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Department of Comparative Language Science Evolutionary Neuroscience of Language Group


Our research focuses on:


The brain-language-evolution relationship: Has human (spoken) language been adapting to the brain, or has the human brain been changing over evolution to allow the development of spoken language? What cerebral mechanisms of our biological heritage has human language taken advantage of? What is the role of the perisylvian regions of the right hemisphere? Why do the spoken languages of the world vary in phonology, prosody, and syntax, while the brains of people around the world are alike in morphological architecture? Why have languages with particularly complex processing capacity requirements persisted to this day? Is the "multilingual brain" not a phenomenon of globalization at all? Do we need language to understand the brain or do we need the brain to understand language? These and other questions are addressed in our research on the evolution of language(s).


Neuroanatomical and neurofunctional changes of the aging brain represent a hitherto hardly studied subject. Linked to this are many elementary questions that have not yet been covered by systematic long-term studies. How does the ratio of gray and white matter change? Do age-related changes manifest themselves differently in primary sensory cortical areas compared to association cortices? How can gray and white matter degradation be counteracted? Might age-related gray matter decline not necessarily be detrimental to brain functioning? How can the relationship between individual anatomical and neurophysiological characteristics be better understood? Researching functional and neuroanatomical plasticity across the lifespan is currently uncharted scientific territory. The brain shows structural changes in the white and gray matter at every stage of life. But how does the aging brain have to reorganize itself functionally again and again in order to be able to maintain spoken language largely unimpaired despite these developmental changes? Neuroanatomical traits change as function of age and we wonder to what extent this effects the brain-language relationship irrespective of the different kinds of hearing loss.


With advancing age, the interaction between atrophy, suprathreshold hearing loss and central hearing disorders are a phenomenon that increasingly affects large parts of the population. Particularly affected, of course, is the ability to understand speech, but also to speak. Current interventions provide for speech training in old age in addition to the fitting of hearing aids. An evaluation of the effectiveness of these training-based interventions, or the development of alternative approaches that better address the acoustic basis of spoken language, is a promising area of research.


The topic of "second language learning" in old age is a largely unexplored area. Interesting questions are the neuroplastic basis for language acquisition in old age, as well as the neuropsychological investigation of the possibilities and limits of language learning and acquisition processes in relation to general functions of learning in old age. Specifically, this means questions such as: "Does (foreign) language acquisition in old age resemble language acquisition in adolescence in speed and nature?", "How can a degree of automation in language acquisition in old age be 'optimized'?" and "What influence do flanking activities such as social activities have on language acquisition and language maintenance in old age?".


The neuroplastic mechanisms of chronic noise in one or two ears (tinnitus), whose neurophysiological cause and dynamics are beyond question, are still not sufficiently understood, especially since the subjective intensity of chronic tinnitus is moderated to a large extent by psychological variables and varies interindividually. Our basic research aims to establish neurophysiologically based individual tinnitus profiles of affected individuals to provide a starting point for meaningful interventions. Furthermore our research places a particular emphasis on the question, why individuals who suffer from chronic subjective tinnitus frequently complain about impaired spoken language comprehension and disturbed participation in spoken conversations. To date, research has not yet been able to porived satisfactory answers to this question. Furthermore, we develop neuropsychological therapies (neurofeedback, neuromodulation) based on individual diagnostics of spontaneous brain activity.

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Collaborative Partners in Research

University of Zurich

Department of Comparative Language Science


Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky

More about Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky

University of South Australia

Centre for Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience

University of Zurich

Phonetics & Speech Sciences

Université de Genève

Neurosciences Fondamentales - Auditory, Speech and Language Neuroscience

University of Zurich
Computational Neuroscience of Speech and Hearing

University of Vienna / Université de Genève

Vienna Cognitive Science Hub

University Hospital of Zurich

Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Institute of Bioengineering, Center for Neuroprosthetics


University of Geneva

Department of Radiology and Medical Informatics ​

University of Salzburg

Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics


Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience 

Psychology and Neural Science


New York University 


Charles University of Prague

Department of Otorhinolaryngology

University of Zurich

Department of Comparative Language Science