, and the structure of language itself. This project brings together brain researchers and social scientists to study the balance and relationship between universal linguistic characteristics and individual variations, and how cognitive systems such as memory, action and control relate to language.

“We will build a bridge between researchers in linguistics and cognition,” says Peter Hagoort, leader of the consortium, and director of the MPI for Psycholinguistics and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour. The Nijmegen Centre for Language Studies and the Institute for Language, Logic and Computation at the University of Amsterdam will also participate in the project, which involves four winners of the Spinoza prize, the highest Dutch award in science. These are Peter Hagoort, Anne Cutler and Pieter Muysken, in Nijmegen, and Johan van Benthem, in Amsterdam.

Unravelling the universal language brain

Peter Hagoort“We are studying what people have in common – how our brain is suitable for language – and how we differ. There are indications of subtle genetic differences that mean that particular groups are, for example, more likely to develop a tonal language. At the same time, there are enormous individual differences in language-learning ability. Despite these variations, every member of our species has a brain that is tailor-made to learn a language without any explicit teaching in the first few years of life. The basic theme of the universal language brain, and the many variations on this theme, are central to our research consortium.”

Recognition for first-class research groups

“Radboud University Nijmegen has made a clear choice: for quality. We invest in fundamental research, even if that goes against the dominant political climate,” commented Prof. Gerard Meijer, Chairman of the Board of Governors. “Both organic chemistry and psycholinguistics are building on a long tradition here in Nijmegen. These fields have been considerably extended and renewed in the past decade. It's fantastic to have received recognition that these research groups are absolutely first-class.”

€167 million for top science

The Gravity Programme is the successor to the programme ‘in-depth strategy for research schools’. The last funding under that programme was awarded in 1998. The Gravity Programme, initiated by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, gives a new impulse to partnerships working at the highest scientific level. Consortia of excellence are intended to support the development of distinct profiles at the top level of university research, and thus contribute to the government’s “top sectors” policy and the “grand challenges” of the EU Framework Programme. A second round of funding approvals under the Gravity Programme will take place in 2013.

In the first round, six research teams, consisting of top scientists working at various Dutch Universities, have been granted funding for the next ten years to set up top-quality joint research programmes. The Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker has made €167 million available for these awards.

More information about these projects is available at this link.

Professor Peter Hagoort can be contacted for comment on (024) 361 06 48 or (024) 352 13 01.

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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