Introduction to Language and Linguistics

University of California, Merced
COGS 005: Introduction to Language and Linguistics
Spring 2021

Instructor: Adam M. Croom, Ph.D.
Teaching Assistant: Jaskanwaljeet Kaur, Ph.D. student
Teaching Assistant: Umesh Krishnamurthy, Ph.D. student

My Office Hours: By appointment on Zoom

Lectures: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:30 pm – 2:45 pm, on Zoom

Course Description: This is an introductory survey course on the scientific study of language. In this course we will examine a broad range of fascinating topics about language and cognition from the linguistics and cognitive science literature, including first language acquisition, multilingualism, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, sign languages, writing systems, the cognitive neuroscience of language, and research methods for studying language. Each week we will focus on readings by leading scholars in a selected area of research, so students in this course will gain a broad overview of the major topics, theoretical approaches, and research methods used for the scientific study of language and cognition.

Topics that will be covered in this course include: (1) first language acquisition: in this section we will learn about generative, connectionist, and usage-based accounts for how children acquire their native language; (2) multilingualism: in this section we will review differences between monolinguals and multi-linguals and study the cognitive processes involved in the acquisition and use of multiple languages; (3) developmental sociolinguistics: in this section we will examine the variable nature of language and how children learn to use language in socially and culturally appropriate ways; (4) phonology: in this section we will examine the perception and production of sounds that systematically constitute a language; (5) morphology: in this section we will examine the structure of words and their parts, including roots, prefixes, infixes, and suffixes; (6) syntax: in this section we will study the constituent structure of sentences, such as noun phrases (NPs) and verb phrases (VPs), and gain practice representing the constituent structure of sentences with tree-diagrams and bracketing notation; (7) semantics: in this section we will study formal, lexical, and diachronic approaches to understanding the conventional meaning of words and sentences. For example, in our section on formal semantics we will cover the formal (logical-mathematical) representation of declarative (true or false) sentences and practice translating declarative sentences from a natural language to a formal language with propositional and predicate logic. In our section on lexical semantics we will cover the structure of lexical categories and the relationships among categories, the distinction between the standard criterial attribute model of categories and the prototype model of categories, the distinction between the dictionary model of word meaning and the encyclopedia model of word meaning, and metaphorical constructions involving mappings from source domains to target domains and conceptual blending. In our section on diachronic semantics we will cover how the meanings associated with linguistic expressions evolve in systematic ways over time by examining the structural and dynamic components of semantic change. In this course we will also cover (8) pragmatics: this section focuses on the meaning of words and sentences as they are used or situated in particular linguistic, social, and cultural contexts. For example, in this section we will examine the relevance of linguistic, social, and cultural context to linguistic meaning, conventional implicatures (what is implied over what is literally said), different types of speech acts (locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts), and different types of illocutionary acts (statements, questions, promises, apologies, and commands). We will also cover (9) expressive language and slurs: this section focuses on the conventional meaning and practical use of expressive terms and (ethnic and gender) slurs in order to examine how language can be used, not only to describe facts about the world, but also to express subjective emotions and influence the social status of individuals; (10) the cognitive neuroscience of language: this section will examine the neural basis of language perception, processing, and production, focusing especially on combinatorial syntax and semantics; (11) sign languages: this section will focus on the structure and development of sign languages including American Sign Language (ASL), Israeli Sign Language (ISL), and Nicaraguan Sign Language (ASL); (12) writing systems: this section will focus on the history of writing systems including logographs, abjads, alphabets, and syllabaries; and (13) methodological approaches to studying language: in this section we will review at least five different methods for the scientific study of language, including methods from analytic philosophy of language, experimental psychology, corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and cognitive neuroscience.

Outcomes: Upon completion of this course students will have watched over two dozen original lectures and read over two dozen important articles about language and cognition from various subfields of linguistics and cognitive science. Gaining competency with this literature will help students understand the current state of the field, so that they can evaluate strengths and weaknesses of different views about language, formulate new research questions, and develop original ideas for further investigating language on their own. By reading articles about language from different subfields of cognitive science, including linguistics, psychology, philosophy, computer science, and cognitive neuroscience, students will also have improved their ability to evaluate arguments, understand experimental design, collect data, read tables and figures, and interpret results. In addition to reading a wide range of articles about language and cognition from the linguistics and cognitive science literature, students will also complete a variety of practical skill-building exercises that are useful for language scholars, including representing the constituent structure of sentences with tree-diagrams and bracketing notation, translating declarative sentences from a natural language to a formal language with propositional and predicate logic, using techniques from corpus linguistics to examine text data, and designing an original experiment for linguistic research. By completing 15 sets of homework assignments over the course of the semester, students will gain a foundational understanding about language and cognition as well as develop practical skills in cognitive science to continue their original research.

Required Reading: The readings will be available for you on Canvas.

Assignment Submissions: Submit your assignments by uploading them directly onto Canvas.

Grading Procedures: Your grade for this course will be based on your performance on weekly assignments. Assignments will vary each week and may include multiple choice questions, short essays, and other exercises. Homework assignments will constitute 100% of your grade. Instructions and a grading rubric will be provided for each assignment.

Academic Integrity: Each student must abide by the Academic Honesty Policy at UC Merced. You must do all of your own work on all assignments and copying is never allowed. Violations of academic integrity will result in disciplinary action.

Additional Remarks: This syllabus is tentative and subject to change so stay tuned for updates. If you have any questions or want to talk more about the course, majoring in philosophy, or your future career, I encourage you to visit me during office hours for a chat. I value your contributions to the course and I look forward to seeing you develop this semester.

Schedule Overview

  • Lecture 1: Goodluck (2011) First language acquisition
  • Lecture 2: Curtin & Zamuner (2014) Understanding the developing sound system
  • Lecture 3: Hall (2010) Articulatory phonology
  • Lecture 4: Sandler (2012) The phonological organization of sign languages
  • Lecture 5: Senghas, Kita & Ozyurek (2004) Children creating core properties of language
  • Lecture 6: Wasow (2003) Generative grammar
  • Lecture 7: Adger (2015) Syntax
  • Lecture 8: Finley (2018) Cognitive and linguistic biases in morphological learning
  • Lecture 9: Booij (2010) Construction morphology
  • Lecture 10: McNally (2013) Semantics and pragmatics
  • Lecture 11: Moyer & Syrett (2019) The semantics of questions
  • Lecture 12: Lappin (2003) An introduction to formal semantics
  • Lecture 13: Dingfang (2009) Cognitive approaches to lexical semantics
  • Lecture 14: Baroni (2013) Composition in distributional semantics
  • Lecture 15: Hamilton, Adolphs & Nerlich (2007) The meaning of ‘risk’: A view from corpus linguistics
  • Lecture 16: Wearing (2015) Relevance theory: Pragmatics and cognition
  • Lecture 17: Bach (2006) Pragmatics and the philosophy of language
  • Lecture 18: Croom (2014) The semantics of slurs: A refutation of pure expressivism
  • Lecture 19: Kao & Jurafsky (2012) A computational analysis of style, affect, and imagery in contemporary poetry
  • Lecture 20: Deo (2015) Diachronic semantics
  • Lecture 21: Johnson & White (2018) Developmental sociolinguistics: Children’s acquisition of language variation
  • Lecture 22: Bialystok (2010) Bilingualism
  • Lecture 23: Creel & Bregman (2011) How talker identity relates to language processing
  • Lecture 24: Kemmerer (2012) The cross-linguistic prevalence of SOV and SVO word orders reflects the sequential and hierarchical representation of action in Broca’s area
  • Lecture 25: Pylkkanen (2019) The neural basis of combinatory syntax and semantics
  • Lecture 26: Langland-Hassan (2020) Inner speech
  • Lecture 27: Wolff & Holmes (2011) Linguistic relativity
  • Lecture 28: Arunachalam (2013) Experimental methods for linguists
  • Lecture 29: Rudder (2015) A history of writing