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How do we understand language?

Insights into the active brain

ZiF: public lecture with Prof. Dr. Angela Friederici

Date: November 28, 2006 at 6.30 p.m.

How do we understand language? How do interactions work between dictionary and grammar, syntax and semantics, prosody and analysis, on which the most important outstanding feature of humans is based, i.e. the language. Angela Friederici, director of the Max-Planck-Institute at Leipzig, sheds new light on these classical problems of linguistics, psychology and language psychology by using experimental methods in long-term studies and monitoring the active brain directly.

When analysing language processing in the brain, three major research areas are distinguished: language production, understanding of language and language acquisition. Angela Friederici's research focusses on the understanding and acquisition of language. She is holding a key position in the German Language Development Study, in which the acquisition of language has been monitored and analysed with more than 250 children for a period longer than 6 years. In order to study the understanding of language, brain activity is monitored by means of three different methods, i.e. EEGs (electroencephalograms) which show the chronological sequence of brain activity when solving a particular task, MEGs (magnetoencephalograms) that place activities spatially in certain brain areas, fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imaging) that allow for a detailed three-dimensional modelling of activated brain areas.

On the basis of her research findings, Angela Friederici draws the neuronal map of the brain on a new scale and develops a realistic model of the processes occurring in the brain in the course of language understanding.

Angela Friederici continues the series of ZiF: public lectures where well-known scientists with international reputation give public evening lectures. Among them were the cognitive scientists Frans de Waal, Manfred Spitzer and Michael Tomasello, who presented their work at the ZiF.