Coordinators: Sergey Avrutin and Frank Wijnen
Comprehending and producing language require an intricate system of cognitive resources and processing mechanisms. The psycholinguistics research group studies language processing in intact, healthy – monolingual as well as bilingual – individuals and in people with neurocognitive deficiencies, either innate or acquired. An overarching goal is to shed light on the dynamic interactions of, and the division of labour between linguistic and extra-linguistic components in language processing and language acquisition. A key question is: “to what extent are neurocognitive structures and processes involved in language processing specific to language?” Among the topics addressed are the following: Language specificity of preverbal conceptual representations in utterance planning, the on-line competition between syntactic, semantic and discourse routes to anaphor resolution, slowed-down syntactic processing in aphasia, primary acquisition of phonology, morphosyntax and semantics in dyslexic children and children with a genetic risk of dyslexia.
Coordinator: Hugo Quené
This group investigates the complex relations between the abstract and symbolic linguistic functions of speech on the one hand, and the physical and continuous manifestations of speech on the other hand. The many-to-many relations between language and speech provide insight into how our language faculty is organized, and how it is used in normal performance. The research encompasses both acoustic and perceptual phonetics, with special attention on the interaction between speech perception and speech production, e.g. when speakers capture and correct their own speech errors. Research topics include: Prosody, aging, aphasia, speech perception, self-monitoring, speech errors as mirror into how our language faculty is organized, pronunciation evaluation and training, acoustic analysis of emotion, modeling, and synthesis of the singing voice.
Phonology and phonological (first & second language) acquisition
Coordinators: René Kager en Wim Zonneveld
This research group focuses on the mental representation of speech sounds and sound structures in natural languages. The nature of phonological knowledge is addressed from three perspectives: its formal representation in optimization based grammars (syllable structure, metrical stress, lexical tone, intonation, language specificity & typology), its acquisition (first language acquisition in infants and young children, bilingual language acquisition in infants, second language acquisition in adults), and its role in the processing of spoken language (word recognition, speech segmentation, artificial language learning). Theoretical constructs (parameter setting, constraint ranking, markedness), corpus analysis, experimental approaches and computational learning models are applied in various combinations to investigate the development of the grammar in first language acquisition, and the role of a critical period as well as transfer from the native grammar in ‘late’ second language acquisition. Empirically sustained theory development is the principal goal of these endeavours. The lexicon and morphology are topics of investigation in so far as directly related to the group’s main interests. These include the nature of lexical representations, the role of the lexicon in the morphology-phonology interface, and the study of loanword adaptation.
Language acquisition: syntax-semantics-discourse
Leader: Peter Coopmans
The research carried out by this group is fundamentally characterized by a theory-driven approach towards aspects of language acquisition (L1, L2 and early bilingualism). The central theme is the projection problem. Against this background, the group’s objective is to gain better understanding of successive stages in developing language systems, whereby the notion of “system” can be interpreted at different theoretical levels: narrowly conceived as grammar and its lexical, syntactic or semantic subcomponents; broadly conceived as grammar in conjunction with - or interfacing with - systems of language use (pragmatics, processing). The working solution to the projection problem is one of teasing apart language-invariant properties from language-specific ones, and uncovering the empirical acquisition evidence for this division. A cross-linguistic perspective is indispensable for this research agenda, and this characterizes much of the ongoing work. A central component of the group’s interest revolves around the question to what extent the learner’s (L1, L2) deviating behaviour is reducible to a difference in pragmatic or processing abilities rather than to differences in the operation of grammatical principles. Another fundamental question concerns the characterization of early representations, and the way these are acquired given the nature of the child’s input and intake, shedding new light on the language-learning procedure.
Bilingualism, multilingual language contact
Leaders: Ellen-Petra Kester and Jacomine Nortier
Research in this group focuses on early and late acquisitional aspects of bilingualism, but also on bilingualism/multilingualism among speakers who are beyond the stage of acquisition (successfully or not). The perspectives adopted are structural/grammatical/phonetic, sociolinguistic and discourse analytical/communicative, including interactional, social and cultural aspects of language contact and multilingualism. Topics of investigation include: English as a second language and as a lingua franca in multilingual contexts; multilingualism and communicative competence, linguistic diversity in education, language and identity, language attitudes and language contact, receptive multilingualism, youth languages, bilingual grammar development, quantity and quality of input in bilingual acquisition, age effects, early foreign language education, language attrition.
Cognitive and affective factors underlying discourse representation and processing
Coordinators: Jos van Berkum & Ted Sanders
Language users usually communicate through discourse. The main objective of the Discourse Representation and Processing group is to develop an empirically founded theory of discourse representation which specifies the linguistic characteristics of discourse, the cognitive and affective processes involved in discourse production and interpretation, the discourse representation language users make of a discourse, and the way children learn to build discourse. The group relates fundamental questions on human cognition (how do people understand discourse?) to questions directly relevant for the society at large. The approach taken is of a typically multi-disciplinary nature: it combines analytical (linguistic description of discourse semantics and pragmatics) with empirical research (psycholinguistic experimentation, corpus work on spoken and written discourse, questionnaires to evaluate comprehension and appreciation). Research is carried out on coherence relations and referential coherence, the realization of coherence during online processing, the influence of subjectivity, perspective and framing on attitude reports, and the interactions between the affective system and cognitive processes and representations involved in discourse-level language use.
Document design & communication
Coordinator: Leo Lentz
The ambition of this group is to promote the use of empirical evidence for comprehension assessment and document design choices, while keeping a focus on the practical applicability of the research findings. The research program is organized around two central topics: comprehension of written communication and appropriateness of rhetorical choices. Comprehension effect studies are carried out, and the question how comprehension should be measured is addressed by means of empirical methods of comprehension testing as well as automated comprehension prediction tools. Various genres are under investigation: patient information leaflets, mortgage information, websites, organization charts and knowledge maps, and educational text. The appropriate rhetorical choices in spoken and written language enhance both appreciation and persuasion. Research is carried out on politeness, stylistics, tempo in radio commercials, and the cognitive processing of verbal, pictorial and multimodal text, especially legal documents.
Coordinator: Huub van den Bergh
The research programme of Language learning focuses on effective education: How can language education in Dutch and in foreign languages be improved? Projects on educational measurement of language skills concern issues of validity and reliability of measurements of writing and reading skills at different levels of education. In projects on cognitive processes and quality of task execution, good writing or reading is related to the cognitive activity of the writer/reader. Language is not only a subject matter, but also a means for instruction. A separate brand of studies focuses on effects of instruction in other subject areas, in particular in bilingual school settings. The main focus is thus on effectiveness of education (which type of education works for which type of student). The group is also involved in research on educational reforms, and reaches out to teachers and teacher trainers in various educational programs.
Language technology: language resources
Coordinator: Jan Odijk
This group carries out research on linguistic resources for use in language technology (and, to a lesser degree, in speech technology). The main focus is on the linguistic aspects that are required to develop robust language technology that is to a high extent data-driven and based on actual language use. Various topics fit in this general description, such as: research on the lexical representation of multiword expressions, attempting to optimize the possibilities to incorporate such lexical representations into arbitrary NLP systems, developing protocols and annotation guidelines for a large and richly annotated Dutch written corpus, research into improved automated phonetic transcription tools for names, the automatic creation of linguistic resources, such as glossaries, definitions automatically identified in running texts and ontologies used in an e-Learning context. Members of the group are involved in Dutch and European networks for human language technologies, with the goal of making these available and useful for the humanities more broadly.
Language & logic
Coordinator: Michael Moortgat
The research group on language & logic is engaged in formal modelling of natural language syntax and semantics using logical methods and techniques, specifically type theory and lambda calculus. The main focus is on reasoning. On the one hand, grammars are modelled as substructural logics, which offer a resource-bounded view on the process of reasoning which fits in well with human cognitive limitations related to expressivity and complexity. On the other hand, the group works on a comprehensive model of entailment in language, which deals with interactions between common sense meanings of content words and logical operators. An interdisciplinary mix of psycholinguistic methodology, information extraction from corpora and computational modelling should lead to a better understanding of linguistic reasoning and its practical applications.
Coordinator: Henriëtte de Swart
The themegroup Semantic Variation investigates aspects of meaning in different languages. The common goal is two-fold. On the one hand, the focus is on gaining a better understanding of natural language meaning by studying variation between languages, whilst on the other hand the group tries to come to a linguistic model of the observed variation itself, which is to be embedded in the broader perspective of cognitive science and artificial intelligence. Empirical methods used include data mining by means of corpus study, questionnaires and processing experiments (some online, mostly offline). Data are collected with the aim of developing a cross-linguistically valid semantic theory, including the interfaces with syntax (relations between form and meaning), pragmatics (discourse level, interaction between speaker and hearer) and the lexicon (conceptual semantics). The empirical focus is on reference to individuals (including quantification, scalarity, vagueness, implicatures, plurality, weak referentiality, genericity, modification), temporal and spatial reference (tense, aspect, locative & directional prepositions) and negation (negative concord, free choice).
Coordinator: Martin Everaert
Research in the interfaces group investigates the way the computational system of human language interacts with the lexicon and the interpretive system. The following issues are under investigation: the development of a unified conception of syntactic and semantic computations, the accessibility of lexical structure for syntactic computation, the relation between linguistic and neuro-cognitive processes, including the question to what extent linguistic structure is specific to language (both in the domains of categorization and of computation). The group’s research particularly focuses on the following questions: What is the status of lexical categories, how are properties of lexical structure read off by the computational system? What are the mechanisms involved in encoding dependencies in natural language and what determine cross-linguistic variation in conditions on dependencies? How do these interact with general properties of the computational system and the components of the interpretation system (semantics, discourse structure)? What is the interplay between syntax and the interpretative system in determining scopal relations and properties of information structure?
Syntactic micro- and macrovariation
Coordinator: Norbert Corver
Linguistic diversity, just like linguistic sameness is a core property of human language. A complete answer to the question “What is the design of human language?” requires an in-depth and elaborate investigation into the design properties of the variant part of human language. What makes this enterprise challenging are the strong indications that grammatical diversity is not arbitrary, unlimited and unpredictable, but rather non-arbitrary, bounded and predictable. For us to uncover the design of linguistic diversity and to address the question of how best to characterize those variant properties as part of the human language faculty, a cognitive system which seems to distinguish itself from other cognitive systems through its rich variability.
For an overall insight into the design of syntactic diversity, it is important to compare languages at different linguistic scales. Macro-comparative syntactic research typically takes as its empirical basis a variety of genetically and historically unrelated languages and provides insight into the gross (i.e. macro) range of syntactic variation. Micro-comparative linguistics considers dimensions of syntactic variation as they occur in a “single” language. It concerns the study of syntactic differences among language systems that are extremely closely related and typically have many grammatical properties in common.
Coordinator: Peter Schrijver
The group Language history and language change, studies change within speech communities (including social and geographical variation), across communities of language users (rather than individuals), and in the present (focusing on generational change) as well as the past (focussing on change across centuries or even millennia). This entails a disciplinary heterogeneity, including usage-based, functional approaches, models that account for language change in terms of socio-economic history, and theories on language contact next to more structuralist or generative linguistic theories. Topics of investigation include: historical (mopho)syntax of English, Spanish, Dutch and the Celtic languages, historical sociolinguistics of Dutch, English (rise of urban dialects 1400-1700), creation and exploitation of digital corpora of text material (dialects of Dutch, urban English, medieval Breton), bilingualism and language contact in the premodern period, language reconstruction before ca. 1000 AD (western Indo-European languages, deep reconstruction of macro-families), the historical development of literary languages, the role of urbanization in language change, relations between acquisition and change, and the role of perception in sound change.