Vocal Communication of Humans and Nonhuman Primates

TOPIC

In this essay, you will compare and contrast human language and the vocal communication of

nonhuman primates. Specifically, you should analyze how the vocal communication systems of

humans and nonhuman primates compare in terms of:

(1) production mechanism (anatomy and process);

(2) repertoires (types of signals and range of meanings that the signals convey); and

(3) underlying cognitive abilities (grammar, referentiality, intentionality, theory of mind, etc.).

Questions (1) and (2) should be discussed briefly; your primary focus is question (3), which

should take up a majority of both space and emphasis in your essay. One of the key questions in

the study of human language considers which aspects of language are uniquely human and which

may be considered part of our primate heritage (see Zuberbuhler 2012). This is a difficult

question, on which there is no consensus in the scientific community and you will not resolve the

issue yourself. Your focus here should be on the cognitive aspects of communication.

Regarding question (2), we take it as given that human languages are capable of producing an

unlimited variety of utterances and conveying a full range of meanings, intentions, and emotions

(cf. Pinker, Ch. 2). As for (3), you can use what you know about your own language use and

experiences to explore human cognition and communication. However, do not go into a lengthy

discussion of human language; the focus should be on nonhuman primates for these questions.

GUIDELINES

Essays are assessed not only for content, but also for grammar, clarity, conciseness, and

coherence. Strive to make your essays accurate, relevant and organized, and use academic

English. Your writing should demonstrate an understanding of key scientific terms related to

sound and communication, with accurate use of relevant technical terms. You might think of this

as writing a short article directed towards an educated layperson, and it should read as a prose

essay, not a lab report outlining observations. The purpose is to assess your writing skills in

addition to your understanding of the material presented in class.

For source material, you may draw on a mix of course lectures, videos, and assigned readings,

but to earn full credit, you must include material from (and properly cite) at least two

articles from the course readings. No outside sources are required, though you are certainly

welcome to draw on other research materials if you like. There is no need to provide citations for

material you draw from lectures, unless the material originated from one of the readings or

videos. Properly cite these and any other data drawn from course readings and videos. (You may

use the citation style of your choice, so long as you are consistent and the source and page

number of the material is made clear. If you do use additional sources, be sure to cite them and

provide full bibliographical entries in a references list at the end of the document.) Otherwise, as

with any academic writing, your work must be your own and in your own words.

FORMATTING AND SUBMISSION

• Provide your own original, descriptive title for the essay.

• Your essay must be a minimum of 1500 words long, but no longer than 1750 words. Please

include the word count at end of the document in square brackets [ ].

• Your document name should include your surname, first initial, class name and assignment

type (e.g. Trump D L123-04 E2). This information should appear at the top of the first page

as well.

• Document formatting should use a 12 point font, have 1-inch margins on all sides, and be

saved in either a doc/.docx or .pdf format. No other formats will be accepted.

• The essay must be submitted in two ways. One copy should be emailed to me by the due date

and time in either .doc/.docx or .pdf format (no other formats accepted). The other should be

uploaded to Turnitin via Canvas by the same deadline. It’s a good idea to save proof of your

upload, because Turnitin is not always reliable. The essay will be considered late if it is not

received in the proper format both ways before the deadline, and late penalties will

apply.

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