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Prof. dr. Onno Crasborn

Radboud University
Friday 17 April, 16:00 - 17:00 | LUMC CZ-5 / ROUTE 558

Lost in no Language

Surprisingly large numbers of people cannot understand your speech very well: they have acquired hearing loss at some point in their lives. Estimates are that about 10% of Western populations are hard-of-hearing. Hearing loss comes with fatigue and slow withdrawal from social activities, and therefore loneliness. People become lost, then, in a social sense, because spoken language is no longer accessible. The sign languages used by deaf communities are rarely considered an alternative by people with hearing loss: after all, these are only used by less than 1 in a 1,000, so learning a sign language would not open up a lot of social possibilities. Moreover, learning a foreign language is not so easy as an adult.

In this presentation I will plea for the widespread teaching and use of sign-supported speech in the Netherlands: a form of code-mixing that combines regular spoken Dutch with signed content words (lexical signs) that are borrowed from Sign Language of the Netherlands. Sign-supported speech can take many forms, depending on the skills of the user as well as the interlocutor. It builds on the gestural repertoires (emblematic gestures) that are already commonly used by speakers of Dutch, and it forms a way of communicating that reaches out to everyone in society.

Dr. Guus Kroonen

Leiden University
Friday 17 April, 16:00 - 17:00 | LUMC CZ-5 / ROUTE 558

Indo-European kinship and social organization: A linguistic perspective on the archaeology, DNA and isotopes

During the last decade, the technological advances in the study of ancient DNA and other biomolecules have revealed several major prehistoric Eurasian population movements, a significant part of which had been predicted by existing linguistic hypotheses on the spread of Proto-Indo-European-speaking groups. More fine-grained sampling strategies additionally enable us to zoom in onto the micro-level population genomics of individual archaeological contexts. This allows us for the first time to test linguistic hypotheses on the social structure of prehistoric Indo-European groups. During this talk I will present new biomolecular evidence on the kinship relations in two 3rd millennium BCE Central European Bell Beaker families and see how they fit the family structure and marital strategies that have been reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European-speaking steppe pastoralists.

Dr. Tessa Verhoef

Leiden University
Saturday 18 April, 10:00 - 11:00 | LUMC CZ-5 / ROUTE 558

From lost to language: The emergence of structure and meaning

Language is an important defining feature of the human species. There is, however, still a lot we do not know about how language evolved. I will discuss recent data collected as part of several studies that mimic language evolution processes by inviting participants to take part in experiments disguised as interactive games. Previous work has shown that language-like signals emerge spontaneously in the laboratory when people are asked to communicate through a medium that is linguistically novel to them. When laboratory languages are transmitted from person to person, features of language structure gradually appear. Such experimental methods provide a window into the mechanisms that were likely involved in the early emergence of human language. The first study I will present investigate the influence of cultural transmission and social coordination on iconic patterning. Participants had to learn, reproduce and communicate with an artificial language and predictable patterns emerged as these novel sound systems were transmitted. Another study focuses on the role of cognitive biases and social coordination in the emergence of space-time metaphors in language. Pairs of participants used a novel, spatial signaling device to play guessing games about temporal concepts. Rapidly, communication systems were established that mapped systematically between time and space. Finally I will show how Microsoft Kinect, a technology that was designed for video game control, can be used to measure formal changes in gesture as a consequence of conventionalization in interactive games. The results of these experiments contribute to our understanding of the relation between the macro-level patterns we see emerge in languages and the micro-level individual behaviors and cognitive biases that shape them.

Prof. dr. Helen de Hoop

Radboud University
Saturday 18 April, 16:00 - 17:00 | LUMC CZ-5 / ROUTE 558

The loss of a personal pronoun

The personal pronoun hun ‘them’ meets a lot of criticism in Dutch society, not only from language purists, but from language users in general. This can be attributed to a strong mistrust of this pronoun, given that it is well-known for violating no less than two prescriptive rules, one of which prohibits its use as a subject, and the other its use as a direct object or complement of a preposition. This has resulted in a tendency to avoid the use of this personal pronoun across the board. Despite the fact that hun ‘them’ as a personal pronoun has the advantage of exclusively referring to animate or even human individuals, I argue that it is fighting a lost battle with the other personal pronouns, which are used to express third person plural. I conclude that it will withdraw from the competition in order to commit itself entirely to its function as a possessive pronoun ‘their’, in which capacity it is unique.