Language, cognition, and communication
Graduate seminar, 3 credits
Wednesdays 9am-12noon, in 1303 Dwinelle
Instructor: Terry Regier (email: firstname dot lastname at
berkeley dot edu ; office hours TBD).
Description: This seminar provides an advanced introduction to
the relation of language, cognition, and communication. We will
explore universal aspects of cognition that underlie language and
communication, as well as the effect of one's native language on
cognition. We will do this by: (1) reading a mixture of classic and
recent papers on these issues, (2) identifying interesting questions
that are left open by the material covered, and (3) designing and
conducting research to answer those questions.
Prerequisites: The course is open to graduate students in
linguistics or one of the other cognitive sciences. Access for other
students is by permission of instructor. No prior experience with
this topic is required, but students will be expected to quickly
engage the material at an advanced level. The course approaches its
topic from the multidisciplinary perspective of cognitive
science. Thus, parts of the course will involve computational
treatment of the subject matter. No prior experience with
computational modeling is required, and the necessary formal concepts
will be briefly introduced as necessary. The course will also survey
experimental research, and students will be expected to critically
read and assess such research.
Learning goals, or what I hope you will gain from this class:
Familiarity with this literature and the major theoretical positions
that frame it, confidence in presenting and assessing research, and
experience in planning and conducting research.
Guiding organizational principle: As a graduate student, your
top academic priority should be engaging in research, and ultimately
writing your dissertation. I would like this course to be helpful to
you in that respect. To that end, the class will be run more or less
as a lab meeting, with attention both to surveying recent literature,
and to tracking your research projects. Don't worry if you do not yet
have a project ready to go - the course will help you explore, so you
can choose a project wisely.
What I expect of you:
- Engage the readings in formal written reviews and in informal
- Present several of the readings in class.
- Present and lead discussion of your own research ideas in class.
- A final
paper describing your own research project.
- Written summary and assessment of weekly readings (1/3)
- In-class presentation and discussion of readings and projects (1/3)
- Final paper (1/3)
Format: Each week will proceed as follows.
- Before class, each student will submit by email formal written
reviews of the readings for that week.
- The first half of each class will be devoted to discussing that
week's readings. One or more students will formally present each
reading, and all students will be expected to engage in discussion of
all readings. Your weekly writeup of the readings prior to class helps
ensure that you come to class prepared to suggest comments and/or
critiques that engage and go beyond the readings, and that suggest
directions for further research.
- The second half of each class session will be devoted to
discussing the research, or preparation for research, of two
students. Please consider this a friendly, low-pressure forum in which
you can explore ideas you are interested in, but that you are not
quite ready to go fully public with yet. The course will guide you in
the development of your ideas toward a concrete research project.
Weekly writeups: Your weekly writeups will be formal academic
reviews of that week's readings. They should be submitted to the
instructor by email before each class. The goal and format of these
writeups will be discussed at our introductory session.
Final paper: Your final paper should contain a comprehensive
and up-to-date literature review of a specific issue in which you are
interested, and that is related to the general topic of language,
cognition, and communication. That literature review should summarize
and conceptually organize existing knowledge on that issue,
highlighting an important open question. Your paper should also
describe your initial research steps to settle that open question.
Your research project need not be completed by the end of the
semester, but the paper should clearly indicate what it would take to
complete the project, and what the significance would be of possible
anticipated outcomes of that project. The course will include
milestones to help you progress from interest in a topic, to a
literature review of that topic, to the identification of a specific
open question related to that topic, to research addressing that open
question. The paper is due by email to the instructor, as an attached
PDF, by Monday May 11 at 5pm.
- Please contact the instructor for accommodation of religious beliefs, disabilities, and other special circumstances.
- Intellectual dishonesty of any sort will not be tolerated. The course will follow the University Policy on Cheating and Plagiarism.
- All readings will be made available electronically.
Readings and schedule
- Wed. Jan. 21: Organization and orientation
- Format and sample of a review/writeup of a
- Hoppin, Frederic G., Jr. (2002). How I
review an original scientific article. American Journal of
Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 166, 1019-1023.
- Alon, U. (2009). How to choose a good
scientific problem. Molecular Cell, 35, 726-728.
Part 1: Cognitive foundations of language
- Wed. Jan. 28: Major theoretical positions
- Pinker, S., & Bloom, P. (1990). Natural
language and natural selection. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,
- Evans, N., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). The
myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance
for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32,
- Chater, N. & Vitányi,
P. (2003). Simplicity: A unifying principle in cognitive science?
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 19-22.
- Wed. Feb. 4: The faculty of language
- Hockett, Charles F. (1959). Animal
"languages" and human language. Human Biology, 31,
- Hauser, M. D. et al. (2002). The faculty
of language: What is it, who has it, and how did it
evolve? Science, 298, 1569-1579.
- Pinker, S. & Jackendoff, R. (2005). The
faculty of language: What's special about it? Cognition, 95,
- Wed. Feb. 11: The argument from poverty of the stimulus
- Chomsky, N. (1986). Preface & Knowledge of
language as a focus of inquiry. In Knowledge of language: Its
nature, origin, and use (pp. xxv-14). Westport, CT:
- Pullum, G. (2011). Remarks by Noam Chomsky
in London. Linguist List posting 22.4631.
- Regier, T., & Gahl, S. (2004). Learning
the unlearnable. Cognition, 93, 147-155.
- Hsu, A.S., Chater, N., & Vitányi,
P. (2013). Language learning from positive evidence, reconsidered: A
simplicity-based approach. Topics in Cognitive Science, 5,
- Wed. Feb. 18: Language and efficient communication
- Fedzechkina, M., Jaeger, T. F., & Newport,
E. L. (2012). Language learners restructure their input to
facilitate efficient communication. PNAS early edition.
- Levinson, S.C. (2012). Kinship and human
thought. Science, 336, 988-989.
- Frank, M., & Goodman, N. (2012).
Predicting pragmatic reasoning in language games. Science,
- Regier, T., Kemp, C., & Kay, P. (in
press). Word meanings across languages support efficient
communication. In B. MacWhinney & W. O.Grady (Eds.), The handbook
of language emergence. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
- Wed. Feb. 25: Words, symbols, and social cognition
- Herrmann, E., et al. (2007). Humans have
evolved specialized skills of social cognition: The cultural
intelligence hypothesis. Science, 317, 1360-1366.
- Tomasello, M. (2007). If they're so good
at grammar, then why don't they talk? Hints from apes' and humans'
use of gestures. Language Learning and Development, 3,
- Hare, B., et al. (2002). The domestication
of social cognition in dogs. Science, 298, 1634-1636.
- Kaminski, J., et al. (2004). Word learning
in a domestic dog: Evidence for "fast mapping". Science, 304,
- Wed. Mar. 4: Cultural transmission and evolution
- Kirby, S. (2002). Learning, bottlenecks,
and the evolution of recursive syntax. In Ted Briscoe (Ed.),
Linguistic evolution through language acquisition: Formal and
computational models. Cambridge: Cambridge University
- Kalish, M., et al. (2007). Iterated
learning: Intergenerational knowledge transmission reveals inductive
biases. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 14, 288-294.
- Tomasello, M. (1999). The cultural
origins of human cognition. Chapter 1: A puzzle and a
hypothesis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Part 2: The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
- Wed. Mar. 11: Foundational readings
- Levinson, S. (2012). Foreword. In
J. B. Carroll, S. C. Levinson, and P. Lee (Eds.) Language,
thought, and reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf,
second edition (pp. vii-xxiii). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Sapir, E. (1929). The status of
linguistics as a science. Language, 5, 207-214 (excerpt:
- Whorf, Benjamin (1956). Science and
linguistics. In J. B. Carroll (Ed.) Language, thought, and
reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf
(pp. 207-219). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Losonsky, M. (1999). Introduction
(excerpts). In Wilhelm von Humboldt, On language: On the
diversity of human language construction and its influence on the
mental development of the human species, (Form and linguistic
determinism: pp. xvi-xviii; Humboldt today:
pp. xxviii-xxx). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Pullum, G. (1991). The great Eskimo
vocabulary hoax. University of Chicago Press. pp. 159-171.
- Wed. Mar. 18: Color
- Kay, P. & Kempton, W. (1984). What is the
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? American Anthropologist, 86,
- Davidoff J. et al. (1999). Colour
categories in a stone-age tribe. Nature, 398, 203-204.
- Kay, P. & Regier, T. (2006). Language,
thought, and color: recent developments. Trends in Cognitive
Sciences, 10, 51-54.
- Regier, T. et al. (2007). Color naming
reflects optimal partitions of color space. PNAS, 104,
- Wed. Mar. 25: Spring break
- Wed. Apr. 1: The lateralized Whorf hypothesis
- Gilbert, A. et al. (2006). Whorf
hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the
left. PNAS, 103, 489-494.
- Gilbert, A. et al. (2008). Support for
lateralization of the Whorf effect beyond the realm of color
discrimination. Brain and Language, 105, 91-98.
- Franklin, A. et al. (2008). Lateralization
of categorical perception of color changes with color term
acquisition. PNAS, 105, 18221-18225.
- Wed. Apr. 8: Against the lateralized Whorf hypothesis
- Roberson D., Pak, H., & Hanley,
J.R. (2008). Categorical perception of colour in the left and right
visual field is verbally mediated: Evidence from
Korean. Cognition, 107, 752-762.
- Witzel, C., & Gegenfurtner, K. R. (2011).
Is there a lateralized category effect for color? Journal of
Vision, 11, 1-25.
- Holmes, K. J., & Wolff, P. (2012). Does
categorical perception in the left hemisphere depend on language?
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141,
- Wed. Apr. 15: Space
- Pederson, E. et al. (1998). Semantic
typology and spatial conceptualization. Language, 74,
- Li, P. and Gleitman, L.R. (2002). Turning
the tables: Spatial language and spatial reasoning. Cognition,
- Haun, D. et al. (2006). Cognitive
cladistics and cultural override in Hominid spatial cognition.
PNAS, 103, 17568-17573.
- Majid, A. et al. (2004). Can language
restructure cognition? The case for space. Trends in Cognitive
Sciences, 8, 108-114.
- Wed. Apr. 22: Number
- Gordon, P. (2004). Numerical cognition
without words: Evidence from Amazonia. Science, 306,
- Pica, P. et al. (2004). Exact and
approximate arithmetic in an Amazonian indigene group. Science,
- Butterworth, B. et al. (2008). Numerical
thought with and without words: Evidence from indigenous Australian
children. PNAS, 105, 13179-13184.
- Wed. Apr. 29: Language as a reflection of culture
- Everett, D. (2005). Cultural constraints
on grammar and cognition in Pirahã: Another look at the
design features of human language. Current Anthropology, 46,
- Michel, J.B. et al. (2011). Quantitative
analysis of culture using millions of digitized books. Science,
- Wed. May 6 (RRR week): Final paper oral presentations.
- Mon. May 11 at 5pm: Final paper due.