Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics


(Learn how and when to remove this template message)

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (German: Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik; Dutch: Max Planck Instituut voor Psycholinguïstiek) is a research institute situated on the campus of Radboud University Nijmegen located in Nijmegen, Gelderland, the Netherlands. The institute was founded in 1980 by Pim Levelt, and is particular for being entirely dedicated to psycholinguistics,[1] and is also one of the few institutes of the Max Planck Society to be located outside Germany.[2] The Nijmegen-based institute currently occupies 5th position in the Ranking Web of World Research Centers among all Max Planck institutes (7th by size, 4th by visibility).[3] It currently employs about 235 people.

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Institute headquarters at Nijmegen, the Netherlands
Formation1980; 42 years ago (1980)
TypeScientific Institute
PurposeResearch in psycholinguistics
HeadquartersNijmegen, Gelderland, the Netherlands
Parent organization
Max Planck Society
Website(in English)
(in German)
(in Dutch)


The institute specializes in language comprehension, language production, language acquisition, language and genetics, and the relation between language and cognition. Its mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological, social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how human minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how to learn languages of quite different types.[4] The MPI for Psycholinguistics is a globally recognized center of linguistics and presents with its international archive of endangered languages a significant contribution to the preservation of the common heritage of mankind. This archive is sponsored since 2000 by the Volkswagen Foundation and offers on the internet about 50 projects.

Current departmentsEdit

The MPI for Psycholinguistics has four primary organizational units besides research groups.[5]

Language and GeneticsEdit

Established in October 2010, the Language and Genetics Department is headed by Simon E. Fisher. The department takes advantage of the latest innovations in molecular methods to discover how the human genome helps to build a language-ready brain. It aims to uncover the DNA variations which ultimately affect different facets of human communicative abilities, not only in children with language-related disorders but also in the general population. Crucially, its work attempts to bridge the gaps between genes, brains, speech and language, by integrating molecular findings with data from other levels of analysis, including cell biology, experimental psychology and neuroimaging. In addition, it hopes to trace the evolutionary history and worldwide diversity of key genes, which may shed new light on language origins.[6]

Language DevelopmentEdit

The original Language Acquisition Department (1980-2015) investigated processes of language acquisition and use in a broad perspective. The department combined attention to both first and second languages, researching production as well as comprehension of speakers of different ages and cultures, and the developmental relationship between language and cognition. The focus was on morpho-syntax, semantics and discourse structure. Headed by Wolfgang Klein, Language Acquisition previously launched three institute projects, namely, Information Structure in Language Acquisition, Categories in Language and Cognition and Multimodal Interaction.[7] Clive Perdue was the scientific coordinator of the program Second Language Acquisition by Adult Immigrants,[8] whose results, published in the early 1990s, proposed that second language acquisition proceeds along three stages: pre-basic variety (or nominal utterance organisation), basic variety (or infinite utterance organisation) and post-basic variety (or finite utterance organisation).[9][10]

The Language Acquisition Department has returned in 2016 as the Language Development Department, headed by Caroline Rowland.[11]

Neurobiology of LanguageEdit

The Neurobiology of Language Department, headed by Peter Hagoort, focuses on the study of language production, language comprehension, and language acquisition from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. This includes using neuroimaging, behavioral and virtual reality techniques to investigate the language system and its neural underpinnings. Research facilities at the Max Planck Institute include a high-density electroencephalography (EEG) lab, a virtual reality laboratory and several behavioral laboratories. Having a part of the department stationed at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, it also has access to a whole-head 275 channel MEG system, MRI-scanners at 1.5, 3 and 7 Tesla, a TMS-lab, and several additional EEG laboratories.[12]

Psychology of LanguageEdit

The Psychology of Language Department, headed by Antje S. Meyer, identifies characteristics of the cognitive system that determine behavior in a broad range of linguistic tasks and the relationships between language production, comprehension, and learning via speaking, listening and cognition. The department also understands variability in adult language production and comprehension. Using various approaches, the Psychology of Language utilizes a combination of experimental and correlational work and inclusion of diverse samples of participants. With such methods, it has close links to the Language and Genetics and Neurobiology of Language departments.[13]

Former departmentsEdit

Language and CognitionEdit

The Language and Cognition Department 1994-2017, headed by Stephen C. Levinson, investigated the relationship between language, culture and general cognition, making use of the natural laboratory of language variation. In this way, the research wanted to bring the perspective of language diversity to a range of central problems in the language sciences. Languages were described (sometimes for the first time) based on field data, and field experiments were conducted and extended corpora of natural language usage collected. The department used a diversity of methods, ranging from linguistic analysis and ethnography to developmental perspectives, from psycholinguistic experimentation to conversation analysis, from corpus statistics to brain imaging, and from phylogenetics to linguistic data mining.[7] The research by the department started work with an explicit focus on typology within Interactional linguistics.[14]: 11 

Language ComprehensionEdit

The Language Comprehension Department 1993-2013, headed by Anne Cutler, undertook empirical investigation and computational modeling of the understanding of spoken language. Until 2009, the work within the department was largely divided between two research projects: decoding continuous speech and phonological learning for speech perception; thereafter, most work was in the project called Mechanisms and Representations in Comprehending Speech. This project focused on core theoretical issues in speech comprehension such as on how episodic memories (e.g. hearing someone speak in an unfamiliar dialect) influence the speech perception system, or how prior knowledge about one's language (phonotactic probabilities, lexical knowledge, frequent versus infrequent word combinations) is used during perception.[7]

Independent Research GroupsEdit

Communication before LanguageEdit

This MPI research group, headed by Daniel Haun, investigates the social and cognitive foundations of human communication in infancy specifically on infants' developing social cognition and social motivation in relation to their emerging prelinguistic communication within social and cultural contexts. Their work is motivated by the idea that there is a psychological basis of human communication that develops ontogenetically prior to language and can be first expressed in gestures.[15]

Evolutionary Processes in Language and CultureEdit

Started in 2009, the research group investigates language diversity and change as part of an integrated cultural evolutionary system. Headed by Michael Dunn, the group takes a modern evolutionary perspective, using computational tools from genetics and biology, and integrating probabilistic, quantified approaches to phylogenetics with rigorous tests of different models of the interaction between elements of language, contact and geography, and cultural variation.[16]

Syntax, Typology and Information StructureEdit

The research group, headed by Robert D. Van Valin, Jr., tries to determine the role of information structure in explaining cross-linguistic differences in grammatical systems out of the idea that the interaction of pragmatics and grammar happens on several levels and differs from language to language. Another major task of the group is to investigate and re-evaluate the status of the information structure primitives (topic, focus, contrast, etc.) as cross-linguistically valid categories. To achieve this, the members of the group combine extensive corpus analysis of the data in their respective languages with production experiments; all findings are further cross-checked through standard information structure tests (question-answer pairs, aboutness tests, association with focus sensitive items).[17]


  1. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Unique in the world". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  2. ^ Max Planck Society. "International institutes". Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  3. ^ Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. "Max Planck Institutes". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  4. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Home". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  5. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Research". Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  6. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Language and genetics". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Former Departments and Groups". Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  8. ^ Introduction: New Comparative Perspectives in the Study of Language Acquisition – Clive Perdue’s Legacy in Comparative Perspectives on Language Acquisition: A Tribute to Clive Perdue, edited by Marzena Watorek, Sandra Benazzo and Maya Hickmann, Bristol, Blue Ridge Summit: Multilingual Matters, 2012, pp. 1-20.
  9. ^ Hendriks, H. (2005). The Structure of Learner Varieties: Introduction to the volume. Hendricks, H.(Hg.): The Structure of Learner Varieties. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1-18.
  10. ^ Perdue, Clive 1996 Pre-basic varieties: the first stages of second language acquisition. Toegepaste Taalwetenschap in Artikelen 55: 135-150 Klein, Wolfgang and Clive Perdue (1992) Utterance Structure: Developing Grammars Again. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Klein, Wolfgang and Clive Perdue (1997) The Basic Variety or: Couldn't natural languages be much simpler? Second Language Research 13,4: 301-347.
  11. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Language Development". Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  12. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Neurobiology of language - Research mission". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  13. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Psychology of language - Home". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  14. ^ Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth; Selting, Margret (2018). Interactional linguistics: studying language in social interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781139507318. ISBN 9781139507318.
  15. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Communication before language - Home". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  16. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Evolutionary processes in language and culture - Home". Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  17. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. "Syntax, Typology, and Information Structure - Home". Retrieved April 23, 2014.

External linksEdit

  • Homepage
  • DoBeS Documentation of endangered languages

Coordinates: 51°49′04.53″N 5°51′25.65″E / 51.8179250°N 5.8571250°E / 51.8179250; 5.8571250