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Language loosens tongues

Language research generates a wealth of information about people: from our history and cultural differences to the way we learn. Leiden University shares its knowledge and passion for this topic via de MOOC on ‘Miracles of Human Languages’ and the web dossier on Language Diversity.

Participants from all parts of the world

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Miracles of Human Languages is a free online course that was first offered by the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics between 30 March and 11 May 2015. No fewer than 43,000 participants from all parts of the world, in all age ranges, registered for the MOOC. In five lectures given by Professor Marc van Oostendorp they learned why your native language exhibits both differences from and similarities to many other languages, and how the way you think is influenced by the language you speak.

Heated discussions about 'word'

These different ways of thinking manifested themselves in the heated discussions on the MOOC's internet forum, Marten van der Meulen, who is involved in the MOOC as a teaching assistant, explains. 'There were strong personal opinions about the concept 'word'.  There were many people whose understanding was quite different from how Linguistics looks at the concept.' The present series of Miracles of Human Language is currently in its closing phase.

Language research in Leiden

An important component of the MOOC was language diversity, one of the key themes of language research in Leiden. Scientists carry out pioneering research on the most diverse questions within linguistics, such as: ‘Is there a "source" for all languages?' or 'How do minority languages affect a country's standard language.' You can find more about current research on language diversity in the online dossier on Language Diversity.

Languages goes beyond written sources

There are around 6,000 different languages spoken worldwide. Studying language gives us information about the history and migration of people thousands of years ago, even where archaeological or written sources from the time are missing. People who lives far from one another geographically sometimes use exactly the same words. These similarities must have been 'transported' somehow. By following the track made by the language you can find out more about the journey that people made, and which other people they came into contact with. Studying similar words and concepts in languages tells us more about the social-cultural background of different peoples.

How our brains accept language

Studying language diversity also gives insight into man's biological and psychological development. This includes such questions as how we learn language, which languages our brain accepts and which it doesn't, and how our brain processes language during reading or speaking.


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