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2012 Vrije Competitie Grants for two LUCL members

LUCL is glad to announce that two of its members have been awarded an NWO Vrije Competitie Grant.

LUCL is glad to announce that two of its members have been awarded an NWO Vrije Competitie Grant.

Claartje Levelt has received a grant as main applicant, and Karène Sanchez as co-applicant with Prof.dr Heleen Murre from the Institute for Religious Studies. LUCL congratulates Claartje, Karène and Heleen on this beautiful result.

Segments and rules: a comparative study into the computational mechanisms underlying language acquisition

Dr Claartje Levelt, LUCL, Leiden University,  Prof dr Carel ten Cate, Leiden University, Biology, Dr Jelle Zuidema, Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC), University of Amsterdam

In this project the properties of statistical- and rule-learning mechanisms are studied in relation to the acquisition and evolution of language. We ask to what extent these mechanisms are unique to humans - or to human language - by comparing the acquisition of vocal structure in two species: humans (infants) and songbirds (zebra finches). This will be done by ways of a series of carefully constructed, comparable artificial language learning experiments. In addition, we will develop computational models of artificial language learning that, on the one hand, predict optimal learning behavior and, on the other hand, test how different factors - perceptual biases, computational constraints, memory limitations, etc. - influence learning. The project will not only provide a better insight into the processes underlying language acquisition, but also into the linkage between linguistic and more general cognitive mechanisms and their evolution.

Arabic and its alternatives: religious minorities in the formative years of the Modern Middle East (1920-1950)

Heleen Murre-van den Berg (LIRS), Karène Sanchez (LUCL).

This project aims to revisit the ways in which religious minorities in the Middle East participated in, contributed to, and opposed the Arab nationalism of the post-war years, when the British and French ruled the region via the Mandates. This period of societal modernization and competing nationalisms saw the emergence of new political structures that would define the Middle East for most of the twentieth century. While Arabic nationalism, predicated as it was on the Arabic language more than on Islam, was seen as a positive development by many Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians, others showed increasing uneasiness with its ramifications. This was more specifically the case among those non-Muslims that in addition to Arabic highly valued other languages, such as Syriac, Hebrew and Armenian, but also English and French. Would participation in Arab nationalism also imply giving up the allegiances symbolized by these languages?

Three case studies, into the Jews of Baghdad, the Syriac Christians of North Iraq and the Catholic Christians of Palestine, form the starting point of an inquiry into the linguistic practices and language ideologies of these religiously-defined minorities. How and why did they choose to use Arabic, and how and why did they prefer other languages? What was the role of religious elites, both local and foreign (such as missionaries) and how were their ideas picked up by others in the respective communities? How were these choices related to the strength of competing nationalisms (e.g., Zionist, Assyrian), to theological and ecclesial considerations (e.g., Catholic universalism versus Orthodox particularism?) and to global, local and regional alliances?

A more general analysis of the role of these non-Muslim minorities in the formative years of the Middle East will follow upon the study of these three particular cases. This in-depth analysis, informed by a network of international experts, expects to modify not only the sometimes all too straightforward accounts of Arab nationalism, but also the concept of religious and ethnic minorities itself, since language, in its practical and symbolic components, may well reflect a reality that blurs rather than underlines the seemingly sharp dividing lines between religious and national identities. 

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