Language, cognition, and communication

Linguistics 242
Graduate seminar, 3 credits
Spring 2015

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:


Format: Each week will proceed as follows.

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.

Course policies

Readings and schedule

Wed. Jan. 21: Organization and orientation
Format and sample of a review/writeup of a paper.
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, 13, 707-727.
Evans, N., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). The myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 429-492.
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, 32-39.
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, 201-236.

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: Praeger.
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, 35-55.

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, 336, 998.
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, 133-156.
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, 1682-1683.

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 Press.
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: p. 209).
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, 65-79.
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, 1436-1441.

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, 439-443.

Wed. Apr. 15: Space
Pederson, E. et al. (1998). Semantic typology and spatial conceptualization. Language, 74, 557-589.
Li, P. and Gleitman, L.R. (2002). Turning the tables: Spatial language and spatial reasoning. Cognition, 83, 265-294.
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, 496-499.
Pica, P. et al. (2004). Exact and approximate arithmetic in an Amazonian indigene group. Science, 306, 499-503.
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, 621-646.
Michel, J.B. et al. (2011). Quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books. Science, 331, 176-182.

Wed. May 6 (RRR week): Final paper oral presentations.
Mon. May 11 at 5pm: Final paper due.