University of Sussex
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The nature and function of human nonverbal vocalisations

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posted on 2023-06-09, 13:52 authored by Jordan Raine
Though human nonverbal vocalisations are widespread, scientific consideration of their mechanisms and communicative functions has been largely overlooked. This is despite their close alignment with the vocal communicative systems of primates and other mammals, whose primary function is to signal indexical information relevant to sexual and natural selection processes. In this thesis, I examine human nonverbal vocalisations from an evolutionary perspective, with the central hypothesis that they are functionally and structurally homologous to nonhuman mammal calls, communicating evolutionarily relevant indexical information that is perceived and utilised by listeners. In Chapter 1, I introduce the methodological framework (source-filter theory) necessary to understand the production of vocal signals in mammals, before summarising the information contained within the acoustic structure of nonhuman mammals and human speech, and the effects these cues have on both vocaliser and listener. I then examine the current evidence for functional and structural homology between human and nonhuman nonverbal vocalisations. In Chapters 2 to 5, I quantitatively analyse the acoustic structure of a number of nonverbal vocalisations, and perform playback experiments to examine their functional effects on listeners. In Chapters 2 and 3, I investigate whether aggressive roars and distress screams communicate acoustic cues to absolute and relative strength and height. In Chapter 4, I analyse the acoustic structure of pain cries of varying intensity, and conduct playback experiments to explore the acoustic and perceptual correlates of pain. In Chapter 5, I examine whether the fundamental frequency of tennis grunts produced during professional tennis matches is dependent on the sex and body posture of the vocaliser, as well as the progress and outcome of the contest, and whether listeners can infer these cues. In Chapter 6, I tie these findings together, arguing that the acoustic structure of human nonverbal vocalisations, in continuity with nonhuman mammal vocalisations, has been selected to support the functional communication of indexical and motivational information.


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University of Sussex

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