Modul "Natural Media of Human Communication"

Interdisciplinary insights into human cognition, language, and technology

SoSe 2013

Prof. Irene Mittelberg, Ph.D. (HumTec)
Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Klaus Willmes-von Hinckeldey (Neuropsychology, University Hospital Aachen)




Mondays                            18.00-19.30, HKW 2 (Heizkraftwerk; room 301)




Course description
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.).
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 language breaks down due to brain damage? What does it take to translate from one language into another? We will also discuss issues in designing gestural interfaces with technology for intuitive use. Along the way, students will become familiar with the methods researchers use to examine human communicative behavior, such as audio/video analysis, experimental design, and brain imaging.  


Language of instruction:
To give all students the opportunity to benefit from an international setting, all lectures and discussions will be held in English. During the discussion sessions, questions and answers may be translated. The English readings fort he course will be at a manageable level.


Participants are expected to do the assigned readings as class preparations and to actively engage in class discussions. To earn credits for a ‘Leistungsnachweis’, each student is further asked to participate in a science slam presentation on one of the topics treated during the semester. More information will be provided in class



Invited lectures, moderators, and schedule:

Apr. 15                                 Introduction; points of departure; what is a science slam?        


Apr. 22                                 Semiotic Survival
Understanding Natural and Cultural Signs
Prof. Irene Mittelberg, Ph.D.
(Linguistics & Cognitive Semiotics; Natural Media Lab (HumTec))


Apr. 29                                 Hands, Numbers, and Counting
Behavioral and Brain Activation Studies
Prof. Dr. Klaus Willmes-von Hinckeldey
(Neuropsychology, Aachen University Hospital)


May 06                                Signed Languages: Insights into the Multimodality of Language
Influence of Language Modality on Categorization                                                                      

Dipl.-Psych. Klaudia Grote & Horst Sieprath

(RWTH Aachen Center for Sign Language and Gesture (SignGes))


May 27                               Embodied Cognition, Physical Action, and Apraxia
Clinical insights into disturbances of everyday manual actions
Prof. Dr. med. Ferdinand Binkofski 

(Dept. of Neurology, Clinical Cognition Research,  University Hospital Aachen)


June 03                                                Augmented Reality and Serious Gaming
New Developments in Human Computer Interaction
Prof. Wolfgang Prinz, Ph.D.
(Fraunhofer Institute of Information Technology/Informatics 5)


June 17                                               Technology, Aggression, and the Brain
Computer games and  brain-computer interaces
Prof. Dr. Dr. med. Klaus Mathiak & Dr. Martin Klasen
(Dept. of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics, University Hospital Aachen)


July 08                                 Science slam presentations


This Leonardo module is a joint initiative of the HumTec project Natural Media/NeuroPeirce and the newly established RWTH Aachen Center for Sign Language and Gesture (SignGes).


Monday, 18.00-19.30h                                                                                                                               HKW 2; room 301
For more information please contact Claudia Lürken (                                                             


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