A short academic biography

I got my graduate training in the Cognitive Anthropology Group at the Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and received my Ph.D. degree in 1997 from the University of Zürich. From 1995 through 1998 I taught part-time in Zürich and worked as a researcher at the University of Mainz. I then spent three years at the University of California, Berkeley, on a postdoctoral fellowship sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation. In 2001 I completed my Habilitation at Zürich and was awarded an extracurricular professorship (Förderungsprofessur) by the Swiss National Science Foundation. From 2002 until 2011, I was professor of linguistic typology and variation at the University of Leipzig (Institute of Linguistics), and in 2011 I took over the chair of general linguistics at the University of Zürich. Since 2020 I am director of the research center NCCR Evolving Language.

My core research question is what's where why in language. I want to uncover the conditions that shape the spatio-temporal dynamics of language, and I seek to understand their nature in the light of human evolution.

Selected recent keynotes

2019 Lexical Splits. Surrey.

III Colloquio internacional sobre la tipología de las lenguas amerindias, Lima


Typology and Universals in Word Formation IV, Košice


Cognitive Explanations in Linguistic Typology, Canberra


50th Anniversary Meeting of the Australian Linguistic Society, Sydney


Phylogenetic Methods in Historical Linguistics 2, Tübingen

2015 Lorentz Center International Scientific Workshop: Capturing Phylogenetic Algorithms for Linguistics, Leiden
2015 48th International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics, Santa Barbara
2015 Perspectives on Nativism, Edinburgh
2015 1st Conference on Causality in the Language Sciences, Leipzig
2014 36th Annual Conference of the German Linguistic Society, Marburg
2014 2nd International South Asia Workshop: Linguistic Microareas, Uppsala
2014 Grammatical categories in macro- and microcomparative linguistics, Marburg
2013 Language Documentation: Past – Present – Future, Hannover


A full CV is available on request.