Research projects and events

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Lowlands Whispers

We've made it home after a wonderful couple of days at Lowlands where we have studied how stories change as they are being transmitted from one person to the other. Find out more here.

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A Telling Story: children’s stories as a window into the development of intentional reasoning

We are all familiar with stories and narratives, from horror stories told at nightly bonfires, to gossip exchanges in a pub. They are language phenomena that exhibit features such as plot complexity and character development that make them exciting, relatable, and clear, among other things. We believe that children’s made-up fantasy stories, told in group settings in various venues, exhibit the same narratological features and that we can learn a lot from them. We expect that for children storytelling as a skill predicts the ability to read other people’s minds. Storytelling could be a means to immerse oneself in another person’s beliefs, desires and intentions, and this is the claim we hope to support by our research. By unravelling stories and annotating them for properties like plot complexity, tense, and vocabulary, we hope to learn more about the role stories play in the cognitive development of children.

We visit schools, day care institutions, community centres and the like to give brief story workshops for children and record their stories. The corpus that we build with these stories is also used to teach computers the intricacies of spontaneous child speech, which is expected to differ a lot from the adult language that language models are usually trained on. We hope to deliver the knowledge about the particular structure and inflections of child language that gives an impulse to child speech processing by computers.

We are always open for collaboration. Interested in a free story workshop on your institution, exchange of ideas, or cup of coffee? Let us know at kinderenalsverhalenvertellers@liacs.leidenuniv.nl!

Please see the Dutch webpage of the project here