28 class meetings, Jan 24- May 03


PSYC 712 Psychology of Language- Spring 2012

(to be revised for this semester.)


Daily notes

These are my own notes and record of what we covered (discussed/viewed) in class. They also may include other relevant material I didn't mention but should have if time (or memory) allowed. I may also include info on questions someone asked. They are not necessarily complete but should be reviewed before exams as I might add or revise at any time. (I left some items in from last semester.) I usually try to log my notes each day and will modify any contents that need it. New assignments will be found here as well.

week 1

See course description and other features of the webpage and course itself.

Consult this Timeline of primate evolution and more.

One of my goals this semester is to work on how language is synergistically integrated into other aspects of psychology-- especially modern cognitive psychology. For example how does language work with memory, thinking, and consciousness. And of course Pinker must believe genetics will be important in the "Language Instinct."

Many relationships among these concepts are possible. But what are those concepts? What is thinking? How might language play a role--if it does? What is language? (Let Pinker work on this!)


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.. Watson & Crick thought about the chemical structure of DNA using a cardboard model just as Wright Bros. "thought" about flight using model planes and a wind tunnel.

(to be updated for week 2)

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.

What would it mean to say consciousness was involved in all actions?? It would mean a mistake, I think!!! Language may seem to be necessary but in some cases, if not all, it (L) is reflective.


week 2


Finish Language video.

Discuss Pinker ch.1

week 3 reading assignment. Read the short Colapinto (2007) reading--"The Interpreter"--on the Piraha language and linguistic gossip!

Colapinto, J. (2007). The interpreter: Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language? The New Yorker 83(8): 119-137.

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 to discuss any of the issues raised in this article a week from Thursday.. You should also begin reading ch.3 in Pinker.


video on Nicauragan sign language (NSL) -- discussed in Pinker. Compare the development of NSL with the creoles in the Surinam (Languge video and PInker.)



second writing assignment

Search deep into yourself and listen to others in the next few days. Then write me a short (one page) paper that lists and very briefly discusses the functions of language that you observe. Be very specific and be warned that you must go beyond the obvious that language serves as a means of interpersonal communication. Say that but what else might we use it for? If it went away, what would it take with? We have already raised the question of language in relation to thinking and consciousness and memory. Elaborate on these if necessary. This is not intended to be a research paper but simply a collection of uses that human language might serve. Due Tuesday, Feb 7.

week 3- second short writing assignment due Tuesday

Summary of reading assignments to date: Pinker ch1, ch2, ch3, Colapinta (2007) online above, and..

Read this review of "Evolution of the human head" by Daniel Lieberman, 2011. See accompanying video

. Be prepared Thursday, 2/10, to discuss your impressions of the Piraha reports.


Next () written assignment due Tuesday, 2/14 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.

(It is interesting to compare W. James and Pinker's words on the matter of thought. Here is James (1892) using the "clothes" analogy:

"his (Estrella) narrative tends to discountenance the notion that no abstract thought is possible without words. Abstract thought of a decidedly subtle kind, both scientific and moral, went on here in advance of the means of expressing it to others. To a great extent it does so in all of us to-day, for nothing is commoner than to have a thought, and then to seek for the proper words in which to clothe its most important features. The only way to defend the doctrine of the absolute dependence of thought on language is so to enlarge the sphere of this latter word as to make it cover every possible sort of mental imagery, whether conmunicable to others or not. Of course no man can think without some kind of mind-stuff to think in. "


What do you think about these cases? 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 2/15. One page typed, double space. Schaller, S. (1991). A man without words. New York: Summit Books. (discussed in Pinker.)

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. More on this.

Tuesday: discuss FOXP2, short videos, Pinker ch.1 &2, get papers due.

Here find my summary notes on the current state of "genes and language." Is it worth talking a bit abou autism- it is certainly a genetic condition impacting language? Maybe an interview with TEmple Grandin on her introspections about languge and thought?

Video bits

Williams syndrome (WS) (discussed in Pinker) video with Dr. Ursula Bellugi. A good example of the many effects from a few--even one-- genetic change. (What is WS?) Autism- NIMH/Grandin?

Bird song, human language acquisition, and FOXP2

poor vocal control in chimps? See video circa Keith Hayes Vicki project.

Mokan myth (functions of language and supposedly another "timeless" language.)

"animals predict"

Read this new report on the role of language in counting; relevant to the Piraha discussion. More details on the research here.

"Number without a language model.” Elizabet Spaepen, Marie Coppola, Elizabeth S. Spelke, Susan E. Carey, Susan Goldin-Meadow. PNAS, Feb. 7, 2011. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1015975108.


week 4

summary and catch-up: discuss Mokan myth and summary of language functions--see overview & notes.

How do "animals predict" tsunamis--if they do? (video)

Get W James paper on retrospective memory after language onset- if that is what is going on.

reading and writing assignment below. See brief Temple Grandin self-reflection on L and T.


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 (OBJECT1, OBJECT2, OBJECT3..), 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."


Like other evidence, this suggests cognition and language are quite independent of one another. Yet the number research above indicates this is not absolute. Language seems a necessary tool for some cognitive functions.

**end of comment***

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 (2008-11) piece of research relevant to their conclusions. Say why it is relevant; give APA citation so I can find it.


Due Feb 22, one page double spaced. The above gets right into the issue of the development of mental representations-- language, visual, or actions???


Questions on Mokan myth and "animals predict"? Do you understand the idea of "infrasound?"

A major conclusion to be drawn here is that communication may be functionally equivalent (both humans and animals might be warned about oncoming danger) but by VERY different means--language myth and innate fear of infrasound noise.

discuss Pinker ch 3 on relations between language and thought

Temple Grandin video, Gazzaniga's left hemisphere "interpreter" videos (Joe & Vicki). Is it a coincidence L and the "interpreter" are both localized largely to the human left hemisphere?

look at "what's new" Non-human primate vocalizations, as we saw, are difficult for animals to control-- i.e. to use as operants to get food. Studies of brain stimulation indicate ape neocortex will not produce sounds. One needs to go deeper into the mid-brain.

Here's more on language genes; changes in the last 10K to 30K years ago. More on this later.

Here's the link to the case where the on air reporter lost control of her language- she reports a kind of dissociation between self and words. (Thanks to Kelsey O)

Is the IBM Jeopardy computer a language based "thinker?"(If so does it require all levels of ambiguity to be resolved (removed?))

Review childhood amnesia paper.

read 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. Retrieved March 23, 2009, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01968.x (on Blackboard)

Write 1 page- paragraph on implications for L&T relationships as you see it. One paragraph on related research paper within last 3 years 2009-11.

Due in one week , March 3.

discuss Pinker ch.. 3 on the "language of thought." Drag in the Simcock & Hayne (2003) findings and other related ideas including Piaget's modes of thought, Kohler's insight.

Try to put together a picture of the kinds of MR available, including L itself--maybe in the case of Watson the IBM jeopardy computer.


Why is the idea of English as the language of thought "absurd?"




week 5-study guide for exam 1 here Thursday, 3/03

Here's an exam from last year.

Sum up Simcock & Hayne (2003) along with new research. Maybe some notes on these-- at least references.

Ch.4 in Pinker. See older notes and new outline.

Get Ganea et al update papers.



week 6

brief discussion of priming,

Ganea et al, (knowledge by acquaintance vs knowledge by description-- can we tell the difference?) Can we probe our MRs about events and sort out what elements have what sources? Some languages seem to require something this-- so-called "evidentiality".

finish topics from ch.4 (see new outline above as well as old notes for more details)


ch 5 in Pinker and related topics

exam questions? Send them to Blackboard discussion board with specific subject headings.

Exam grades posted on Blackboard in a few days.



week 7



week 8 break Mar 15-17

Exams were excellent for a large majority of students, average was 88.

read Pinker- review ch.5, ch.6, ch.7

week 09


review ch. 4&5; read ch. 6. For next week, ch.7

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 Tuesday, 3/29. 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.) Here's a hint of the complexity of the area.



finish "Human Language 1 video.

Discuss briefly a few topics related to CH.5 "Words..." See topic notes, beginning at "phonological rules" and subsequent topics including level information and meaning of morphemes, distinction between sense and reference of an expression, and the idea of the lexicon (MD) as a repository for possible words of a language as defined by the particular phonology of a language. (This would include basic morpheme structure (phonotactics), phoneme inventories....) .

Comment on ch.6 and the "blink" assignment.

week 10


More on blink, ch.6, methods and speech analysis. Discuss research projects. They must contain some creative element, 6-10 pages.

(several types including research proposal with review and materials, descriptive observtion, use of language databases, experimental project with a few subjects...)

Read & review, Pinker ch. 7 & 8 See below for next written assignment

return"blink" papers-- no greater proof that language is an instinct!

Watch "twin boys" youtube (several parts and ABC followup) Thanks to Erica S.

week 11


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 near top).

Written assignment due April 12 (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.

Limber, J. (1977). Language in child and chimp? American Psychologist, 32, 280-295 (Reprinted in Sebeok, T. & Sebeok, J. (Eds.) (1980). Speaking of Apes (pp.1197-1218). New York: Plenum Press.).

Finish Human Languge video 3; show video bits on "theory of mind" --false belief test and Baron-Cohen's "desire" eye-gaze test with autistic children.


Discuss Semenza paper briefly-- especially distinction drawn between the sense of an expression and its reference. (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. )

Brief survey of brain function methods--from Broca to TMS, fMRI & MEG

Review the case described in Naccache, L. (2006). Is she conscious? Science, 313, 1395-1396. (download from BB) Is she conscious? Does language play a role in C? A necessary role in C? What does this case indicate about language processes and methods used to assess language in the brain?

video bit on Ojemann using the old but functional brain probe technique. Another aphasia case, too--Dr Talley?

begin Human Language video 2-- language acquisition.


week 12

Apr 12-14

See a larynx in action. (thanks to Athena A)

Next written assignment due next Tuesday, Apr 19. So are topics for papers.

databases for child language

Watch this! Can infants read? No better than dogs!

discuss Pinker ch.7 and 8.


week 13--


april 19-21

next written assignment-- history of language. Read this news item supporting the out of Africa story of human language evolution.

finish Language acquisition video?

Research project questions?

ToM and language (update THursday include Ruffman et al assignment and comp vs rel clauses using "the fact that Otto knew was surprising." to show similarity in structure but difference in meaning.)

Discuss Pinker (his model for acquiring the toy grammar--last year's notes in topics)

Start thoughts on the evolution of language


How Language Shapes Thought. By: Boroditsky, Leva, Scientific American, 00368733, Feb2011, Vol. 304, Issue 2

Database: Academic Search Premier


week 14-take home exam2, 4/28 (due in week)

summary on "Baby born talking"- (See notes)

video bit on "joint attention" and word learning strategies (Gavagai!)

what do we know about the evolution of human language?

What does "chudle" mean? --syntactic bootstrapping and measurement of meaning






week 15 & 16


exam 2 grades on BB at 3pm Tuesday, May 10

research projects due

Friday, May 13, 12:00pm.--if not sooner.


Remember: Papers must follow APA style references and have at least two recent references --one of which must be in a published journal.


Papers are due on or before May 13, 12 pm. If I am not in my office --16 Conant Hall -- PUT IT UNDER MY DOOR AND SEND ME AN EMAILED COPY (712 in subject line) WHEN YOU CAN AS A BACKUP-- SECRETARIES ARE NO LONGER TAKING PAPERS.

Keep a copy for yourself.

NO email papers unless followed up with a printed copy in a day or so.




FINAL GRADES-- these will be posted as soon as possible.



Pennington, B. F., & Bishop, D. V. (2009). Relations among speech, language, and reading disorders. Annu Rev Psychol, 60, 283-306.

Pat Kuhl's TED talk