The language of life – Say it with sound (2017)

Sophie Scott

In the first CHRISTMAS LECTURE, Sophie Scott explores how humans and other animals use noises to communicate.

Watch time: 59:04

Lecture 1 – Say it with sound

In her first CHRISTMAS LECTURE, Sophie Scott tackles how humans and other animals use sounds to communicate. She looks at chirping crickets, hissing cockroaches and groaning deer to reveal the very different ways that animals have adapted their bodies to send audible messages. She also explores how and why the human voice evolved to become the most versatile sound producer in the natural world.

What is sound and how does it travel? Unpacking the power behind sound, she uses it to shatter glass and reveal how the human body can resonate in a way that amplifies our voices to send our messages further. She also explores how different species use very different frequencies to communicate and why humans can only hear a fraction of these animal messages.

She further shows how we have developed the biological functions that enable us to create such incredible noises – from the arias of an opera singer to the complex sounds of a beatboxer.


In our 2017 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Sophie Scott explores how laughter provides a link to our animal past, how our voice box has changed the shape of our faces and why we sound the way we do. She also uncovers the hidden code of communication, the more secret and sometimes more sinister side of human interaction – everything we say without opening our mouths – from contagious behaviours to the emotional clues in smell, and whether information wired directly into our brains is really a future we want.

Sophie shows how one of the biggest puzzles in science – how and when humans first evolved language – reveals the huge amount of raw brain power and sensory skill needed to understand even a simple sentence and how we convey as much meaning through our tone, pace and pitch of voice as we say with our words.

Along the way, the lectures reveal a modern-day return to classic television moments from past Lectures such as Sir David Attenborough’s The Language of Animals from 1973, and even attempt a world record. 

2017 CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters