Language and Genetics -
About our research
Our research questions
Human children have an unparalleled capacity to acquire sophisticated speech and language skills. Despite the huge complexity of the task, most children learn their native languages almost effortlessly, and do not need formal teaching to achieve a rich linguistic repertoire. It has long been suspected that the answers to this enigma lie buried in our genetic makeup.
At a more fundamental level, speech and language are defining features of the human condition, core aspects of our species. Yet, we still know very little about how the genome is able to build a language-ready brain, nor why even our closest primate cousins appear unable to match human capabilities in this area.
We aim to uncover the DNA variations which ultimately affect different facets of our communicative abilities, not only in children with language-related disorders but also in the general population. In addition, we hope to trace the evolutionary history and worldwide diversity of key genes, which may shed new light on language origins.
About the department
The Language and Genetics department was established in October 2010 and is led by Simon E. Fisher, co-discoverer of FOXP2, the first gene to be implicated in a speech and language disorder.
The department is located in a specially-built new wing of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, which includes state-of-the-art laboratory facilities. The new wing was officially opened by Princess Laurentien in June 2015.
The department also relies on close-knit multidisciplinary interactions with the other expert groups of the MPI, leading researchers at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour and the Human Genetics Department of Radboud University, and networks of international collaborators.
Our research aims to bridge the gaps between genes, brains, speech and language. We use the latest molecular technologies and analytic methods to integrate molecular genetics with cell biology, human neuroimaging, and experimental psychology.