Š  PSYC 712 01 23152 Psychology of Language 4.0 WI
T R 0810-0930 AM MURK 102 J Limber

Š  PSYC 712 02 25253 Psychology of Language 4.0 WI
T R 1110-1230 PM CON 8 J Limber



28 class meetings, Jan 26-May 06

Tuesday, January 26, 2010          Spring semester classes begin

Monday, March 15, 2010              Spring Recess

Video online

Pinker on language and thought (the short version is here.)


(first 20 minutes on cognition-time object place…, next 20 emotion, social speech acts, why veiled S acts?)

Alda on the Human Spark-assignment below for Feb 02.


01 Jan 26-28

read- skim through Pinker’s book. Begin reading ch.1 and ch.2 for next week.

first written assignment due Thursday, 1/28.

Interests (150 words or less on BB)

William James quote- no written assignment but it is worth asking "What is psychology?"


"Psychology is the Science of Mental Life...such things as we call feelings, desires, cognitions, reasonings, decisions, and the like. ...a certain amount of brain-physiology must be presupposed or included in Psychology...Our psychology must therefore take account not only of the conditions antecedent to mental states, but of their resultant consequences as well...But actions originally prompted by conscious intelligence may grow so automatic by dint of habit as to be apparently unconsciously performed. Standing, walking, buttoning and unbuttoning, piano-playing, talking, even saying one's prayers, may be done when the mind is absorbed in other things. The performances of animal instinct seem semi-automatic, and the reflex acts of self-preservation certainly are so. Yet they resemble intelligent acts in bringing about the same ends at which the animals' consciousness, on other occasions, deliberately aims.[p.6] Shall the study of such machine-like yet purposive acts as these be included in Psychology?

      -- William James definition of psychology, 1890 in his famous Principles of Psychology -- perhaps the first modern psychology text.

      What do you think about James' question underlined above? Should language ("talking") be part of psychology? Why or why not? What is he worried about anyway?

By the way, what is thinking?


Language video --overview of the topic. Read notes on this video; it will be shown T and TH.

Thursday 8am- finish video toward end of class if possible (we didn't finish last bit on Whorfism). Review some basic questions--What is psychology?, what are the basic components most relevant to human language. I have put these together on some slides shown in class. Additional discussion involved alternative views of where consciousness fits in (either as a feature of all cognitive activity except those highly practiced and transformed into "habits" or consciousness as a product of some more basic cognitive processes maybe including language itself.)

We also discussed the idea of representation-- part of the notion of thinking. What kinds of representations are there? Is English a medium of thought? What could it mean to say I think in English? Is thinking about chemistry different if you speak Russian? THat seems very implausible to me..


THese will be considered in ch. 3 of Pinker where he raises the idea of "mentalese" as a basic language of thought. We also discussed how sensori-motor representations might capture --represent-- knowledge, e.g. changing spark plugs on a 66 Mustang V8 or tying one's shoe laces.

One issue that came up several times was the mismatch in timing relationships between language actions, consciousness, and other body actions. Some things go too fast to be guided by or reflected in, human language.

I recently came on this ambiguous sentence in the USA Today online paper:

"NEW ORLEANS — A conservative activist who posed as a pimp to target a community-organizing group with ties to President Obama was among four men arrested for allegedly trying to interfere with a Democratic senator's office telephones. " One reason the English speaking world has so many lawyers is to help minimize ambiguity in contracts.! What does (with ties to President Obama) modify. THe closest NP is often the best choice -- as it is here I think. But other earlier NPs are possible.

Thursday 11am


02 Feb 02-04—no class 02 Tuesday

Watch “Human Spark” 3 online at home


topics: methods assessing brain functions (brain Regions Of Interest (ROI), MRI, EEG), language as “spark?”, language connection with tool use?, implications of “tulip” vs “ticket”, FOXP2 gene, human brain size and social factors (Dunbar, intentionality, ToM), mind-wandering, imagination and insight (“prospecting” & “Time travel”)



Write a summary of FOXP2 research to date in regard to its being a “language gene.”  One page. Google it and also look at my What’s New with Primates. Comment on how much more we know now about this than when Pinker wrote “Language Instinct.” (see pp.48-50 in Chatterboxes chapter 2). Also see my Language and Primates in the news for more on FOXP2.



Next written paper is on Functions of human language—what can it do for us? One to two pages due Feb.09 Tuesday.


Imagine you were a bright chimp or dog or parrot – a creature without a human language.  How would your life be different?  Or suppose you somehow lost the use of your human language.  How would your life change.  This is a question about the functions of language.  Be brief, but try to be very specific.  I expect you to say something more specific than communication would be different or difficult. Say how so and what else?


Discuss FOXP2 implications for a "language gene" and Pinker's idea of "Language Instinct." How have his 1994 conjectures fared?


Read for Week 3. Chapter 3 "Mentalese" in Pinker on the relationship between language and thinking (L&T).


Goldin-Meadow, S., So, W. C., Ozyurek, A., & Mylander, C. (2008). The natural order of events: How speakers of different languages represent events nonverbally. PNAS 105(27), 9163-9168. Summary here. No need to read original article.

Read about the Piraha and the linguists involved. "The Interpreter" in New Yorker, April 16, 2007. (Blackboard)

Colapinto, J. (2007). The interpreter: Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language? The New Yorker 83(8): 119-137. (and follow-up letters , item 2 on Blackboard course documents.)

Watch a short YouTube video on Piraha ("Peedahan") and another.

Wikipedia has some useful info about the language itself. And look at this site on the rapidly diminishing number of language-dialects.

Be prepared Thursday, 2/11, to discuss your impressions of the Piraha reports.

Next (fourth) written assignment due Tuesday, 2/16

Read quickly James, W. (1892). "Thought before language: A deaf-mute's recollections." The Philosphical Review 1(6): 613-624. Write a brief commentary and critique of such retrospective accounts of thought. What do you think about this? Recall that Pinker (pp.67-8) discusses the case of Ildephonso (Schaller, 1991).

James' paper is in Blackboard 712 documents, item 3 or so. Due 2/16. One page typed, double space.

Schaller, S. (1991). A man without words. New York: Summit Books. (discussed in Pinker.)

Thurs 8am- New assignments for next week. Finish Language video- Dunbar on human group size and brain size,Whorf (brief comments on time and physics concepts "in" Hopi, etc.; review language component slides; begin review of Pinker ch. 1 slides (got to IPA) with elaboration on UG and the "initial state" of language acquisition '


Thurs 11am: IPA

03 Feb 09-11

Review assignments for this week from above (week2).

Comment on the point of Goldin-Meadow et al (2008) that while languages vary in ordering of constituent NPs, these variations in ordering do not seem to affect ordering in gesture communication. THis is consistent with a basic "language of thought" universal structure that becomes modified variously in natural spoken languages. For example if the basic structure is ACTION (OBJECT, OBJECT, OBJECT..), the particular ordering in specific languages (VP(NP1, NP2, NP3..)) does not seem to impact gesturing those actions.

For example if John gives Joe a ball, this might have the structure VP (tense) (NP1, NP2, NP3) where the grammatical roles of agent, direct object, indirect object are expressed by three NPs, by order and inflection depending on the specific language.

In case driven languages, the role of an NP is indicated by case endings (inflections); most indo-European languages have 5 or so cases. English has lost theirs except in personal pronouns, e.g. she, hers, her. English uses word order for this while other languages tend to use a mixture of word order and case markings to convey this info. THis leads to many ambiguities in English, as in

"Biting flies can be nasty."


Young children in pre-syntactic speech (12-20 months typically) seem to use a universal constituent ordering to further support this line of thought.

********end of comment****

Finish notes on Pinker ch.1, begin Pinker ch.2 incl FOXP2 and ch.3 "mentalese.

Turn in function papers.

Review "lexicalization" notes in connection with time words and Whorfism.

Tues 8am- up to "4 arguments" in Pinker ch.2, finished Grandin video bit, up to Why animals seem to predict tsunamis?

Tues 11am- did not begin "Animals predict/infrasound"

See topic notes on Autism collecting several relevant references.


Finished "Animals predict/infrasound"; discussed changes in autism entry in DSM-V; saw video from Grandin HBO film illustrating her mind at work. Almost finished discussion of ch.2; saw videos of Vicki and Betty not vocalizing. No Mokan myth yet.

Thursday 11am

See animals predict, brief discussion of autism, notes on ch.2, esp FOXP2 and older chimp research including video bits on vocalization. Mokan myth?

04 Feb 16-18 

Can dogs do any better than VIcki or Betty in vocalizing?

How do vibrations (movements) become transformed into electrical impulses? Read about it here. (There's a lot to be discovered about this remarkable process.)

Just added-- a video bits list with all class videos, long and short.

Reading assignments: Read Ch 4 and 5 in Pinker.

Read Simcock, G., & Hayne, H. (2002). Breaking the barrier? Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language. Psychological Science, 13, 225-231. (get it online from library or on Blackboard documents at the top) read this and write a short summary of the basic conclusion, any critical thoughts you might have, and find one recent (2007-10) piece of research relevant to their conclusions. Say why it is relevant. Due March 02, one page double spaced.

The above gets right into the issue of the development of mental representations-- language, visual, or actions???

Tuesday 8am: next assignment & exam, talking dogs, Piraha and math paper, Williams syndrome, functions of L--cognitive (words as technology, directive function of L, self-questioning, Maier's two string problem & functional fixedness), social, cultural (religion, science and next MYTH,)

Tuesday 11am: discussed functions, talking dogs, Piraha and math paper, as above... Note cards for names.

Thursday 8am: Mokan myth (Mokan background, reasons for being interested), show video, begin ch3 Mentalese-- what is it, history of idea . Note cards for names.

05 Feb 23-25 

See notebook notes (this is somewhat of an experiment; you should be able to open and view my notebook used in class.

tuesday 11am board notes

thursday Gazzaniga's "interepreter", Einstein on mental representation, finish ch.3 "why we don't think in English"

06 Mar 02-04 -get study guide for 712 exam 1. See old exam here.


Finish split-brain discussion of "interpreter." implications of Simcock & Hayne (2002) papers,

Thursday:Questions on exam? Finish Simcock until after exam 1. See note below on Koch talk abstract--"modality-independent representation in MTL."

ch.4 Pinker (esp ideas of v Humboldt and de Saussure. Don't confuse Pinker's "two tricks" with Chomsky's "two fundamental facts.").

Can language modify mental representations; how early in life?

Ganea, P., Shutts, K., Spelke, E., & DeLoache, J. (2007, August). Thinking of Things Unseen: Infants' Use of Language to Update Mental Representations. Psychological Science, 18(8), 734-739.


Talk this week by Koch at MIT:

“In ongoing work with the neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried at UCLA, we record chronically from multiple single neurons in the medial temporal lobe (MTL) of patients with pharmacologically intractable epilepsy implanted with depth electrodes in order to localize the focus of seizure onsets. These neurons fire in a remarkably selective manner to different images of famous or familiar individuals and objects. These data supports a sparse, abstract, invariant and modality-independent representation in MTL, suggesting that the identity of individuals is encoded by a small number of neurons.”

07 Mar 09-11 exam 1 Tuesday (12 classes)

"Earlier this week I gave a talk about the state of the crisis at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Lab, and one audience member asked a really good question:

if the problem is that interest rates are at the zero lower bound, why should we worry about government borrowing? After all, doesn’t that mean that the government can borrow at a zero rate?" (Krugman, NYT, 3/5/10)

Read the notes on complex sentences; contemplate what "The dog barked at the girl that Sabu wanted to leave."means. Be prepared in class Tuesday after break to articulate why this is a complex sentence and informally explain why it is ambiguous, i.e. has more than one systematic interpretation.

discuss syntax, priming, hemisphectomy, and brain imaging- sooner or later.

Show priming demo; discusss similarity to Stroop test.

08 Mar 16-18 spring break -tentative assignments 3/11

review ch. 4&5; read ch. 6.

Semenza, C., & Zettin, M. (1989). Evidence from aphasia for the role of proper names as pure referring expressions. Nature, 342, 678-679. (BB download ) See my notes for this reading in topic notes.

Read Marshall, R. C., Gandour, J., & Windsor, J. (1988). Selective impairment of phonation: A case study. Brain and Language, 35, 313-339. (Download from BB; here is a glossary of terms you might find helpful. See my notes in the topic notes for this reading.)

Naccache, L. (2006). Is she conscious? Science, 313, 1395-1396. (download from BB)

Very short written assignment- read carefully 163-169 where Pinker says "One easy way to understand speech sounds is to track a glob of air through the vocal tract into the world, starting in the lungs." Follow the word "blink." Write out a recipe for moving your vocal tract including breathing and phonation; just introspect as you do it slowing and write down the movements. You can just list the steps, following Pinker and your own introspections. Feel your larynx to know when it is vibrating and when it is not. Due thursday, 3/25. This should be in enough detail so that if I follow your directions, I will say blink. Use vocabulary of vocal tract, including phonation. (Compare chimp tract.)

Say “blink”
For each segment (phoneme) write a script using terms of the basic articulators that will say “blink.”
Consider breathing, voicing, and controlling the nasal flow of air.
for each segment, you need to give a clue about the PLACE where airflow is restricted and the MANNER or way(s) that airflow is controlled.

09 Mar 23-25

New child language vocabulary database available online.

"blink" paper due THursday. Talk about ch. 4 "How language works" Tuesday..

linguistic levels, combinations of elements (e.g. phonemes, syllables, morphemes...phrases..clauses at each level.

utterance meaning results from combining lexical (morpheme) meanings in specific grammatical and communicative contexts.

hierarchical "tree" structure

grammar as a function pairing meanings with sounds (movements)


ambiguity as diagnostic for structure alternatives in utterances

alternative lexical entry

alternative trees (bracketting or parenthesis)

alternative in filling gaps (who did what to whom? for each verb in complex sentence)

parsing, traces, gaps, "vast database" of knowledge, p.227 (Ch.7)

Short video bit on a language "savant"-- more evidence for the modularity of language, ie. its independence from other cognitive skills. (A longer 4 part feature is on YouTube.)

(Neil V. Smith, Ianthi-Maria Tsimpli. The Mind of a Savant: language, learning and modularity. Blackwell. 1995)

return exams-- overall very good. The average is about 88 with some variation.

score%=100*(0.4*(B29/16)+0.6*(C29/20)) Look for my answers here now.

Reminder on research projects-- idea due in a few weeks; paper due May 13.

Read for next week; review ch 5 & 6; read ch 7 "talking heads"

Headlines: Who did what to whom?

JFK Library to Show Salinger Letter to Hemingway

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: March 26, 2010 Filed at 6:43 a.m. BOSTON (AP) -- It was the summer of 1946 when a young and war-fatigued J.D. Salinger reached out to another writer whose career had also been shaped by war, a writer he had arranged to meet while both had been in Europe.

I bet Salinger will show little interest in that letter!

Want to improve your voice? Get rid of excess nasality? Authors point out:

"All of these phrases refer to the same thing. * The velum * The soft palate * The velar port (or velar pharyngeal port) * The nasal port * The palato-pharyngeal valve * The opening into the nasal cavity * The doorway into the nose"

Men, lose your wimpy voice!

video view from within nose looking at soft palate closing off nasal cavity

video of normal phonation- tensing and vibration of vocal folds


TMS and imaging research on improving chronic aphasics language (insights into research generally)


10 Mar 30-Apr 01

discuss and wrap up phonation and its functions in language- lexical, syntactic information:

help deal with garden path sentences, e.g. the professor that the students believed died

was just lost.

examples demonstrated with Pratt "My name is John."

video (brain function, localization of function (Dr Ojemann), aphasia case (more on Talley), apes vs human language.)

11 Apr 06-08 

Read & review, Pinker ch. 7 & 8

Ruffman, T., Slade, L., & Crowe, E. (2002). The relation between children's and mother's mental state language and theory-of-mind understanding. Child Development, 73, 734-751. (BB at top).

Written assignment due April 15 (2 pages):Ruffman et al (2002) present some interesting correlations between mothers' language and their chidren's performance on theory of mind (ToM) measures. (A) In a few sentences, summarize what you believe to be the most interesing result. Then, using databases, e.g. web of science, look for two recent articles that update Ruffman et al (2002)'s findings-- positively or negatively. (B) Summarize both of these, saying how they relate to Ruffman. (1-2 pages type. (C) What do you think about the role of language in ToM from your reading of these articles? GIVE COMPLETE APA STYLE REFERENCES FOR BOTH ARTICLES.

Tuesday: review localization of function: hemispheres and within hemispheres, between species.

discuss "theory of mind" (ToM), brief video, in regard to above assignment.

Discuss Pinker ch.5 (topic notes) & 6 & 7

lexicon (mental dictionary) contents

rules, e..g N->N+inflection, adj->V+ -able, adj->un- +adj

connection with phonology (speech production & acquisition)

P-rules, morpheme structure rules (also known as phonotactics)

Gavagai problem (video bit)

word learning video bit (11am: 8am Thursday didn't see it)

begin ToM discussion-- see videos (Astington/Alda), Baron-Cohen autism/Williams

easy access to children language word frequency counts, link to CHILDES

MLU and variance of length of utterance correlations

r=1.0 with age in years for 5 years.

"receptive vs productive" child language

bilingual vocabulary report--it's complicated but probaby bilinguals have more total

words adding both languages but less in either compared with monolinguals.




12 Apr 13-15  paper topics due --see research guidelines here

review, read ch. 8, 9, 10 in Pinker; last written assignment is here.


discuss comprehension ("talking heads")

Pinker himself on video

13 Apr 20-22 -- get study guide Thursday, 4/22 (Wordle version or MS word version?)

(check out Wordle!)

read ch.11 "big bang", read notes on language evolution (New ancestral fossil found!)

paper due THursday on your verb!

study guide preview

project questions? (its due May 13 or sooner.)

discuss overview and relationships among language evolution, change, and acquisition

Here's an updated "family tree" (or "bush", Pinker) (thanks to Jenna Zullo for bringing this to our attention.)

"This find is far more important than Lucy," said Alan Walker, a paleontologist from Pennsylvania State University who was not part of the research. "It shows that the last common ancestor with chimps didn't look like a chimp, or a human, or some funny thing in between."

"mirror neurons" and the vocal tract ("motor theory of speech perception")


14 Apr 27-29   exam 2 Thursday  (11 classes)

Tuesday- conclusions on ToM

Pinker on guidance in learning the rules of language (see topic notes)

review of factors in language evolution

questions on study guide

There were a number of questions on "verb despots"-- this is not a technical term in psycholinguistics. It is Pinker's way of talking about the importance of verbs in sentences, as well as the kind of information we know about each verb in our mental dictionary.

"Within a phrase, then, the verb is a little despot, dictating which of the slots made available by the super-rules are to be filled. These demands are stored in the verb's entry in the mental dictionary, more or less as follows...(he discusses "dine, devour, put, allege") p.112-115 in How L works.

"Because verbs have the power to dictate how a sentence conveys who did what to whom one cannot sort out the roles in a sentence without looking up the verb" (in your MD), p.114.

As we discussed numerous times, those languages with case markings may explicitly mark NPs in terms of the slots they fill and roles they play.

15 May 04-06 last day of class, Thursday

There will be class on Tuesday. I won't have all the exams finished but will go over the answers. So far there are no real serious problems; a few points to note include:


No class on THursday; I will be available in class to discuss and help out with projects.


"Our results support a model in which modern humans left Africa through a single major dispersal event occurring ~60,000 years ago, corresponding to a drastic reduction of ~5 times the effective population size of the ancestral African population of ~13,800 individuals. Subsequently, the ancestors of modern Europeans and East Asians diverged much later, ~22,500 years ago, from the population of ancestral migrants. This late diversification of Eurasians after the African exodus points to the occurrence of a long maturation phase in which the ancestral Eurasian population was not yet diversified."
Source: PLoS One [Open Access]




Please check your grades on BB. Final letter grades will be based on 91=A, 81=B, 71=C, 61=D

16 May 11-13  final papers due before May 13, 12pm

These final papers MUST be printed copies; you should email me a copy to be sure I get it. I will be in Conant until about noon when I go to a doc appt. I will come back late pm to pick up any papers left under the door in my office, 311 Conant. Note that the secretaries in 113 will not take papers for faculty any more. You have to give it to me or under my door. Then email a copy.