BA Linguistics and Italian / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Language, Mind and Brain

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA10201
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
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 aim of this unit is to introduce 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, and examine the arguments bearing on matters such as the uniqueness of human language, the place of language in the architecture of the mind, and the physical structures in the brain responsible for language.

Teaching and learning methods

2-hour lecture weekly

1 hour tutorial weekly


  • Lecture slides.
  • Discussion board.
  • Study questions for lectures.
  • Downloadable readings.
  • Study questions for readings.
  • Online administration of reading quizzes
  • Submission of essays via Turnitin

Knowledge and understanding

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
  • 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

Intellectual skills

  • 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.

Practical skills

  • 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

Employability skills

This course unit aims to develop students' ability to assess the quality of evidence from diverse sources, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It also aims to develop students' written communication skills, and provides an opportunity to practice good time management and organisation.

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Example Argument



Written Exercise

Formative and Summative


Written Exercise











Feedback methods

Feedback Method Formative or Summative
Written feedback on written exercises Formative and summative
Score for quizzes on completion in Blackboard Summative
Additional feedback on written exercises in consultation hours or by appointment Formative and summative


Recommended reading

Osborne, Lawrence (1999). A Linguistic Big Bang. New York Times Magazine, pp. 83-89.

Petitto, L. A. (1999). The acquisition of natural signed languages. In C. Chamberlain, J. Morford, & R.Mayberry (Eds.), Language acquisition by eye, pp. 41-50.

Terrace, H. S. (1979). How Nim Chimpsky changed my mind. Psychology today, November 1979. p. 65-76.

Martin, Laura. (1986). "Eskimo Words for Snow": A Case Study in the Genesis and Decay of an Anthropological Example. American Anthrolpologist, New Series, 88(2), pp. 418-423.

Tisljár-Szabó, Eszter & Rossu, Renáta & Varga, Veronika & Pléh, Csaba. (2014). The Effect of Alcohol onSpeech Production. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. 43(6), 737-748.

Sutton-Spence, Rachel and Napoli, Donna Jo (2012). Deaf jokes and sign language humor. Humor 25(3), p.311-337.

Elsabbagh, Mayada and Karmiloff-Smith, Annette (2006). Modularity of Mind and Language. In Brown, K.(ed.) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, SecondEdition. p.218-224.

Palacek, Martin. (2017). Modularity of Mind: Is It Time to Abandon This Ship? Philosophy of the SocialSciences 47(2), p.132-144.

Bellugi, Ursula (1992). Language, Spatial Cognition, and Brain Organization. In Neuropsychology: The Neuronal Basis of Cognitive Function, Vol. 2. Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc., p. 207-222.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Wendell Kimper Unit coordinator

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