Cracking language mysteries for a year!
Bannière newsletter (1)

Exploring the past, present and future of language

Dear all,
It has been over a year since the launch of the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) Evolving Language. Starting an NCCR under the Covid-19 conditions we all know has not been easy, but we are nevertheless very proud of what we have accomplished during the past months. To date, we have 38 PIs and 130 junior research staff in our community, including internal collaborators, and we want to thank you all for your commitment. May this collaboration continue to be rich, fruitful and highly transversal.

Your administration team.
group picture of the NCCR Evolving Language
Annual retreat in August 2020 in Les Diablerets

Back to when it started...

"The NCCRs aim to strengthen the position of Switzerland
in important areas of research, economy and society."

Matthias Egger, President of the National Research Council of the SNSF
December 2019
  • December 2018 1st Submission deadline for the NCCRs of the 5th series (2020).
  • August 2019 The SNSF selects 11 candidates and submit them to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation for final choice.
  • December 2019 Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin announces the establishment of six new National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR), including Evolving Language.
    [media conference] [press release]
  • April 2020 Switzerland is in semi-confinement. The official launch date is postponed.
  • June 2020 Official launch of the NCCR.
  • September 2020 Take off of the first scientific projects.
  • January 2021 Online information event [video], around 200 people attended it.
  • June 2021 Evolving Language is one year old! So much has happened in 36 months. The NCCR has gone from a project to a full operational center.

> An NCCR on language... Why is it essential?



Diversity at the heart of Evolving Language

Studying the evolution of language means first and foremost embracing the diversity of languages, of living beings and of transdisciplinary approaches that surround it. With this in mind, the NCCR Evolving Language celebrated UNESCO’s “Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development” and thus took a stand for an inclusive academic environment and for the many aspects of identity diversity, be it cultural, ethnic, linguistic, social, or psychocognitive.
> Read more

Postdoctoral position in Computational Linguistics at the University of Lausanne

The candidate will work with our PI Aris Xanthos on the expression of emotion in computer-mediated communication.
> Read more

International Symposium: Call for contributions
[new extended deadline]

The Swiss National Competence Center in Research ‘Evolving Language’ is happy to announce an international symposium on "The Molecular Anthropology of Language: Results and Prospects." This two-day event, to be held at the University of Zurich on 29-30 September 2021, will bring together both established and emerging leaders in this burgeoning field of language and genetics.
> Read more

Dr. Silvia Marchesotti was awarded the Swiss Dyslexia Association Research Award 2021

Silvia Marchesotti received the Swiss Dyslexia Association Research Award 2021 for her work "Selective enhancement of low-gamma activity by tACS improves phonemic processing and reading accuracy in dyslexia", which was published in the renowned scientific journal PLoS Biology in 2020.
> Read more

Outreach Projects

Past projects

Art-Science: Julie Semoroz & Didier Grandjean

The NCCR Evolving Language was an organizing partner of a workshop by the artist Julie Semoroz at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 7th, 6.30 pm. During the workshop, Prof Didier Grandjean, PI of the NCCR Evolving Language, introduced his research on bodily vibrations and emotional vocalizations to the public.
> Read more
news (56)
Blog (2)

Movie hackathon: A film on Language created in 72 hours

Carmen Saldana and Chiara Barbieri took part in the SciFilmIt Hackathons in Zurich. In 72 hours, they created a movie from scratch, called "Language Beats". Congrats to them!
> Watch the movie

!! Application are now open for the event in Geneva, 24-26 September, contact us in case of interest !!

Meet our #NCCRWomen!

Unraveling the biological foundations of language, its evolutionary past and the challenges imposed by new technologies would not be possible without a unique transdisciplinary approach. And we could not make our NCCR possible without our female researchers who constitute 50% of our community. This is why we are proud to be part of this #NCCRWomen campaign!
> Read more
Twitter (8)

Upcoming projects


Scientifica, Zürich, 3-4 September

As the most important public event held by ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, Scientifica is intended to bring the general public closer to research at the two universities in an interactive way and to demonstrate the benefits to society.
NCCR Evolving Language members submitted several projects to the event and we look forward to being a part of it.
> Read more

Upcoming Talks and Events

Organized by the NCCR

24-28 August 2021
[NCCR Annual retreat]
Annual NCCR Summer School (in Engelberg)

29-30 September 2021
[International Symposium: Call for contributions]
The Molecular Anthropology of Language: Results and Prospects
More information here.

9-10 September 2021
[Internal to the NCCR]
SNSF Site visit.

External (with NCCR members)

13 July 2021, 7 PM (CEST)
Evolutionary Biases in Language
Abralin (Brazilian Linguistics Association)
Balthasar Bickel
More information here.

15-18 August 2021
The South American Ethnosphere: Human Diversity in Time and Space
Chiara Barbieri & Marcel Sánchez
More information here

16-17 September 2021
[ISLE | Call for papers: X-PPL 2021]
Crosslinguistic Perspectives on Processing and Learning
Organizing committee with several members
More information here.

15 September 2021
Leipzig lectures on language
Giulio Degano and Narly Golestani
More information here.

2, 10 & 15 November 2021
[Call for abstracts]
International Workshop on Language Production 2021
With Marina Laganaro in the scientific committee
More information here.

Selected Media Coverage 2019-2021

RTS CQFD. (2020, June 17). Réparer le langage par la technologie [link]
SRF Echo der Zeit. (2020, June 2). Forschung zum Gedankenlesen—«Es besteht eine reale Abhörgefahr» [link]
RTS CQFD. (2020b, June 29). Comment le cerveau identifie les syllabes—Radio. [link]
Rhône FM. (2020, July 27). L’apprentissage du langage. [link]
SRF Echo der Zeit. (2021, January 22). Sprache verstehen als Resultat der Evolutionsgeschichte. [link]
RTS, Tribu. (2021, February 19). L’évolution du langage—Radio. [link]
RTS CQFD. (2021, February 26). Rencontre avec Emilie Genty, une spécialiste de la communication chez les grands singes [link]
RTS CQFD. (2021, March 11). Comment les chiens décodent notre langage—Radio. [link]
SRF Echo der Zeit. (2021, May 31). Warum wir Füllwörter gebrauchen—Radio. In Play SRF. [link]
SRF Einstein. (2020, October 8). Gorillas unter Stress. [link]
BBC Earth Kids. (2020, June 11). How To Speak Meerkat | Meerkats—The Secrets of an Animal Superstar. [link]
Le 19h30 de la RTS. (2021, February 4). La stimulation cérébrale, un espoir pour soigner la dyslexie. [link]
SRF Sternstunde. (2021, February 28). Hans-Johann Glock—Tiere verstehen, aber wie? [link]
Tages-Anzeiger. (2020, May 17). Grosses Missbrauchspotential – Können Computer schon bald unsere Gedanken lesen? [link]
Die Weltwoche. (2020, May 20). Gefährlich wie die Atombombe. [link]
Die Südostschweiz. (2020, June 12). Gedankenlesen ist keine Science-Fiction mehr. [link] (2020a, September 22). La stimulation cérébrale, nouvelle piste dans le traitement de la dyslexie. [link]
Le Matin Dimanche. (2020, October 20). Fréquence cérébrale – La neurostimulation pour aider les dyslexiques. [link]
BBC Science Focus. (2020, October 22). Key language ability ’existed in ancient primate ancestors’—BBC Science Focus Magazine. [link] (2020b, December 21). Les bonobos aussi sont capables d’engagement social. [link] (2021, January 25). Un pôle de recherche à 34 millions de francs pour réunir toutes les facettes du langage. [link]
SWI (2021, February 2). Einfache Grammatik macht es dem Gehirn schwierig. [link] SWI (2021, February 3). Marmosets analyse ‘chats’ to find useful partners. [link]
NZZ. (2021, February 6). Hirnstimulation mit tACS: Auf die Wellenlänge kommt es an. [link]
SWI (2021, February 2). Einfache Grammatik macht es dem Gehirn schwierig. [link] SWI (2021, February 3). Marmosets analyse ‘chats’ to find useful partners. [link]
Tages-Anzeiger. (2021, March 25). Renommierte Zürcher Forscherin – Diese Frau hat die SOS-Rufe der Erdmännchen entschlüsselt. [link]
Bannière newsletter (3)
UZH News (2020, March 24). Gedanken lesen. [link]
Campus Magazine. (2020, June 1). Au cœur de la machinerie du langage. [link]
UZH Magazin 2/21. (2021, June 10). Brabbeln und Bellen. Wie der Mensch zur Sprache kam. [link]

Ask an expert!

Our PhD students Alexandra Bosshard and Nicole Tamer contributed to a media appearance as experts. They worked with the journalist Hannes Grassegger for an interview that was published in "das Magazin" of the Tages-Anzeiger. The journalist conducted the interview in English and wanted to benefit from their expertise in translating scientific terms. Congratulations to them!

Link to the article
Blog (5)


With NCCR acknowledgement, from June 2020 - July 2021

Cathcart, C., Hölzl, A., Jäger, G., Widmer, P., & Bickel, B. (2020). Numeral classifiers and number marking in Indo-Iranian: A phylogenetic approach. Language Dynamics and Change, Epub ahead of print.

Fröhlich, M., Bartolotta, N., Fryns, C., Wagner, C., Momon, L., Jaffrezic, M., Setia, T. M., Schuppli, C., Noordwijk, M. van, & Schaik, C. P. van. (2021). Wild-captive contrasts in non-vocal communicative repertoires and functional specificity in orang-utans. BioRxiv, 2021.01.19.426493.

Glock, H.-J. (2020). Minds, Brains, and Capacities: Situated Cognition and Neo-Aristotelianism. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.

Marlen, F., Bartolotta, B., Fryns, C., Wagner, C., Momon, L., Jaffrezic, M., Mitra Setia, T., van Noordwijk Maria, & van Schaik, C. (2020, December 16). Use and Function of Multi-Articulator Versus Multi-Sensory Acts in the Close-Range Communication of Orang-Utans.

Neureiter, N., Ranacher, P., van Gijn, R., Bickel, B., & Weibel, R. (2021). Can Bayesian phylogeography reconstruct migrations and expansions in linguistic evolution? Royal Society Open Science, 8(1), 201079.

Shimizu, K. K., Copetti, D., Okada, M., Wicker, T., Tameshige, T., Hatakeyama, M., Shimizu-Inatsugi, R., Aquino, C., Nishimura, K., Kobayashi, F., Murata, K., Kuo, T., Delorean, E., Poland, J., Haberer, G., Spannagl, M., Mayer, K. F. X., Gutierrez-Gonzalez, J., Muehlbauer, G. J., … Handa, H. (2021). De Novo Genome Assembly of the Japanese Wheat Cultivar Norin 61 Highlights Functional Variation in Flowering Time and Fusarium-Resistant Genes in East Asian Genotypes. Plant and Cell Physiology, 62(1), 8–27.

Urban, M., & Barbieri, C. (2020). North and South in the ancient Central Andes: Contextualizing the archaeological record with evidence from linguistics and molecular anthropology. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 60, 101233.

Watson, S. K., Burkart, J. M., Schapiro, S. J., Lambeth, S. P., Mueller, J. L., & Townsend, S. W. (2020). Nonadjacent dependency processing in monkeys, apes, and humans. Science Advances, 6(43).

Matsumae, H., Ranacher, P., Savage, P. E., Blasi, D. E., Currie, T. E., Kognebuchi, K., Nishida, N., Sato, T., Tanabe, H., Tajima, A., Brown, S., Stoneking, M., Shimizu, K. K., Oota, H., & Bickel, B. (2020). Exploring correlations in genetic and cultural variation across language families in Northeast Asia. BioRxiv, 513929.

Watson, S. K., Heesen, R., Hedwig, D., Robbins, M. M., & Townsend, S. W. (2020). An exploration of Menzerath’s law in wild mountain gorilla vocal sequences. Biology Letters, 16(10), 20200380.

Widmer, M., Jenny, M., Behr, W., & Bickel, B. (2020). Morphological structure can escape reduction effects from mass admixture of second language speakers. Studies in Language, Epub ahead of print.

Stoll, S., & Schikowski, R. (2020). Child-Language Corpora. In M. Paquot & S. Th. Gries (Eds.), A Practical Handbook of Corpus Linguistics (pp. 305–327). Springer International Publishing.

Bosshard, A. B., Leroux, M., Lester, N. A., Bickel, B., Stoll, S., & Townsend, S. W. (2021a). From collocations to call-ocations: Using linguistic methods to quantify animal call combinations. BioRxiv, 2021.06.16.448679.

Bugaeva, A., Nichols, J., & Bickel, B. (2021). Appositive possession in Ainu and around the Pacific. Linguistic Typology.

Glock, H.-J., & Schmidt, E. (2021). Pluralism about practical reasons and reason explanations. Philosophical Explorations, 24(2), 119–136.

Wirsich, J., Jorge, J., Iannotti, G. R., Shamshiri, E. A., Grouiller, F., Abreu, R., Lazeyras, F., Giraud, A. L., Gruetter, R., Sadaghiani, S., & Vulliémoz, S. (2021). The relationship between EEG and fMRI connectomes is reproducible across simultaneous EEG-fMRI studies from 1.5T to 7T. NeuroImage, 231, 117864.

Fraga-González, G., Pleisch, G., Di Pietro, S. V., Neuenschwander, J., Walitza, S., Brandeis, D., Karipidis, I. I., & Brem, S. (2021). The rise and fall of rapid occipito-temporal sensitivity to letters: Transient specialization through elementary school. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 49, 100958.

You, G., Daum, M., & Stoll, S. (2021). Processing Causatives in First Language Acquisition: A Computational Approach. Proceedings of the 45th Boston University Conference on Child Language Development, 12.
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