Centre for Human Communication

The History of the UCL Centre for Human Communication

Founded in 2002, the main goal of the UCL Centre for Human Communication was to instigate, and nourish cross-disciplinary interaction among UCL staff involved in research on human language and communication. Dispersed across multiple departments and a variety of buildings, there was little opportunity for researchers to meet informally and a lack of awareness of relevant research going on elsewhere at UCL. A further goal was to provide a single access point from the outside to UCL’s broad and deep strength in human communication research.

A management committee was constituted to represent all departments with significant speech and language research activity, including Phonetics & Linguistics, Human Communication Science, Psychology, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and Institute of Child Health. Prof. Pete Howell from Psychology and Prof. Moira Yip from Phonetics and Linguistics served as co-chairs. The two departments with the largest number of people who were likely to be involved in the CHC (Phonetics & Linguistics, Human Communication Science) each contributed a portion of the running costs. Psychology supplied a computer and office space, and the Vice-Provost for Special Projects, Prof. Richard Frackowiak, supplied seed money for the first few years.

The most visible activity of the Centre was a programme of workshops and talks deliberately chosen to encourage interdisciplinary thinking, and attract audiences from a range of departments. The first workshop, in April 2003, was on Theoretical Models and Clinical Issues in Language and Communication. Meanwhile, we planned a more public launch event for June 2004, a conference entitled The Architecture of the Language Faculty, also supported by the British Academy. The keynote speaker was Professor Ray Jackendoff, the 2003 recipient of the Jean-Nicod Prize, and the author of several acclaimed books on language. From these beginnings grew a programme of (roughly) monthly talks and workshops.

Another major goal was the creation of an interdisciplinary Masters degree. The MRes in Speech, Language and Cognition took its first students in 2004 and was awarded ESRC recognition at the earliest opportunity. This degree has gone from strength to strength, and is now often the first step in an ESRC 1+3 studentship.

The physical dispersion of the UCL speech and language research community remained a problem, and in 2003, an opportunity arose to co-locate many of us (including all of Phonetics & Linguistics and Human Communication Science) in one completely renovated and extended building. In November 2003 the two department heads Professors Valerie Hazan and Jane Maxim, and Prof Moira Yip of the CHC, made the case for a large sum of SRIF money from UCL’s allocation, and prepared detailed plans for the project. The internal bid was eventually successful, A-EM Studio were hired as architects, construction began in January 2007, and the move into Chandler House took place in May 2008. The final project cost was £12 million. At the same time, Prof Stuart Rosen replaced the retiring Prof Moira Yip as co-Chair of the CHC.

Page last modified on 28 aug 12 15:01