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Professor Johan Bolhuis

Human evolution; language acquisition; language evolution; neurolinguistics
Professor Johan Bolhuis

Academic Visitor, Department of Zoology

Affiliated Lecturer, Department of Psychology

Visiting Scholar, St. Catharine's College

Professor of Cognitive Neurobiology, Utrecht University

Comparative analysis of birdsong learning and human speech and language acquisition

Theoretical analysis of the evolution and mechanisms of language

Research Interests

My main research interests are in the behavioural, neural and cognitive mechanisms of language, learning, memory and development. In particular, my current research is concerned with the neural mechanisms of birdsong memory, and the neurocognitive parallels between birdsong, speech and language. In addition, I have a theoretical interest in the relationship between evolution, cognition, and the brain.


  • Neurolinguistics
  • Human evolution

Key Publications

Bolhuis, J.J., Beckers, G.J.L., Huybregts, M.A.C., Berwick, R.C. & Everaert, M.B.H (2018) The slings and arrows of comparative linguistics. PLoS Biology, 16(9), e3000019.

Bolhuis, J.J., Beckers, G.J.L., Huybregts, M.A.C., Berwick, R.C. & Everaert, M.B.H (2018) Meaningful syntactic structure in songbird vocalizations? PloS Biology, 16(6), e2005157.

Friederici, A.D., Chomsky, N., Berwick, R.C., Moro, A. & Bolhuis, J.J. (2017) Language, mind and brain. Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 713-722.

Yang, C., Crain, S., Berwick, R.C., Chomsky, N. & Bolhuis, J.J. (2017) The growth of language: Universal Grammar, experience, and principles of computation. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 81,103-119.

Everaert, M.B.H, Huybregts, M.A.C., Berwick, R.C., Chomsky, N., Tattersall, I., Moro, A. & Bolhuis, J.J. (2017) What is language and how could it have evolved? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21, 569-571.

Huybregts, M.A.C., Berwick, R.C. & Bolhuis, J.J. (2016) The language within. Science, 352, 1286.

Everaert, M.B.H, Huybregts, M.A.C., Chomsky, N., Berwick, R.C & Bolhuis, J.J. (2015) Structures, not strings: Linguistics as part of the cognitive sciences. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19, 729-743.

Bolhuis, J.J., Tattersall, I., Chomsky, N. & Berwick, R.C. (2015) Language: UG or not to be, that is the question.  PLoS Biology, 13(2): e1002063.

Bolhuis, J.J., Tattersall, I., Chomsky, N. & Berwick, R.C. (2014) How could language have evolved? PLoS Biology, 12(8), e1001934.

Berwick, R.C., Friederici, A.D., Chomsky, N. & Bolhuis, J.J. (2013) Evolution, brain and the nature of language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 89-98.

Bolhuis, J.J. & Everaert, M. (Eds.) (2013) Birdsong, Speech & Language. Exploring the Evolution of Mind and Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Berwick, R.C., Okanoya, K, Beckers, G.J.L. & Bolhuis, J.J. (2011) Songs to syntax: The linguistics of birdsong. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15, 113-121.

Bolhuis, J.J., Okanoya, K. & Scharff, C. (2010) Twitter evolution: Converging mechanisms in birdsong and human speech. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11, 747-759.