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First Yuen Ren Chao Prize in Language Sciences Announced

3 Apr 2024

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) Faculty of Humanities is pleased to announce the laureates of the first Yuen Ren Chao Prize in Language Sciences. The Prize is initiated and hosted by the Faculty of Humanities to recognise distinguished contributions to language science research. The Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded in to two esteemed scholars, Prof. Peter Hagoort and Prof. William Shiyuan Wang (in alphabetical order of last name). Their research findings have led to major breakthroughs and have far-reaching impacts in the field around the globe, owning them the reputation as pioneering and inspiring leaders in language sciences.


peha2024Prof. Peter Hagoort is Director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (since November 2006), and the Founding Director of the Donders Institute Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (DCCN, 1999). In addition, he is a Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Radboud University Nijmegen. His own research interests relate to the domain of the human language faculty and how it is instantiated in the brain. In his research, he applies neuroimaging techniques such as ERP, MEG, PET and fMRI to investigate the language system and its impairments as in aphasia, dyslexia and autism. Prof. Hagoort is a recipient of the Spinoza Prize and the Heymans Prize.  He is an elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Europaea, and the US National Academy of Sciences.

Prof. Hagoort was the first to identify and characterise the P600 (note: a measurable response in the brain) as a marker of syntactic processing (Hagoort & Brown, Language and Cognitive Processes, 1993). Using multimodal methods (EEG, fMRI), he demonstrated that world knowledge is immediately integrated into sentence comprehension, challenging the standard assumption that sentence meaning is first determined and then its truth value is assessed (Hagoort et al., Science, 2004). Most recently, he found that catecholamine-related neurotransmitters can influence language processing (Tan & Hagoort, Cerebral Cortex, 2020) – this is the first study to show a neuropharmacological effect on semantic processing during sentence comprehension. He has also led the field in theorising about the neurobiology of language and developing testable models. He developed influential theories aimed at solving the difficult binding problem for language, proposing that the left inferior gyrus plays a critical role in unification (Hagoort, TICS, 2005) and demonstrating that this unification process and neurobiological models of language processing must move beyond the classical Wernicke-Lichtheim-Geschwind model (Hagoort, Frontiers in Psychology, 2013; Hagoort, Science, 2019). His MUC (memory, unification, and control) model has been highly influential. He has also moved the field forward by urging researchers to investigate the operation of language “in its full glory” such as co-speech gestures, conversational interactions.

Prof. Hagoort receives the Yuen Ren Chao Prize in Language Sciences for his distinguished contributions to the interdisciplinary studies in cognitive neuroscience and the understanding of human language processing in the brain.

William Shiyuan Wang1Prof. William Shiyuan Wang was born and grew up in China. He received his PhD in Linguistics from the University of Michigan. He served as a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley for more than 30 years, where he supervised over 30 PhD dissertations. He was the first to initiate a course on the biological foundation of language. He was also the first to use computers to compile a large database to study the historical development of Chinese dialects. He founded the Journal of Chinese Linguistics in 1973 and served as its Editor-in-Chief until 2018. He was elected President of the International Association of Chinese Linguistics when it was founded in 1992 in Singapore. He has served as a visiting professor in India, Italy, Japan, and Sweden. After relocation to Hong Kong, he taught as Chair Professor of Language Engineering at the City University of Hong Kong, and as Research Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has served as member of several panels at the Hong Kong Research Grants Council. He is now Chair Professor of Language and Cognitive Sciences in the Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Professor Emeritus of the University of California at Berkeley, and Academician of Academia Sinica.  

Prof. Wang’s early interest in evolutionary theory, both biological and cultural, provided the basis of a theory of lexical diffusion, according to which variants of a language compete at different levels, and surviving variants persist into future generations. Recently, his interests have extended to the cognitive neuroscience of language across the lifespan, especially ageing. His honours include awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, resident fellowships for advanced studies at Stanford, Bellagio (Italy), Kyoto; Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America; Lifetime Achievement Award from the Shanghai Anthropological Society, Honorary Professor of Peking University, among others, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Chicago, and Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities honoris causa from University of Macau.

Prof. Wang receives the Yuen Ren Chao Prize in Language Sciences for his distinguished contributions to the interdisciplinary studies in Chinese linguistics, evolutionary linguistics, and the cognitive neuroscience of language and ageing.

We would like to express our deepest congratulations to both Prof. Hagoort and Prof. Wang for their exceptional contributions to the field of language sciences. Their work has significantly advanced the development of language sciences. Both Laureates will deliver a public lecture on 10 May 2024. Interested parties are invited to join the lectures through the registration links below. Participants of 2024 International Symposium of Language Sciences (ISLS) need not register again.

Click here to register for Prof. Peter Hagoort’s lecture
Click here to register for Prof. William Shiyuan Wang’s lecture

There were no suitable candidates who have met the high standard for the Early Career Contribution Award this year. Nonetheless, we encourage young researchers to continue their hard work and we look forward to recognising their significant contributions in the future.

Faculty of Humanities, PolyU

April 2024

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