Language is what sets humans apart from all other species, and is the secret of our success. Its evolutionary origins, however, have stubbornly resisted explanation despite long-term efforts in animal communication and human language.

However, most of this work was undertaken in isolation in the specific fields, and a diverse group of scientists in Zurich is convinced that close collaboration across disciplines is the key to solving this puzzle.

It is the mission of the newly established Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution (ISLE) to develop and test hypotheses to understand both the transition from animal communication systems to human language and the dynamics of language change.

ISLE’s members come from a great variety of fields: Anthropology, Behavioral Biology, Cognitive Biology, Comparative Linguistics, Computer Science, Developmental Psychology, Evolutionary Biology, Geography, Mathematics, Phonetics, Neuroinformatics, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psycholinguistics, and Statistics.

We aim to bring the full force of each discipline, its theories and methods, to bear on fundamental questions relating to the phylogeny, ontogeny, mechanisms and dynamics (cultural evolution and variability) of language and animal communication. One of our first tasks will be to identify the key questions and develop shared concepts.


  • New paper by Maxime Garcia on the Acoustic allometry and vocal learning in mammals.

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  • In a new paper out in Language, ISLE members Sabine Stoll and Balthasar Bickel teamed up with John Mansfield (U Melbourne) for measuring the extent to which agreement markers cluster in their morphological placement

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  • «NFS Evolving Language: ein nationaler Forschungsschwerpunkt zur Sprache» auf dem Blog der SAGW (Schweizerische Akademie der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften)

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