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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Graphic interpretation of brain and neural connections in the brain

A new research project involving Cambridge Language Sciences (CLS) members and colleagues at Chuo and Utsunomiya Universities in Japan, is using artificial languages to shed light on learnability issues in second language acquisition. The focus of the research is on first-language speakers of Chinese, English, and Japanese. 

The team will share their results at an international symposium on ‘Research based on Experiments with Artificial Languages (REAL)’ in Cambridge in March 2024. 

Ultimately, it is hoped that understanding brain changes underlying second language acquisition will contribute to better language education and teaching practice in future.

The research team is led by Principal Investigator, Dr Junya Fukuta, Associate Professor in Psycholinguistics at Chuo University. 

It includes Cambridge researchers: John Williams, Professor of Applied Psycholinguistics and a pioneer in the field of artificial languages, Boping Yuan, Professor Emeritus in Chinese Language and Linguistics and a leading figure in language acquisition studies, and Yuyan Xue, a PhD student in psycholinguistics and language acquisition. 

From Japan, other team members are Professor Shigenori Wakabayashi and Professor John Matthews from Chuo University, and Dr Takayuki Kimura from Utsunomiya University, who obtained his Ph.D. from Chuo in 2022.

The team said that “Language learning causes changes in our brains, where a new target language system is implemented to compute new (psycho)linguistic items and features. 

Our project, ‘Universality and cross-linguistic influences on the acquisition of unconscious linguistic knowledge’, will conduct research using artificial languages with participants whose experience is largely controlled. We are focusing on the initial stage of second or third language acquisition of morpho-syntactic rules.

Ultimately understanding the mechanisms underlying second language learning will contribute to better language learning and teaching practice.”

The relationship between Cambridge and Chuo was established in 2020 when CLS and the Chuo University Institute of Cultural Sciences (ICS), signed an inter-institutional agreement of cooperation

The aim of the agreement is to further facilitate research exchange and collaboration across countries and disciplines through activities such as joint research and academic networking. 

What we do

Cambridge Language Sciences is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Our virtual network connects researchers from five schools across the university as well as other world-leading research institutions. Our aim is to strengthen research collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines in order to address large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges relating to language research.