Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Research - Aims and scope

Language adaptation is omnipresent in our lives. We usually take our species-specific ability to use language for granted. Due to many societal and biological factors, however, we can lose language skills, or we might not even have full access to them from birth.

shutterstock_1532815931Dealing with loss or lack of these skills requires adaptation. On the biological side, for example, brain-damaged individuals with a language deficit have to adapt to maintain a functional level of communication with people in their surroundings, and deaf cochlear-implanted individuals have to adapt to new linguistic input.

Societal changes also create language access problems and the need for adaptation. For example, immigrants need to adapt to the language conventions in the countries they move to, and they have to learn to communicate with the inhabitants of their new country, including other immigrants. These communication problems can be lifelong, they can be passed on to new generations, and they can result, for example, in problems in access to health care.

234375ca-28fd-11eb-9b73-0217670beecdThese challenges necessitate adaptation not only on the side of the individuals themselves who face them, but also on the side of the people who interact with them (i.e., their environment). Such people may have to adapt their communication (e.g., speech and gesture) patterns when they are talking to individuals with hearing problems or a language disorder, or to less proficient speakers of a language. Communication technologies need to be adapted for these needs groups as well.

Societally relevant questions, impactful solutions

7480This theoretical perspective on adaptive language raises societally important applied questions. For example, what are the best ways to support language rehabilitation following brain injury or neurodegenerative disease, to optimize language learning in contexts requiring adaptation, or to enhance communication in suboptimal listening situations? Are advances in communication technology equally suited for young and ageing populations or less literate individuals? The aim of the consortium is to find answers to such questions, see where the gaps are in research, translational science and practice, and look for ways to fill those gaps.

asli_02Basic and translational aspects of language adaptation have remained quite detached from each other but need immediate crosstalk. The aim of this initiative is to find ways to bring together our knowledge, on the one hand, about the adaptive potential of the individual that is associated with their language abilities (e.g. variability in language learning and other more general cognitive skills, brain plasticity) and, on the other hand, the adaptive potential of the environment that can accommodate to individuals with less access to language (e.g., creating adaptive technologies, rehabilitation techniques, adjustments that other individuals can make in response to less efficient or accented language use, etc.).

shutterstock_1066240604The internal (individual) and external (environmental) adaptive potentials in cases of reduced access to language influence each other and need to be studied jointly. In the consortium we therefore aim to find ways to optimize interactions between individual and environmental potentials to use language flexibly for enhanced communication. We will seek to optimize communication in health, work and education environments – those environments that are most important for a healthy society.

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Willemijn Doedens: