top of page


Human vocal Communication (Week 12, 3 ECTS)

This module on human vocal communication will take you from the production of vocal signals in humans to the evolution of language. First, we will see how we produce vocal signals and how this shapes their acoustic structure. Second, we will see how speech is perceived, and why speech perception is “special”. Then we will discuss how children acquire the ability to perceive and produce speech sounds. In the second part of the course we will review the key differences between animal and human vocal communications systems, with a focus on human nonverbal communication as the possible “missing link”. This will lead us to discuss current theories for the origins and evolution of speech. We will track the precursors of human speech in animal vocal communication systems and see what hominid fossils tell us.

During the practical sessions, conducted in computer cluster rooms, you will learn to visualise, analyse and modify human speech signals. You will have the opportunity to explore the acoustic structure of complex speech signals, extract and quantify their main features, see how their variation forms the basis of the phonetic diversity of human speech. You will also learn to independently modify these features and see how this affects how the speech utterances are perceived. In particular, you will see how the apparent age and gender of a speaker can be modified.

Research talks on the neurobiology of human voice production (C. McGettigan), nonverbal vocalisations (G. Bryant, K. Pisanski, N. Holz), on whistled languages (J. Meyer) will expose you directly to current research in this field and illustrate how interdisciplinary investigations are useful for understanding how we use our voice to communicate.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, a successful student should be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of how human vocal signals are produced, structured and perceived.

2. Demonstrate familiarity with main issues and current topics relating to the origins and evolution of speech.

3. Demonstrate a good understanding of tools for analysing and synthesising human vocal signals.

4. Demonstrate an understanding of the production-perception chain and of how to conduct psychoacoustic playback experiments to test how vocal sounds affect human perceivers.


2024 provisional Schedule

Monday 25th November

Morning Lecture:

10-12pm: Presentation of the module. The anatomy of the human vocal apparatus. Production and acoustics of the human voice. The structure of speech. Co-articulation (D. Reby).



2-6pm: Practical: Analysing the voice with PRAAT (D. Reby, Romane Philippe, Virgile Daunay): Age, sex and size differences. Exaggeration and deception. Vocal tract length estimation and PSOLA resynthesis. Followed by lab report preparation (D. Reby).


Tuesday 26th November

Morning Lectures:

10-11am: Adult speech perception: vocal tract normalisation & categorical Perception (D. Reby).

11-12pm: Acquisition of speech and music (G. Bryant).



2-5pm: Practical on Analysing speech, measuring vowel formant frequencies with PRAAT. Consonants and Speech perception (VOT, BA/DA/GA) (D. Reby, Romane Philippe, Virgile Daunay). Followed by lab report preparation (tutored, D. Reby).


Wednesday 27th November

Morning Lectures:

10:00-11:30 am: Voice and sexual selection. Nonverbal information: honest and deceptive signals to biosocial traits in human voice. (K. Pisanski).

11:30-12:30 pm: Key differences between animal vocalisations and human speech (D. Reby).


Afternoon Lectures:

2-3 pm Marcus Perlman: Iconicity in vocalization and speech, and the origins of language.

3-5 pm: Acoustic, perceptual, and physiological investigations of volitional vocal modulation in humans (Carolyn McGettigan - UCL)


Thursday 28th November

Morning Lectures:

10am-11pm: Is nonverbal vocal behaviour the missing link? (K. Pisanski).

11pm-1pm Production, Perception and function of nonverbal vocalisations (Greg Bryant, UCLA).



2-3pm: Human bioacoustics and languages: acoustic and linguistic adaptation for long range communication in shouted, whistled and drummed types of speech (Julien Meyer).

Friday 29th  November.

Study time for lab report and empirical project (tutored, D. Reby)

Report submission @ 4pm.


The final mark will be based on a 1000 words (max) lab report, in which you will analyse and interpret the class data from Monday practical (voice cues to sex, size and vocal exaggeration).

Organiser: David Reby

Guest Speakers: Greg Bryant, Carolyn McGettigan, Kasia Pisanski, Julien Meyer, Romane Philippe, Virgile Daunay.

© Kasia Pisanski

© Clément Cornec

bottom of page