Big Question 4

Variability in language processing and in language learning:

Why does the ability to learn language change with age? How can we characterise and map individual language skills in relation to the population distribution?

We aim to characterize variation in language processing and learning skills and to determine how these variations relate to variations in the underlying biology of individual participants. The project has two strands: Strand A focuses on language processing skills in young adults, and Strand B on language learning skills in children and adults. Strand A will develop a comprehensive battery of language tasks targeting sound, meaning, and grammatical processing of words and longer utterances during speaking and listening. In addition, we will select or develop tasks assessing general cognitive skills that are likely to affect performance in language tasks. After extensive piloting, a demographically representative group of 1000 young adults will be tested on the battery. DNA will be obtained from all participants and used for genome-wide genotyping. About a third of the sample will also participate in neuroimaging studies in order to map the variation in neurobiology across the population. Advanced statistical modelling will be used to derive underlying core dimensions of linguistic ability, to situate each participant in a multidimensional skill space that maps population variation, and determine the manner in which these skills map onto structure and function of underlying brain circuitry. Integrating our new sample with Nijmegen’s existing Brain Imaging Genetics cohorts, we will carry out focused investigations of genes and biological pathways that have been previously implicated in language ability, test how polygenic scores relate to performance on the task battery, and perform mediation analyses to bridge genes, brains and cognition.  

Strand B uses variability in learning ability to investigate why second-language (L2) acquisition can become harder in adulthood. Do age-related differences in L2 learning reflect maturational changes in neural plasticity and in the schema-based mnemonic processes used for learning and consolidating linguistic knowledge and skills? We will examine age-related changes in the relative contributions of the medial temporal lobe and the medial prefrontal cortex and in the interactions between these pathways and the perisylvian language network. 360 children aged 8-17 and 360 adults from the Strand A sample will complete batteries of behavioural and neuroscientific tests on L2 learning. Analyses will seek to uncover associations between language-learning abilities and maturational changes in the brain and to characterize individual variability in these associations.

People involved

Steering group

Prof. dr. Antje Meyer
PI / Coordinator BQ4A
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Florian HINTZ | PostDoc Position | PhD | Max Planck Institute for  Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen | MPI | Department of Psychology of Language

Dr. Florian Hintz
Coordinating Postdoc BQ4
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Vijf Radboud-hoogleraren benoemd als lid van Academia Europaea - Radboud  Universiteit

Prof. dr. James McQueen
PI / Coordinator BQ4B
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Team members

Prof. dr. Christian Beckmann
PI
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Anne Cutler | Royal Society

Prof. dr. Anne Cutler
PI
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Prof. dr. Guillén Fernández
PI
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Talking Headlines: Simon Fisher |

Prof. dr. Simon Fisher
PI
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Dr. Clara Ekerdt
Postdoc

Vera van ‘t Hoff
Research Assistant

Bob Kapteijns
Research Assistant
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Nina Wyman
Research Assistant

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Jiska Koemans
Research Assistant

Dr. Olha Shkaravska
Developer
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Dr. Clyde Francks
PI
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Prof. dr. Barbara Franke
PI
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Prof. dr. Peter Hagoort
Programme Director
PI / Coordinator BQ2
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Loop | Annet H. De Lange

Prof. dr. Roy Kessels
PI
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Prof. dr. Jean Vroomen
PI
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Dr. Willeke Menks
Postdoc
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Dr. Atsuko Takashima
Postdoc
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Milou Huijsmans
Research Assistant
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Merel Koning
Research Assistant

Folia

Romy Verhoeven
Research Assistant

PhD Candidates

Christina ISAKOGLOU | PhD Candidate | PhD Candidate in Clinical  Neuroscience | Radboud University, Nijmegen | RU | Donders Institute for  Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour

Christina Isakoglou
PhD Candidate
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Collaborators

Dr. Esther Janse
Dr. Gabriele Janzen
Dr. Suzanne Jongman
Dr. Kristin Lemhöfer
Dr. Beate St Pourcain
Dr. Julia Udden
Dr. Evan Kidd
Dr. Andre Marquand
Prof. dr. Jan Buitelaar

Alumni

Merel Burgering – PhD
Marjolijn Dijkhuis – Research Assistant
Katharina Gruber – Research Assistant
Carlo Rooth – Research Assistant
Jelle de Boer – Research Assistant
Jana Thorin – PhD
Shruti Ullas – PhD
Dr. Xin Liu – Postdoc
Lot Snijders Blok – PhD