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CORDIS

Realizing Leibniz’s Dream: Child Languages as a Mirror of the Mind

Project description

Putting language acquisition to the test

Children around the world acquire language and with it the human ability to communicate complex thoughts. Twelve targeted language acquisition studies will be conducted on a global scale in order to determine whether language radically compresses thought structures to sound or sign. While current theories assume a parallel between thought and language or meaning-preserving transformations, the EU-funded LeibnizDream project assumes that thought is mapped to language by only realising some pieces of conceptual representations. The project has recruited collaborators for more than 50 languages from 21 different language families, two sign languages and two creoles to carry out the studies.

Objective

Children around the globe acquire language and with it the human ability to communicate complex thoughts. This project develops a new linguistic theory to explain language and its acquisition. Our central hypothesis is that language radically compresses thought structures to sound or sign. While current theories assume a parallel between thought and language or meaning-preserving transformations, we assume that thought is mapped to language by only realizing some pieces of conceptual representations.  Adult language is hyper-efficient at compressing information. For this reason, Leibniz and many others over the last 300 years have been unable to agree on the primitives of human thought.  We predict that child languages are a better mirror of the human mind. Our initial evidence suggests that children are not able to compress conceptual representations as efficiently as adults.  Sometimes children produce more material than adults, leading to so-called commission errors, which have never been systematically investigated. Furthermore, comprehension is easier for children when there is a one-to-one match between language and thought.  To test our central hypothesis and specify how conceptual structure is compressed into language, we carry out a series of at least twelve targeted language acquisition studies on a global scale. We have recruited collaborators for more than 50 languages from 21 different language families, two sign languages and two creoles to carry out our studies.  With this data, we can formulate a complete formal model of the semantic primitives, their combination into conceptual structures, the morphological compression mechanism, and the acquisition process within our model. To accomplish these goals, we rely on insights from formal semantics, generative syntax, distributed morphology, and several other linguistic frameworks. As part of our work, we also create the first open, global research collaboration to conduct language acquisition studies.

Host institution

GEISTESWISSENSCHAFTLICHE ZENTREN BERLIN EV
Net EU contribution
€ 4 162 750,00
Address
SCHUTZENSTRASSE 18
10117 Berlin
Germany

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Region
Berlin Berlin Berlin
Activity type
Research Organisations
Links
Total cost
€ 4 162 750,00

Beneficiaries (3)