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BA Linguistics / Course details
Year of entry: 2020
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Course unit details:
Language, Mind and Brain
|Unit level||Level 1|
|Teaching period(s)||Semester 1|
|Offered by||Linguistics & English Language|
|Available as a free choice unit?||Yes|
How do young children acquire language so easily? What role do social structures play in the development of language? How are writing and reading different from speaking and listening? This unit addresses these questions and explores the cognitive underpinnings of human language.
The unit introduces students to the foundational concepts in the study of language from a cognitive perspective. We will explore questions that are still a matter of debate in the field, critically examining both evidence and arguments. Students will come away with a deeper understanding of how language works, some of the principles governing the complex interactions between language and other cognitive dimensions (such as attention, perception, and thought), and a basic understanding of how language functions in the brain.
Along the way we’ll examine evidence from babies, chimpanzees and other animals, the birth of new languages, perceptual illusions, stroke patients, experiments on the influence of alcohol on speech and of swearing on pain, together with modern brain imaging techniques.
The unit introduces you to the foundational concepts in the study of language from a cognitive perspective. We will explore questions that are still a matter of debate in the field, critically examining both evidence and arguments. You will come away with a deeper understanding of how language works, some of the principles governing the complex interactions between language and other cognitive dimensions (such as attention, perception, and thought), and a basic understanding of how language functions in the brain.
On completion of the unit students will be able to:
- Distinguish the differences and similarities between language and other communication systems
- Evaluate the role of the brain in developing and employing language, including key arguments surrounding issues such as modularity of mind
- Critically assess scholarly and scientific claims from the literature, and the arguments supporting them
- Engage in interdisciplinary group discussions to compare competing approaches and hypotheses, using evidence-based reasoning
- Research and prepare coherent written communications
Topics covered in previous years:
- Language as an Instinct
- Child Language Development
- Human Language vs. Animal Communication
- Language and Cognition
- Language in Use: Production and Perception
- Signed Languages
- Modality: Reading and Writing
- Modularity of Mind
- Functional Localisation
- Brain Imaging
- Data in Linguistics
Teaching and learning methods
2-hour lecture weekly, 1-hour tutorial weekly.
- Lecture slides.
- Study questions for lectures.
- Downloadable readings.
- Study questions for readings.
- Online administration of reading quizzes
· Online submission of essays
Knowledge and understanding
· Understand the fundamental role of the brain in developing and using language.
· Identify the differences and similarities between language and other communication systems.
· Recognise and understand the key arguments surrounding issues such as modularity of mind.
- Support an argument using evidence and reasoning.
- Critically assess scholarly and scientific claims and the arguments supporting them.
- Compare competing hypotheses and bring evidence to bear in selecting between them.
· Read and interpret scientific articles.
Write brief essays providing evidence and reasoning in favour of a scientific claim.
Transferable skills and personal qualities
- Writing skills.
- Independent study skills.
- Time management skills.
· Critical thinking skills.
1. 500 word written exercise (10%)
2. 500 word written exercise (20%)
3. 1000 word written exercise (50%)
4. Quizzes (5%)
5. Seminar participation (10%)
6. Experiment participation (5%)
Students will receive immediate feedback on the quizzes provided through Blackboard, written feedback on essays and additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)
· Petitto, Laura Ann. 2000. The acquisition of natural signed languages: Lessons in the nature of human language and its biological foundations. In: Chamberlaine, Morford & Mayberry, Language Acquisition by Eye, Mahwah, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, p.41-51.
· Terrace, H. S. 1979. How Nim Chimpsky changed my mind. Psychology Today 13(6): 67-72.
· Pullum, Geoffrey K. 1991. The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax: And other irreverant essays on the study of language. University of Chicago Press. (excerpt)
· Pinker, Stephen. 1999. Words and Rules. Harper Collins. (excerpt)
· Pisoni, David B. and Christopher S. Martin. 1989. Effects of alcohol on the acoustic-phonetic properties of speech: Perceptual and acoustic analysis. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 13(4), p. 577-587.
· Sacks, Oliver. 1970. The man who mistook his wife for a hat. New York, Touchstone. (excerpt).
|Scheduled activity hours|
|Independent study hours|
|Wendell Kimper||Unit coordinator|