Ground-breaking languages project to move to the University of Birmingham

Professor Dagmar Divjak (right) is the project lead of 'Out of Our Minds'

'Out of Our Minds', a research group which looks into what speakers know about languages by using machine-learning techniques, will be moving to the University of Birmingham.

Initially operating out of the University of Sheffield since 2017, 'Out of Our Minds' will be now based at the University of Birmingham from January 2019 with the entire research-engine of the team transferring to Birmingham.

Professor Dagmar Divjak, who is the project lead, has been appointed jointly to the Departments of Modern Languages and English Language and Linguistics. She leads the research team together with Dr Petar Milin who will be a Senior Lecturer in the Psychology of Language and Language Learning in the Department of Modern Languages. Dr Srdan Medimorec, Dr Adnane Ez-zizi, Mr Maciej Borowski and Mr Christian Adam will also be joining Birmingham as the four project researchers, and a further three team members will be recruited in 2019. The current research software engineers (RSE) will remain at Sheffield as the University of Birmingham has its own in-house RSE team to support the development of new computational and statistical approaches, optimised for high-speed performance on large datasets.

‘Out of Our Minds’ was awarded a five year £1million Research Leadership Award from the Leverhulme Trust in December 2016. The grant is used to research and develop new ways of describing speakers’ linguistic knowledge, by using machine-learning techniques that mimic the way in which humans learn.

The patterns found will be verified in laboratory settings and tested on adult foreign language learners to see if such patterns can help them learn a foreign language in a way that resembles how they learned their mother tongue.

Commenting on the move to Birmingham, Professor Divjak said: "The University of Birmingham has that right strategic mind-set which creates the ideal environment for a research group such as ours to thrive. The University of Birmingham is a fore-runner in truly enabling interdisciplinary research, and is one of the very few universities who are investing in Language Sciences. They offer a strong tradition of research in corpus linguistics with more recent investment in cognitive linguistics, have a long tradition of teaching both Modern Foreign Languages and English as a Foreign Language and seem keen to spice this language mixture up with cognitive and computer science."

 

In their first year, the team has been working on linking foundational linguistic operations such as the ability to construe a situation in different ways to cognitive abilities such as perception and conception. In year two, they will focus on understanding what kinds of memories linguistic knowledge constitutes.

At the same time, they run computer simulations using algorithms that learn from data in a way that resembles how human beings learn from data to understand which patterns learners might be picking up. From 2019 the team will be using this new knowledge to design new teaching materials for foreign language students that will make language learning experience more natural and rewarding.

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You can follow Out of our Minds on Twitter @ooominds or find out more information here