Skip to main content


SEL3005 : Origins and Evolution of Language

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Christine Cuskley
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 60 student places

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


Aims: 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, anthropological, neurological 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 completion147:0047:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading160:0060:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study160:0060:00N/A
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
SEL8033Origins 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 read and digest primary literature, outline the structure of arguments, allow student feedback, and discuss issues arising from the lectures, in smaller groups.

Structured reading and workshops will provide guided practice in reading, critiquing, and discussing primary interdisciplinary scientific lterature, and give practical advice about presenting and constructing an argument, and writing cogently in a scientific discipline.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A502,000 words
Written exercise1M501,500 words (short answer)
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.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The written exercise will assess the students ability to clearly and concisely apply basic concepts of evolution to Linguistics and Social Sciences using a short answer format.

The essay allows assessment of a student’s understanding of the concepts and issues covered, their grasp of the major hypotheses in the field, and their ability to argue cogently, clearly and concisely, including their ability to use correctly the technical terminology required in an evolutionary science.

Reading Lists