Language is what sets humans apart from all other species. Despite
much effort, however, its evolutionary origins have remained obscure. At
the same time, the role of language is currently undergoing radical
changes, with cultural, psychological and evolutionary ramifications
barely understood. New digital channels, ubiquitous online knowledge
bases, and continued advancement of artificial intelligence are
reshaping our communicative environment and modifying the way we learn
and use language. An in-depth exploration of the origins and future of
language is urgently needed, propelling language science to the
forefront of societal and economic challenges.
The NCCR Evolving Language explores the evolutionary origins and
future development of linguistic communication with an unprecedented
transdisciplinary research programme. We conceptualise language as a
system of components with distinct evolutionary trajectories and adopt a
large-scale comparative framework to study these trajectories in nature
and function along three thematic axes:
The Dynamic Structures of Language:
How and why have the structures of language and their temporal dynamics
evolved? How will these structures interact with new technologies and
means of communication?
The Biological Substrates of Language:
What are the biological mechanisms that make language possible? Can and
should we intervene on language functions with neurotechnology?
The Social Cognition of Language:
What are the social cognitive mechanisms that underlie linguistic
communication, both phylogenetically and ontogenetically? How did these
mechanisms evolve and how will they change with artificial
These three lines of research are complemented by Transversal Task Forces (TTFs).
TTFs will stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration by sharing methods,
databases, technologies, and equipment and by fostering NCCR-wide
discussions on conceptual and ethical issues.