Prof. Dr. Irene Mittelberg & Prof. Dr. Iring Koch
Summer term 2011
Leonardo - Modul


This module explores connections among the human mind, language, and other media we naturally use to express ourselves and to understand the people around us. We use spoken language(s) to talk to others and to solve problems, we read our friends' facial expressions to find out what they might think or feel, we point with our fingers when giving directions, and we are quite good at telling whether somebody is relaxed or agitated from looking at her or his body posture. Users of sign languages recruit their hands and the space around them to converse, tell elaborate stories, or create poetry.

What is common to all these uses of ‘natural media' is that no artificial or technical medium is needed to connect and communicate. Human face-to-face interaction probably is the most fundamental way to communicate, and yet it is a complex mix of finely coordinated bodily movements, speech sounds, mimics, looks, posture, and so forth. It concerns all of us, and understanding the principles - and the beauty - of it, remains one of the big challenges of personal and scientific inquiry. Now, in the era of electronic media, another crucial task is to preserve some of the naturalness in technological and virtual environments (e.g., mobile communication, virtual reality games, etc.).

What can participants expect to think about and learn in this module?
Class presentations and discussions will concern the multimodal nature of language. One of the guiding questions is how the different natural media are used in everyday communication, and what the advantages and limits of each medium seem to be. What is the evolutionary advantage of spoken language? What can gestures do that oral language cannot do as easily? And what does this tell us about human cognition and behavior?

Another central interest is to see how scientists from various disciplines merge their expertise to investigate the forms and functions of natural media in different contexts. For example, what happens in people's heads when they switch between two languages, or when language breaks down due to brain damage? We will also discuss issues in designing gestural interfaces with technology for intuitive use, and how people adapt their communicative strategies in different environments such as extremely noisy industrial settings. Along the way, students will become familiar with the methods researchers use to examine human communicative behavior, such as audio/video analysis, motion capture technology, experimental design, and brain imaging.

Invited lectures, moderators, and schedule:
Please see separate semester plan (tba). The group will meet every oder Monday.

Languages of instruction:
To provide all students the opportunity to be in an international setting, all lectures and discussions will be held mostly in English and guided by an international group of researchers (‘Natural Media & Engineering' from Human Technology Centre: We will be happy to translate questions and answers. The English readings for the course will be at a manageable level.

Participants are expected to do the assigned readings as class preparation and to actively engage in class discussions. To earn a certificate of attendance (Teilnahmenachweis), each student is asked to choose between the following two presentation formats on one of the topics covered in the course: a) a 20-min. oral presentation (in pairs) or b) an 8-min. science slam performance (in pairs). More information will be provided in class.

download syllabus

Further informatione in CAMPUS.

Assistant to the Project LEONARDO: Claudia Lürken.

Further Informationen of Project Leonardo.