Human children have an unparalleled capacity to acquire sophisticated speech and language skills. Despite the huge complexity of this task, most children learn their native languages almost effortlessly and do not need formal teaching to achieve a rich linguistic repertoire.
The Language and Genetics Department was established in 2010 with the goal of shedding new light on this enigma. We adopt the latest innovations in molecular methods to discover how your genome helps you speak. Our work identifies genes that are important for the development of speech, language, reading, and social communication, and uses those genes as windows into the key neural pathways. Success depends on interdisciplinary research at multiple levels, from determining molecular interactions and functional roles in neural cell biology to effects on brain structure and activity. We ask how genes may help to explain both the evolution and variability of human language.
The Department is located in a specially built wing of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. This wing is home to state-of-the-art facilities for molecular biology, with a dedicated tissue culture laboratory and a confocal microscopy suite. The Department also relies on close-knit multidisciplinary collaborations with the other expert groups at the MPI, leading researchers at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour and the Human Genetics Department of Radboud University, as well as networks of international collaborators.
At the Language and Genetics Department, 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.
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.
To find out more about our current research themes and projects, please visit our Projects page.
Research at the Language and Genetics Department is divided into a number of themes:
To find out what our researchers are currently working on, visit the Projects page.