LING123 SJSU Vocal Communication Humans and Nonhuman Primates Essay
Vocal Communication of Humans and Nonhuman Primates
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.
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
• 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
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