Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

There are over 7,000 languages in the world and over half of the world’s population is bilingual. But how do all these people use their language? And how do these languages differ from one another? Under the slogan of ‘Interconnecting linguistic diversity,’ the researchers from the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL) are seeking similarities and differences within the multitude of languages.

Theoretical and experimental

The LUCL has theoretical and experimental knowledge about a large number of languages and language families. It combines this knowledge with expertise about the history and use of languages. The linguists at LUCL focus on research into individual languages, their history, development and use, and the cognitive and neurocognitive processes involved in language processing.

These themes come together in three research groups: 

  • Theoretical and experimental linguistics
  • Language use in past and present
  • Descriptive and comparative linguistics


To gain a firmer grip on language diversity, the researchers in theoretical and experimental linguistics use algorithms to formalise languages. Their aim here is to record the universal characteristics of languages. The experimental linguists then use these algorithms in a laboratory environment for research into, for instance, language acquisition in young children.

‘Overall, all indicators point to a research environment that is consistently producing high quality research products with a high degree of international recognition. A broad range of activities is being developed in order to optimise the societal relevance of the research.’

(Research Review Leiden University Centre for Linguistics)


Language acquisition is also pivotal to the LUCL’s research into multilingualism. Much is still unknown, for instance, about how we process and represent our native language. The research helps the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) with matters such as identifying people’s country of origin or comparing suspects’ voices in line-ups.

Dynamics of language

The researchers in ‘Language use in past and present’ focus on topics such as languages in a historical perspective. The languages we speak today differ in their grammar, syntax and vocabulary from the very same languages centuries ago. Another group of researchers study language use today. They scrutinise politicians’ language to find out how they make an argument.

Undescribed languages

A love of languages takes LUCL researchers way beyond national borders. They travel all around the world to describe languages that have never been described before. Their research takes them to places in Latin America, Africa and Asia to document languages that are threatened with extinction. Leiden is the only place in the world where the Papuan languages are still intensively studied, for instance.

Wide range of applications

The researchers from LUCL signpost the way to practical solutions in the field of language. Their research has a wide range of applications: from the development of a speech computer to video glasses for the hard of hearing or deaf.

One of LUCL’s goals is to convey its passion for language and its relevance to society. The researchers devote a great deal of energy to this: at Het Taalmuseum, for instance, which brings language research to the attention of the public. LUCL also works together with municipalities, libraries, schools and museums, thus bringing together not only languages but people too.

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