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.


  • The basic human emotions are genetically inherited. They also exist in the animal kingdom. But do they also have empathy like us humans? 


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  • The SciFilmIt Hackathon is a three-day science filmmaking event followed by a cinema event. Researchers and artists combine their powers to create short science films in teams of four. Experts in film, science, communication and teamwork from across the globe come to support the team. After the event, the teams take their films to the cinema for evenings of science cinema in which the public engage with the science, scientists and artists and then vote to award a winner the title of best film. 

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