New Ideas in Linguistics

Animal linguistics: take the leap!

Practical information
17 June 2019

ENS, amphitheatre Galois, 45 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris


This workshop is organized by Mélissa Berthet (Ecole Normale Supérieure) and Guillaume Dezecache (University College London) and supported by the scheme "New Ideas in Linguistics" (ENS-PSL).

The study of non-human communication took off in the 1980’s following the foundational work of Seyfarth and Cheney. Since then, by comparing human language to non-human systems, biologists have explored what makes human language unique, when human language evolved from animal communicative systems, and whether the origin of language is gestural or vocal.

However, after 40 years of intense research on many taxa, the communication capacities of non-
human animals remain little understood, and so does the origin of human language. One of the main obstacles appears to be a lack of consensus on analytic methods. To address this issue, a field of animal linguistics is emerging, with the aim of studying animal communicative systems as formal systems, using general methods borrowed from linguistics.

This workshop aims to bring together leading linguists and biologists, all pioneers in the field of animal linguistics, in order to provide insights on how to combine linguistic and biological approaches to the study of animal communication. We will cover several fields of linguistics, from formal to quantitative approaches, and to apply their methods to a diversity of taxa, such as birds and primates. In addition, the workshop will consider both gestural and vocal communication.

Speakers: Stuart Semple (University of Roehampton), Raphaelle Malassis (University of St Andrews), Sabrina Engesser (University of Zurich), Kirsty Graham (University of York) and Thomas Scott-Phillips (Central European University).

Poster session: attendees will also have the opportunity to present their research during a poster session that will be held after the lunch break.

Submission deadline for poster: June 1st 2019 (250-word abstract to be sent to

Registration is free but mandatory (40 seats):

Animal linguistics: take the leap!