"We are spun into communication; even our self-consciousness hangs… of communication…. and [we] are – or for that very reason – almost incapable of communicating through communication.” (Paul Watzlawick)

How did language evolve?

Language — one of humans' most distinctive trait — remains a ‘mystery’ or even a ‘problem’ for evolutionary theory. Some scholars see evolutionary leaps as playing a crucial role in language evolution, while others stress evolutionary continuity between humans and other animals. However it may also be possible that none of these truths are complete in themselves, but language requires the convergence and integration of multiple mechanisms. If this perspective takes central focus, then language can be understood as a system of different layers with different phylogenetic and evolutionary origins.

Research Foci

We aim to pinpoint differences and similarities between human and nonhuman animal communication to shed light on the evolutionary origins and driving factors of sophisticated communicative and cognitive skills. Like humans, other animals communicate by using complex sets of gestures, facial expressions, postures and vocalizations. These are not produced in isolation but are interlinked with the respective environmental and social contexts and the interactants’ individual ‘fingerprints’.