ProjectSubliminal learning in the Mandarin lexicon

Basic data

Subliminal learning in the Mandarin lexicon
01/09/2022 to 31/08/2027
Abstract / short description:
Central to this research project is the observation that there are regularities and systematicities in the spoken language that escape our awareness, that are shielded from us by linguistic traditions and cultural conventions embodied in writing systems, but that nevertheless are detected by our brains, albeit subliminally, and used to optimize lexical processing. Philosophers such as Emmanual Kant, Edmund Husserl, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and more recently the cognitive scientist Hoffman, have called attention to how our perception of reality is shaped by and filtered through our minds and bodies. According to Hoffman, mathematically, fitness beats truth: our perceptions of the world are tuned to our survival. Writing systems are culturally evolved technologies that also hide from our eyes and ears the truth about what we really hear and say. Obviously, in order to work, writing systems must abstract away from the full richness of the spoken word. However, many features of our speech that are masked by writing systems, are nevertheless exploited by our cognitive system when we listen or speak. For native speakers, mismatches between speech and writing are relatively unproblematic. For second language acquisition, however, mismatches can render learning unnecessarily difficult. The research programme addresses this issue for Mandarin Chinese. Two kinds of mismatches will be investigated, using state-of-the-art methods in computational modeling, distributional semantics, and statistical analysis: subliminal mismatches between what written words are supposed to sound like, and how they are actually spoken, and subliminal mismatches between how the writing system is supposed to work, and how it actually functions and, as a semiotic system of its own, influences thought. These investigations will inform the applied goal of this project: developing ways to enhance vocabulary learning of Mandarin Chinese as a second language.
Language learning and processing (first and second languages)
Theoretical linguistics; computational linguistics
Computational modeling and digitisation in the cultural sphere

Involved staff


Institute of Linguistics (SfS)
Department of Modern Languages, Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Institute of Linguistics (SfS)
Department of Modern Languages
Faculty of Humanities



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