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Exhibition shows importance of language research

From video glasses for the deaf to protecting endangered languages. The Taalmuseum's new exhibition in the hall of the University's former library demonstrates how language research contributes to societal issues such as health care and disappearing cultures. The exhibition is open from 14 September to 30 November.

‘When we think about such issues as health or innovation, we often think only in terms of the exact sciences,' Pepijn Reser, project director of the Taalmuseum, comments. 'As a language museum, we are always asking ourselves how humanities researchers can enrich these discussions, and, in doing so, broaden the impact of their research. This was the idea behind the exhibition.' 

Video glasses

Questions about identity, digitisation and innovation dominate the news. With this dual-language exhibition De zin van taal | Language for society, the Taalmuseum is showing how language and culture research can enrich these debates. One exhibit is a pair of video glasses, a project on which Leiden neurolinguist Niels Schiller has worked.  These very special glasses have a built-in microphone that receives speech and converts it into text that is then projected onto the lens of the glasses so that the wearer can read it. 

Detecting schizophrenia

Tests have shown that, using these glasses, deaf people can follow 70 to 85 per cent of what is said, while without the glasses this is just 25 per cent. That represents an enormous improvement. The exhibition also shows that language researchers contribute to better treatment for many other conditions. Cognitive language tests, for example, can help detect illnesses such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's at an early stage. 

A Lani warrior from Papua New Guinea
A Lani warrior from Papua New Guinea

Endangered languages

The exhibition shows artistic images by photographer Thalia de Jong, who has visualised societal questions to which language researchers contribute solutions. There are also beautiful photographs by George Saad, depicting Lani warriors from Papua New Guinea and Indonesians who still speak the disappearing Abui language. Leiden scientists have older speakers of Abui translate a hundred words from Abui to preserve their vocabulary.

Want to know more?

Visitors to the exhibition can take away with them a free magazine with articles and interviews about all this remarkable research. 

Images: Thalia de Jong and George Saad

The exhibition was organised at the request of the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL) and the Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) research institutes at Leiden University. The aim of the Taalmuseum is to broaden the interest in and knowledge about language. The museum is an initiative of Leiden University, supported by the Municipality of Leiden. 

For more information, see the website of the Taalmuseum.

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