Laboratory of language evolution

Since very little is know about the origin of language, and whether it evolved suddenly or gradually during the evolution of our species, any insights from studying the evolution of speech will be of strong interest to not only linguists, but also biologists, geneticists, anthropologists and archaeologists.

Our team investigates the evolution of speech through the lens of three big questions. First, what parallels exist between human and nonhuman vocalizations? Second, what speech sounds could extinct hominins, such as Neanderthal, make? Third, which speech sounds today are determined by our biology and which are due to cultural pressures? The answers to these questions will create a natural history of the use of speech sounds as building blocks in the complex communication system known as human language.

The Language Evolution Lab is supported through the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded project: Evolution of phonetics and phonology (EVOPHON). The goal of EVOPHON is to investigate the origin of vocal communication and to identify a timeline of when different phonetic, and ultimately, phonological features, were co-opted for speech.