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SEL8033 : Origins and Evolution of Language

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Christine Cuskley
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


To examine recent theories of language origins and evolution from a linguistic perspective; to examine work on the physical evidence concerning the origins of language, especially from a linguistic perspective; to consider additional evidence from a biological, neurological, archaeological and palaeontological perspective.

Outline Of Syllabus

i.       Human evolution, genetics, and phylogeny in relation to language (weeks 1 – 4)
ii.       Language-relevant changes to the brain and cognition in hominins (week 5)
iii.       Communication and relevant cognitive skills in other species (week 6)      
iv.       The transition to language: Protolanguage and the evolution of syntax and morphology (weeks 7 – 8)
v.       Evolution of social cognition, cultural evolution of language, gene culture co-evolution (weeks 9 – 11)

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading132:0032:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study165:0065:00N/A
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
SEL3005Origins and Evolution of Language
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce the relevant points of evolutionary biology as it pertains to language evolution, outline the main concepts and topics in evolutionary linguistics, give definitions and explanations, and discuss the primary hypotheses found in the evolutionary linguistics literature.

Seminars are intended as a forum to show that the student has read and digested primary literature, and can demonstrate the logic of the argumentation found in the readings for each class. Presentations from class members will be expected. Assignments will also be discussed in seminars.

Independent study is required for reading and writing the assessment.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A100One submitted essay of 4000 words, topic to be agreed between student and instructor on an individual basis.
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MFormative quizzes throughout the semester including built-in feedback, allowing students to assess their comprehension of readings.
Research proposal1MResearch proposal for final essay
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The written assignment allows assessment of a student’s in-depth understanding of the concepts and issues covered, their grasp of the major hypotheses in the field, and their ability to argue cogently and concisely, including their ability to use correctly the technical terminology required in an evolutionary science. Advanced, logical argumentation skills will be expected and assessed.

Reading Lists