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Autism: more than just a language delay

AutisticI children frequently show a delay in their language development1. It is, among other signs, one of the things that gets parents wondering whether their child might need additional educational support. Some autistic people, around 30%, are not able to communicate verbally2 even in adulthood. Does this mean that their language system differentiates them from non-autistic people? 

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What do we really think about regional accents?

Do you think you judge people on the basis of their dialect, and, more specifically, their regional accent1? Don’t worry I won’t judge! You probably think you don’t. However, subconsciously, you very well might! Think about it: maybe you think someone with a Limburgs (a Southern province in the Netherlands) accent sounds very hospitable or someone with a Gronings (a Northern province in the Netherlands) accent seems kind of surly. If that’s the case, you’re not the only one

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Who said what? Why we forget so much of our conversations

Did you ever happen to talk about a conversation you had with a friend just to realize that you cannot quite remember all that was said? Our memory of conversations is not always perfect. In fact, we tend to remember only the gist of what was said, rarely with word-by-word memory, and we often remember our own thoughts and inferences during the conversation as if we had said them. This is because a lot is going on during a conversation: one speaks, listens, looks at the gestures and expressions of the conversation partner, thinks and makes inferences about what the partner means, etc. It’s hardly possible to remember everything accurately. 

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The language brain: The how and why of language research

Dr. Hanna Gauvin explains how and why we do language research here in Nijmegen.

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Echolocating and learning new sounds – bats can do it, and so can you!

Echolocating is the ability to produce a sound and to listen to the reflection of that sound to get an idea about where you and objects around you are in the world. Most people know that bats are capable of this. But did you know that some humans are capable of this too, and that bats have some more vocal tricks up their sleeve?

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It’s about time

“Time is so far from us

But time is among us

Time is ahead of us

Above and below us

Standing beside us

And looking down on us.”

The Kinks

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Why can’t chimpanzees talk like humans?

Chimpanzees are our closest primate relatives, yet we are fluent conversationalists and they do not speak at all. What is the evolutionary reason behind this huge difference? Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans can learn to communicate with humans through pictures or sign language, however, the vocal sounds they produce go hardly beyond coos and grunts. It’s puzzling that they can’t learn to speak any words even when they are raised by humans from birth. Do chimpanzees simply lack the vocal tract anatomy necessary to produce varied sounds or do they have less neural control over their vocal tracts? 

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Do abstract concepts have abstract meanings?

In the language sciences, words like “freedom”, “justice”, and “peace” are classified as abstract concepts, because – unlike concrete words like “car” and “elephant” – they don’t refer to objects in the physical world. Recent studies reveal that in fact abstract concepts are rooted in our experience of emotion and social interaction, and maybe less abstract than one may think! 

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Our brains are exclusively tuned to the sound of WARnings

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous sea-nymphs living in cliffy and rocky islands. With their enchanting songs, these half-bird half-woman creatures lured ships to wreck on rocky shores and then killed the sailors. Even today, sirens lead to nothing but destruction. The wailing sound of air-raid sirens in Ukraine reminds us of the essential reality of Siren songs ‘warning for danger’. Even in peace, we hear public warning sirens if nothing but for testing, just like the ones echoing across the streets of the Netherlands on the first Monday of every month. But why are siren sounds so efficient to signal danger and what really happens in the brain when we hear an alarming sound?

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