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Als de aarde zoals Dune wordt, hoe spreken we dan?

Heb je Dune gezien, een nieuwe film van Denis Villeneuve? Hij is gebaseerd op een beroemde roman van Frank Herbert over Arrakis; een woestijnplaneet, waar water uiterst schaars is. Dit beïnvloedt niet alleen hoe de mensen op Arrakis zich gedragen, maar ook hoe ze spreken. Natuurlijk is Dune fictie, maar veel studies wijzen er op dat de omgeving de menselijke taal op vele manieren beïnvloedt. Mensen die in de woestijn, in de bergen of in de bossen leven, hebben de neiging om andere spraakklanken, woorden en zelfs grammatica’s te gebruiken.

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Concept cells in the human brain and neural networks

Did you know that if you are a fan of Star Wars, in your brain there might be neurons that respond only to characters from the movie? Interestingly, some types of artificial brains that scientists generate with computers (called artificial neural networks) also spontaneously develop such neurons. What does it (and what does it not) tell us about the real brain? And what does it have to do with language?

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Words as Medicine

Words can contribute substantially to improvements in health, but they can also act in a nociceptive manner. Brain imaging research has convincingly shown that language has effects on how we perceive the world and act on it. The attraction that alternative medical practices have, is largely or solely based on the narratives in which they are embedded. The further technological developments in medicine make it all the more urgent to investigate how these developments should be integrated into effective communication practices.

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Talking about numbers

Language is normally understood to be extraordinarily useful to humans, but we all share the experience of language getting in the way. Whether this be saying something we don’t mean, or failing, sometimes stubbornly, to agree to use the same words to refer to the same things. An interesting and informative case of this is the role of language in the wholesale kneecapping of historical developments in mathematics, and in the confusion of a sizable plurality of secondary school students.  How could language, the workhorse of human communication, hinder development in mathematics? 

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Language: the Hardest Problem of Science – Easy Peasy for any Child

One of the most difficult problems of science is where language comes from. Language ontogeny – how children can learn it? – and phylogeny – how did it emerge in evolution? – are still largely unsolved mysteries today. In a recent study, we attacked the issue in the lab, with surprising results.

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The costs and benefits of predicting words

Spoken language unfolds at a rapid pace, approximately 4-5 words per second. Have you ever wondered how listeners are generally able to keep up? A popular hypothesis is that people do so by anticipating what comes next, including which words come next. This anticipation, also called ‘prediction’, is thought to occur continuously, routinely, and implicitly. This means that it happens all the time, it does not require any conscious effort, and it happens even without someone trying to guess the next word. But why is prediction beneficial? This blog post explores the presumed benefits of prediction, but also its costs.

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Een klassiek debat beslecht: kunnen woorden ons helpen om letters duidelijker te zien?

Letters kun je makkelijker herkennen als ze onderdeel zijn van een woord. We hebben dit waarschijnlijk allemaal wel eens ervaren, bijvoorbeeld tijdens het rijden met slecht weer: het is dan makkelijker om een woord of naam te lezen (zoals een verkeersbord) dan een willekeurige reeks tekens (zoals een kentekenplaat). Maar waarom?

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A miracle of migration: The invention of the alphabet

The news today is full of articles about immigration. The media often casts it in a bad light, but did you know that it was illiterate immigrants in ancient Egypt who invented a tool that over half of the world’s population still uses every day, one that rewired our brains?

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All mistakes spread a light

“Once a time upon, was a village there … what?!! The chamberlain was shocked. He was the third jester that messed all the words up. Maybe there was something wrong at court? Witchcraft, for sure! He heard other people having insane conversations, with dogs chased by cats and adjectives used as nouns. There was no time to think, and the king had to be informed.

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