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 human voice (C. McGettigan), nonverbal vocalisations (G. Bryant, K. Pisanski, S. Scott), on the vocal expression of gender in humans (V. Cartei), or whistle 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.



Monday 29th November

Morning Lecture: Presentation of the course. The anatomy of the human vocal apparatus. Production and acoustics of the human voice (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical: Analysing the voice with PRAAT (D. Reby).


Tuesday 30th November

Morning Lecture: The structure of speech. Co-articulation, Adult speech perception. Vocal tract normalization & categorical Perception. Speech acquisition (production & perception). (D. Reby)

Afternoon Practical: Analysing speech, measuring vowel formant frequencies with PRAAT (D. Reby).


Wednesday 1st December

Morning Lecture: Voice and sexual selection. Nonverbal information: cues to Age, gender and emotions in human voice (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical: Consonants and Speech perception (VOT, BA/DA/GA)(D. Reby).


Thursday 2nd December

Morning Lecture: Key differences between animal vocalisations and human speech. The origins and evolution of Human speech (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical: Vocal tract length estimation and PSOLA, Nonverbal Vocalisations. Measuring Nonlinear phenomena (D. Reby).


Friday 3rd December

Morning: Research talk(s) by guest speakers and supervised study time.

Lunch: ENES lab talk

Afternoon: Assessment finalization (tutored) - online submission @ 4pm.


The final mark will be based on a 2000 words portfolio, in which you will collate the exercises completed during the four practical sessions.

Organiser and tutor: David Reby

Tutors: Andrey Anikin, Val Cartei, Clement Cornec, Kasia Pisanski.

Guest Speakers: Greg Bryant, Carolyn McGettigan, J. Meyer, Sophie Scott.

© Kasia Pisanski

© Clément Cornec