The Biology of Language: Language Evolution - Uil OTS

Course code
Course fee (excl. housing)
Advanced Bachelor
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Humans have ‘language’, animals do not. In this course we investigate on the basis of what evidence we can make such a claim. What exactly is language? Can we can say that animals do not have a faculty for language? Does language development in humans differ fundamentally from that in other animals, like in chimps? When we compare the development in songbirds and humans, do we find surprising parallels, like the learning of complex patterns of vocalization? Central to this course will be the comparative perspective from evolutionary biology on language.

Human language is complex and results from interacting simpler systems, which each may have had a long evolutionary history of its own. Nevertheless, the way these modules are integrated into a working system has been novel as well as recent. Relevant issues that will be addressed in this course include: uniquely human and/or linguistic; evaluation of core properties of human language from gestural or vocal systems of animal communication; evaluation gradual or saltational and exaptive; the primary function of language as communication or an efficient way of organising cognitive systems. Central to this course will be the comparative perspective from evolutionary biology on language.

This course is offered by the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, the home of linguistic and communications research at Utrecht University. 

This course is part of the preparations for entrance into the RMA Linguistics at Utrecht University.

Course director

Kirsten Schutter, MSc

Course aim

To allow students to gain an elementary understanding of the issues surrounding language evolution.

Study load

Daily 2 1/2 hour session; max one hour homework per day.


Course fee:
Course + course materials
Housing fee:

There is a discount of €50 if this course is combined with at least one more Linguistics course whose title includes mention of UiL OTS and for which the full amount is paid.

Housing through: Utrecht Summer School.


Utrecht Summer School does not offer scholarships for this course.


A motivation letter is required from non-EU residents. You can send it via email to

More information

Kirsten Schutter | E: | T: +31 (0)30 253 6060


Application deadline: 31 July 2020