Topics in language and thought

Linguistics 290R
Fall 2011

Wednesdays 3-6pm, in 205 Wheeler


Instructor: Terry Regier (office hours Wednesdays 10am-12pm in 1221 Dwinelle).

Description: This course is a graduate seminar on the relation of language and thought. We will explore universal aspects of cognition that underlie language, and the effect of one's native language on cognition. We will do this by: (1) reading recent papers on these issues, (2) identifying interesting questions that are left open by the material covered, and (3) designing and conducting research to answer those questions.

What I hope you will get out of this class: Familiarity with this literature, experience in presenting research, experience in planning and conducting research, and ultimately, a publishable paper.

Guiding organizational principle: As a graduate student, your top academic priority should be engaging in research, and ultimately writing your dissertation. I would like this course to be helpful to you in that respect. To that end, the class will be run more or less as a lab meeting, with attention both to surveying recent literature, and to tracking your research projects - either projects you already have under way, or projects you undertake in the context of this class. Don't worry if you don't yet have a project ready to go - we'll help you explore the issues you care about, so you can choose a project wisely.

Format: Each week's session will be divided in two. The first half will be devoted to discussing that week's readings, and the second half to discussing the research, or preparation for research, of two students. Please consider this a friendly, low-pressure forum in which you can explore ideas you are interested in, but that you're not quite ready to go fully public with yet.

What I expect of you:

  1. Engage the readings in discussion.
  2. Present one or more of the readings in class.
  3. Present and lead discussion of your own research ideas in class.
  4. If you are taking the class for a letter grade, I will also require a final paper describing your project.

Final papers due: Monday, December 12, at 8am, by email (address to be sent to you via bSpace).

Initial reading list

Origins of human communication
M. Tomasello (2008). How are humans unique? NYT.
M. Tomasello and E. Herrmann (2010). Ape and human cognition: What's the difference? Current Directions in Psychological Research.
M. Tomasello (2008). Origins of human communication. Excerpts.
N. Enfield (2009). Social motives for syntax [review of Tomasello's OHC]. Science.

Cognitive bases of language learning
J. Tenenbaum et al. (2011). How to grow a mind: Statistics, structure, and abstraction. Science.
A. Perfors et al. (2011). The learnability of abstract syntactic principles. Cognition, 118, 306-338.
R. Berwick et al. (2011). Poverty of the stimulus revisited. Cognitive Science.

Semantic systems and optimal communication
S. Piantadosi et al. (2011). Word lengths are optimized for efficient communication. PNAS.
T. Regier et al. (2007). Color naming reflects optimal partitions of color space. PNAS.
N. Khetarpal et al. (2009). Spatial terms reflect near-optimal spatial categories. In N. Taatgen et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 31st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
N. Khetarpal et al. (2010). Similarity judgments reflect both language and cross-language tendencies: Evidence from two semantic domains. In S. Ohlsson and R. Catrambone (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
D. Jones (2010). Grammars of kinship and color: Cognitive universals and optimal communication. In Kinship, language, and prehistory: Per Hage and the renaissance in kinship studies. University of Utah Press.
D. Jones (2010). Human kinship, from conceptual structure to grammar. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33, 367-416.

Semantic maps
M. Haspelmath (2003). The geometry of grammatical meaning: Semantic maps and cross-linguistic comparison. In Tomasello, M. (Ed.), The new psychology of language, vol. 2 (pp. 211-242). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
D. Angluin et al. (2010). Inferring social networks from outbreaks. In Hutter, M. et al. (Eds.), Algorithmic Learning Theory 2010, LNCS 6331 (pp. 104-118). Berlin: Springer.
T. Regier et al. (under review). Inferring conceptual structure from cross-language data.

Can language restructure cognition?
A. Majid et al. (2004). Can language restructure cognition? The case for space. TICS.
D. Haun et al. (2006). Cognitive cladistics and cultural override in Hominid spatial cognition. PNAS.
L. Boroditsky and A. Gaby (2010). Remembrances of times east: Absolute spatial representations of time in an Australian Aboriginal community. Psychological Science.
P. Li et al. (2011). Spatial reasoning in Tenejapan Mayans. Cognition.
O. Le Guen (2011). Speech and gesture in spatial language and cognition among the Yucatec Mayas. Cognitive Science.

Other
M. Christiansen and N. Chater (2008). Language as shaped by the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences
T. J. O'Donnell et al. (2011). Productivity and reuse in language. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.
D. Haun et al. (2011). Plasticity of human spatial memory: Spatial language and cognition covary across cultures. Cognition.
E. Herrmann et al. (2007). Humans have evolved specialized skills of social cognition: The cultural intelligence hypothesis. Science.
S. Foraker et al. (2009). Indirect evidence and the poverty of the stimulus: The case of anaphoric one. Cognitive Science, 33, 287-300.
F. Reali and M. Christiansen (2005). Uncovering the richness of the stimulus: Structure dependence and indirect statistical evidence. Cognitive Science, 29, 1007-1028.
A. Clark and R. Eyraud (2007). Polynomial identification in the limit of substitutable context-free languages. Journal of Machine Learning Research, 8, 1725-1745.