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Let's talk: Universal social rules underlie languages

Dingemanse, M., & Enfield, N. J. (2014). Let's talk: Universal social rules underlie languages. Scientific American Mind, 25, 64-69. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0914-64.
Recent developments in the science of language signal the emergence of a new paradigm for language study: a social approach to the fundamental questions of what language is like, how much languages really have in common, and why only our species has it. The key to these developments is a new appreciation of the need to study everyday spoken language, with all its complications and ‘imperfections’, in a systematic way. The work reviewed in this article —on turn-taking, timing, and other-initiated repair in languages around the world— has important implications for our understanding of human sociality and sheds new light on the social shape of language. For the first time in the history of linguistics, we are no longer tied to what can be written down or thought up. Rather, we look at language as a biologist would: as it occurs in nature.
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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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