1. Course time and place PSYC 712 01 22692 Psychology of Language;

T R 0810-0930 AM MURK 301 J Limber

2. instructor info

John Limber, 108 Conant Hall; office hours 12:45-1:45 Thursday and 10-11 Tuesday and by appointment . Phone 862-3175 but do not leave voice messages! E-mail: john.limber@unh.edu (I check this every day and will try to promptly answer any questions sent me.) Or call the office 862-2960 and leave a message.

3a. class notes and other information on the internet


Click on "Language". These pages can also be accessed via Netscape or Explorer. There will be several internet assignments.

3b class email list

There is a class email list for announcements, questions, and information on language-related topics. Use my (JL) email for personal questions not relevant to the entire class. (See web page for addresses.)


3c. readings

Pinker, S. (1994) The language instinct. New York: Morrow or HarperCollins paperback. (cheap!)

(The text is available at Durham Books on Main Street)

There are a number of reserve readings; one copy is on reserve and the printing service will make you a copy for about $20. I strongly recommend you get a copy. See references below. I will inform you when the copies can be purchased.


4. overview

The course deals with the use, development, and evolution of human language. This semester we will cover a broad range of topics as indicated by the text, readings, and class interests.


5. requirements and grading (% indicates approximate weighting)

5.1. reading assignments

You are responsible for all readings whether they are discussed in class or not. Feel free to bring up topics from your readings in class discussion if you have questions. I will also answer email questions.

5.2. short projects and assignments (15-30%)

We will do several class projects including estimates of vocabulary size, meaurement of the pitch of your voice, and analysis of children's speech transcripts.

5.3. exams (50-60%)

We will have 3 essay/short answer exams, spaced throughout the semester -- tentatively 2/17, 3/23 4/27. I will give you a list of topics and study questions a week in advance so I expect detailed answers with examples. There may be a take-home component to exams. There is no "final" exam.

5.4. class participation and discussion (up to 10%): I expect everyone to attend class regularly; failure to do so will result in lowering of your grade. I also expect everyone to participate in class and/or email discussions.

5.5. final project (20%)

Everyone will complete a paper on some topic of their choosing relating to topics of the course. It can be a research proposal, pilot study, an instructional project of some kind, a descriptive study, etc. An outline must be approved by me (JL) in advance and typed in APA style, (6 to 8 pages in length).


6. References -- to be developed in accord with interests, etc..


Week 1

read Pinker (1994) from preface through chapter 4 "How Language works."

write: 1. A short introduction to yourself and why you are taking this course. Include a list of topics you might be particularly interested. Due Thursday, 1/20 (1-2 pages typed).


One of the major debates in the study of human language concerns its functions in human activity. This is important for understanding how language evolved and how it is acquired. Some argue that language is primarily used or responsible for interpersonal communication, intra-personal communication, thought, memory, even dreaming.

Write a short two page typed summary of what functions human language serves in your life, taking into account our discussion today. Feel free to speculate and definitely say more than it helps in communication. Imagine how your life would be different WITHOUT human language. Consider the life of animals like chimpanzees, who are like us in many ways but do NOT have human language. Organize your summary around the following three points: 1) how language functions for you as a solitary individual; (2) for you as a member of an interpersonal relationship (e.g. family, marriage, friendship, and other daily interpersonal relationships); and finally (3) functions for you as a member of a culture or society (e.g. student of psychology, citizen, or whatever, speaker with a New England accent, churchmember, etc.) These three perspectives are not independent of each other.

Due Tueday , 1/25

See "Language" video and read the video notes.

Week 2

Prepare vocabulary estimation proposal.

Read evolution notes (handout).

Week 3

additional reading assignments to the first exam, 2/18

Some of these will be discussed, others are supplemtents to Pinker.)

Wierzbicka, A. (1992). Semantics, culture, and cognition . New York: Oxford University Press. [read the introduction to her book, [353-365]

Hunt, E., & Agnoli, F. (1991). The Whorfian hypothesis: A cognitive psychology perspective. Psychological Review, 98, 377-389. [239-251]

Gazzaniga, M. (1997). Why can't I control my brain? In M. Ito, Y. Miyashita, & E. T. Rolls (Eds.), Cognition, computation, and consciousness (pp. 69-79). Oxford: Oxford University Press.[421-426]

Vygotsky, L. (1934/1986). Language and thought (second English edition ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press. [ch.4, The genetic roots of thought and speech, [251-265]]

Fodor, J. A. (1991). Panel discussion: The modularity of speech and language. In I. G. Mattingly, & M. Studdert-Kennedy (Ed.), Modularity and the motor theory of speech perception (pp. 359-373). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. {READ ONLY THROUGH FODOR'S COMMENTS pp.359-362} [366-368]

Goldin-Meadow, S., & Mylander, C. (1998). Spontaneous sign systems created by deaf children in two cultures. Nature, 391, 279-281.

Gopnik, M., & Chago, M. B. (1991). Familial aggregation of a developmental language disorder. Cognition, 39, 1-50. [only pp.1-5 is required], [343-346]

Bellugi, U., Bihrle, A., Neville, H., Doherty, S., & Jernigan, T. (1992). Language, cognition, and brain organization in a neurodevelopmental disorder. In M. R. Gunnar, & C. A. Nelson (Ed.), Developmental behavioral neuroscience (pp. 201-232). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. [311-328]

Lewis, C., & Osborne, A. (1990). Three-year olds' problems with false belief: Conceptual deficit or linguistic artifact? Child Development, 61, 1514-1519. [284-289]

Melcher, J. M., & Schooler, J. W. (1996). The misrembrance of wines past: Verbal and perceptual expertise differentially mediate verbal overshadowing of taste and memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 231-245. [222-235]

Week 4

Begin vocabulary estimate project; due Feb.

Discuss Pinker chapters and readings

See Gazzaniga video; maybe brief Williams syndrome

Give out exam 1 study guide on Thursday.

Week 5

Continue with Pinker discussion

Exam 1 on Thursday, 2/20/00

readings to exam 2 (March 23).

read Pinker

[Feb24] ch. 5 "Words..." On the lexicon and morphology

[Feb 29] ch. 6 "sounds of silence." speech production/perception

[Mar 09] ch. 7 "talking heads" comprehension

readings assignments: Again these supplement Pinker's topics and in some cases go beyond. The topics of ch.7, in particular, are important and difficult- and the topic of "meaning" is barely touched on.

(Read the material on speech --the first 4 papers below --first. Thursday, 3/4 I will try to demonstrate some of these concepts.)

Limber, J. (1991). Notes on the Use and Development of Language . Durham NH: (Appendix B, representation of sound) [85-90]

Ladefoged, P. (1963). Elements of Acoustic Phonetics . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (chapters on waveforms, resonance, hearing) [104-126 includes useful glossary]

Limber, J. (1999) Notes on measuring pitch. [handout]

Marshall, R. C., Gandour, J., & Windsor, J. (1988). Selective impairment of phonation: A case study. Brain and Language, 35, 313-339. [146-159]

Burke, D. M., MacKay, D. G., Worthley, J. S., & Wade, E. (1991). On the tip of the tongue: What causes word finding failures in young and older adults? Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 542-579. [127-145

Caplan, D. (1995). The cognitive neuroscience of syntactic processing. In M. S. Gazzaniga (Eds.), The cognitive neurosciences (pp. 871-880). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [409-417]

Semenza, C., & Zettin, M. (1989). Evidence from aphasia for the role of proper names as pure referring expressions. Nature, 342, 678-679. [176-177]

Limber, J. (1976). Syntax and sentence interpretation. In R. Wales (Ed.), Walker, E. C. T. (pp. 151-181). Amsterdam: North Holland. [160-175]

Trueswell, J. C., Tannenhaus, M., and Kello, C. (1993) Verb-specific constraints in sentence processing: Separating effects of lexical preference from Garden Paths. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 19, 528-553. [369-392]

Shapiro, L. P., & Nagel, H. N. (1995). Lexical properties, prosody, and syntax: Implications for normal and disordered language. Brain and Language, 50, 240-257. [445-453]

Wann, D., Metcalf, L., Adcock, M. L., Choi, C.-C., & Slaton, E. (1997). Language of sports fans: Sportugese revisited. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85, 1107-1110. [454-456]

Gruner, C. R., Travillion, L. J., & Schaefer, D. E. (1991). Testing the effectiveness of doublespeak. Et cetera, 48, 153-160. [456-460]

Tannen, D. (1990). You just don't understand: Women and men in conversation . New York: Ballantine. [Ch.1], [329-342]

topic outline for week of Mar 2-4.

(These topics, of course, are largely intertwined with each other.)

morphology and the structure of the lexicon

The lexicon or mental dictionary contains information about words -- actual and possible. Words , like sentences, have hierarchical organization -- the same "linguistic levels" seen in sentences. Languages differ considerably on word formation within this framework. Recall our discussion of lexicalization.

speech perception & production

acoustics of speech (see readings & notes in packet)

phonetics and the IPA chart

What are possible speech sounds?

phonology of a L

what are the possible words of a particular language?

speech errors


(Burke et al)


Marshall et al (1988)

Semenza et Zeitin, 1989

comprehension and meaning

speech perception /production


sentence interpretation


short assignments

(See handouts)

Measure voice fundamental frequency lab

Compare/contrast the meaning of "tall" with "long"

exam 2 guide (tentative in progress)

The exam will be Thursday, March 30. I'll give you the final guide on Thursday, March 16.

terms & concepts to know

I am putting these in clusters that go together in some reasonable way.

speech production


lexical access

tip of the tongue (TOT) phenomena

features, phones

phoneme or phonological segments

the basic articulators

(the IPA as phonetic level vocabulary)

manner of articulation

place of articulation


voiced consonant (bdg) vs unvoiced (ptk)

prosody, intonation, pitch

fundamental frequency of one’s voice (fo)

the idea of phonological rule

(what's common to forming English plural, possessive and 3 person singular present tense)

speech perception

acoustic parameters of speech and their units

time (msec)

frequency (cps or Hertz (Hz.))

intensity (deciBel or power)

visual representations of speech waveforms

time pressure wave


sound spectrum

Fourier analysis

needed in both spectrogram and spectrum displays

acoustic cues to phonemes

aperiodic and periodic sound

the frequencies (Hz.)of speech sounds

voice onset time (VOT)


garden path sentence

cues to syntactic structure

redundancy in language

parsing ambiguity

complement clauses

lexical guidance (Trueswell et al)

two types of relative clauses

(with coreferent subject NP and one with coreferent object NP)

the most difficult example in English (Limber, 1976)

"The player kicked the ball kicked him."

linguistic levels

combinatorial semantics

sense and referent of an expression (e.g. of a NP)

(Semenza & Zettin due to Frege)

semantic primes (Weirzbicka)

lexicalization. Lexemes (class, Pinker, video)

word meaning as its contribution to its phrase and sentences' meaning

structural description ("SD")

(or description of linguistic structure --basically the same as linguistic levels.) Comprehending an utterance is in part determining ("computing") the structure presumably intended by the speaker.

possible essay questions -- see study guide forthcoming

ambiguity and structural descriptions (SD)

I will give you a couple of examples of "word strings" that can be given more than one structural description. You pick one to discuss, saying why it is ambiguous, ie. showing the alternative SDs it might have. E.g. "the cooking of the missionaries was terrible."

speech articulation

Describe as completely as possible, the actions of the speech apparatus including lungs, in saying "strain." (See Pinker .."the six speech organs" 171)

fundamental frequency

Describe the vocal tract’s production of fundamental frequency. Say how and why it might differ from speaker to speaker. Explain the importance of this is producing speech and give examples of the kind of information it is involved in signalling.

phonology and possible words

It has been said that the phonology of one’s language defines the possible words of that language. Give some examples of how this might work, ie. how does the information in a phonological description of English for example, tell us about the possible words of in English. How is this useful for young children acquiring English in their first 4 or 5 years?

parsing and function words

Parsing is the process of assigning a structural description to a waveform. Using the morpheme that as an example, illustrate how that serves to provide information about the structure of complex clauses (complements and relatives.) Be sure to consider where and when that is optional and what the effects on parsing might be when it is omitted. Use examples for all cases discussed.

phonological rule

Pinker says, p.179, that "phonological rules "see" features, not phonemes, and they adjust features, not phonemes....A phoneme is merely a bundle of features...." Explain and illustrate this idea, using a detailed example of how "distinctive features" are used.

lexical access and TOT

Describe the TOT phenomena. In what situations and circumstances is it most likely to occur? What might it tell us about some aspect of general language processes?

importance of case studies

Briefly describe at least two case studies of language disability brought about by damage to the cns. For each of them, discuss at least one important theoretical implication for our understanding of human language processes. Comment on the advantages and limitations on clinical cases as a source of knowledge about language use and development


Pinker, p.226 says "Comprehension uses the semantic information recovered from a tree as just one premise in a complex chain of inference to the speaker's intentions."

Explain, using examples, what he means by this--that is, how understanding "requires integrating the fragments gleaned from a sentence into a vast mental database. p.227"

More on meaning?

We might not get into this much by the exam 2.

Readings for the last exam--All chapters (ch.) are in Pinker

Week 12 (4/6)- review chapter 7, read chapter 8 "babel"

Week 13 (4/11) chapter 9 "baby born talking"; chapter 10 "organs & genes"

Week 14 (4/18) chapter 11 "big bang.."

Written assignments

Pitch (4/13)

"Tall" (4/20)

etymology paper (4/25)

final research project (5/17)

(all articles are on the reference list)

As usual, read Pinker first and use the other readings below to supplement Pinker. Only some of these will be discussed explicitly in class but don't hesitate to ask about others.

Review from previous reading assignment

Ch.7 talking heads

Shapiro, L. P., & Nagel, H. N. (1995). Lexical properties, prosody, and syntax: Implications for normal and disordered language. Brain and Language, 50, 240-257. [445-453]

Wann, D., Metcalf, L., Adcock, M. L., Choi, C.-C., & Slaton, E. (1997). Language of sports fans: Sportugese revisited. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85, 1107-1110. [454-456]

Gruner, C. R., Travillion, L. J., & Schaefer, D. E. (1991). Testing the effectiveness of doublespeak. Et cetera, 48, 153-160. [456-460]

Tannen, D. (1990). You just don't understand: Women and men in conversation . New York: Ballantine. [Ch.1], [329-342]

Finish pitch assignment; do "tall" assignment.

Ch. 8 The tower of Babel (you might read through all the chapters remaining quickly; then review.)

Limber, 1991, notes on language history, pp.1-60

Etymology assignment due April 25

Ch. 9 Baby born talking

Stromswold, K. (1995). The cognitive and neural bases of language acquisition. In M. S. Gazzaniga (Eds.), The cognitive neurosciences (pp. 855-870). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [393-408]

(Bellugi, U., Bihrle, A., Neville, H., Doherty, S., & Jernigan, T. (1992).) review

Karmiloff-Smith, A., Grant, J., Berthoud, I., Davies, M., Howlin, P., & Udwin, O. (1997). Language and Williams syndrome: How intact is "Intact"? Child Development, 68, 246-262. [472-484] (see WS video)

Oshima-Takane, Y., Goodz, E., & Derevensky, J. L. (1996). Birth order effects on early language development: Do secondborn children learn from overheard speech? Child Development, 67, 621-634. [423-429]

Akhtar, N., Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (1996). The role of discourse novelty in early word learning. Child Development, 67, 635-645. [430-435]

ch.10 Language organs and language genes

Grimshaw, G. M., Adelstein, A., Bryden, M. P., & MacKinnon, G. E. (1998). First-language acquisition in adolescence: Evidence for a critical period for verbal language development. Brain and Language, 63, 237-255. [463-471]

(see Genie video, Apr. 08)

Kemper, S., Snowdon, D. A., & Greiner, L. H. (1997). Linguistic ability across the lifespan: Findings from the Nun Study : (Abstract) conference report. [461-462]


Read, C. (1981). Writing is not the inverse of reading for young children. In C. H. Fredericksen, & J. F. Dominic (Ed.), Writing: The nature, development, and teaching of written communication (pp. 105-115). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [347-352]

Selected abstracts on dyslexia. P. 489-495. These reflect the importance of phonology in reading, along with some methodology issues. Think of these in connection with Read (1981).

ch. 11 The big bang

chimp, etc. and human language


Limber, J. (1977). Language in child and chimp? American Psychologist, 32, 280-295. [178-193]

Review Vygotsky (1934/1986),

review Limber (1991) notes [61-83, esp. mammal & primate communication]

Goodall, J. (1986). The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior . Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (brief exerpts on chimps vocalizations [194-199])

Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S. (1990). Language Acquisition in a nonhuman species: Implications for the innateness debate. Developmental Psychobiology, 23, 599-620. [290-310]

Limber (1982) What can chimps tell us about the origins of language? In Kucaj (Ed.)

(ch. 12 Language mavens)-optional


Exam 3 guide on Apr. 20 or sooner

Research project outlines approved by Apr. 28 or sooner

Last exam Apr 27 (May 04?)

all research papers due May 17 or sooner