Evolution of Communication: from animal signals to human speech

Module code: C8600
Level 6
15 credits in spring teaching
Teaching method: Lecture, Laboratory, Film, Workshop
Assessment modes: Essay, Coursework

In this module, you explore the evolution of communication, progressing from the vocal signals that animals produce and the functions they serve, to then consider the differences between animal and human communications - to evaluate theories of language evolution and discover the unique properties of human speech. In the course of this, you also examine ape language studies and gestural theories of language origins.

You are exposed to tools and skills that will allow you to conduct research in this area yourself - through lectures, interactive research workshop sessions and practical demonstrations.

This module should very much appeal to both psychologists and biologists who are interested in how vocal signals provide the basis for animal sexual and social behaviour, the evolution of communication, the question of whether any animal can be said to have a language, and the production and perception of human speech.

Module learning outcomes

  • Explain how animal vocalisations are produced, what information they contain, and how they function in mediating sexual and social behaviour.
  • Report differences between animal and human vocal communication and explain unique properties of human speech.
  • Critically assess empirical evidence, core concepts and current controversies in the field of animal communication and evaluate competing theories of language evolution.
  • Illustrate a practical knowledge of how to undertake research on animal communication and human speech.