Critical Thinking: Language & Thought

PSYCH 4521-008

Spring 2005
T-Th 11:00-12:30PM -- Muenzinger E114

People Course Goals Coursework

fallacy & summary assignments

Other Information Schedule

this week

NEW 03/10/05: Check out the final project topics.

01/28/05:The fallacy & summary assignments are available now.

01/20/05: The notes for the first week are available now.

01/18/05: Join our Online Discussion Forum

Instructor: Eliana Colunga
Office: Muenzinger Room D447-B
Office Phone: 303-492-4282
Office Hours: Th 12:30-2:00 and by appointment
Email everyone in class

Course Goals

The main goal of this class is to learn about interaction between language and thought. Language is at the core of human activity and human cognition. The nature of the relationship between language and thought has long been subject of speculation by philosophers, psychologists, linguists, cognitive scientists and others. Are we smart because have language or do we have language because we're smart? Does the way we talk influence the way we think? Do people who speak different languages think differently? How about people who speak more than one language? or no language? How about other species? These questions questions are controversial, and we will try to make sense of them by using skills of critical thinking. The secondary goal of the class is to practice skills of critical thinking. Being able to critically evalute ideas requires some fundamental skills. Among the skills we will be practicing in this class are:


Participation. This class will follow a graduate seminar model. Most of the class time will involve your participation in discussions and presentations. Your preparation and participation is essential for this format to work. You are expected to read the assigned readings the week they are assigned and to come to class prepared to ask questions and actively participate in discussion. Additionally, there will be an online forum in which we may follow-up discussions or start new ones. Your participation and ideas will be crucial to our evaluation of the ideas in the field.

Discussion Questions. To facilitate discussions and encourage doing the readings, you will email me three discussion questions inspired by the assigned reading by midnight of the day before we are due to discuss it (M/W). These questions may range from somewhat "superficial" questions about the content of the reading to truly "deep" questions about the implications of the reading, integrating other sources from your own life, introspection, experiences, or plain speculation. To help you understand what kind of questions I'm talking about, for the first three weeks I will supply the questions and your job will be to email me the answers by the regular deadline and to be ready to discuss, defend, and perhaps even relinquish your answers in class.

Fallacy and Summary. To keep in mind the issue of critical thinking and to expand our vocabulary, we will begin each class by explaining and discussing common logical fallacies. During the semester, each of you will be responsible for choosing and explaining one common fallacy. You can choose one from this fabulous website (this one is not as comprehensive, but has good examples). Soon we will be able to acuse one another of committing the falacy of converse accident or whatnot. (Note: Using obscure terminology is not a sanctioned way of arguing a point in this class, but go ahead and use it at cocktail parties.)

In addition, once during the semester, each of you will be responsible for emailing me a one-paragraph summary of what we discussed in class. At the beginning of the class we will review this summary to enhance our ability to integrate the material discussed from class to class.

Final paper and Presentation. The final paper (8-12 typed, double-spaced pages) and presentation (about 20 minutes) should be on a topic of interest to you that is related to the content of the course. We will discuss this in more detail later in the course. Preparing these papers will require much work, thought and outside research, so you will do well to start early. The following timeline is designed to ensure that you make progress on your paper (4 of the 40 points for the paper will come from simply making each of the 4 deadlines before the final due date) and that you receive feedback on it before turning in the final version.

Deadline Assignment
March 1 Paper topic
March 8 Outline and references
March 31 Paper draft
late April Oral presentations
April 29 Final paper
The final paper is due on the last day of classes. NOTE: for each day that the final paper is late, 5% will be deducted from your final paper grade.


The total possible number of points you can earn is:
Class Participation 20
Discussion Questions 20
Fallacy & Summary 10
Presentation 10
Final Paper 40
Total 100

Letter grades will be assigned as follows.

A+ = 98-100 B+ = 88-89 C+ = 78-79 D+ = 68-69
A = 92-97 B = 82-87 C = 72-77 D = 62-67
A- = 90-91 B- = 80-81 C- = 70-71 D- = 60-61
F < 60

Other information


A grade of incomplete will be given only if (1) all completed work is satisfactory (i.e., C- or better) and (2) there is a valid reason that you cannot complete the course. If you would like to be considered for an incomplete, contact me as soon as you know.

Statement about disabilities

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services (DS) early in the semester so that your needs may be addressed. DS determines accommodations based on documented disabilities (303-492-8671, Willard 322,

Academic dishonesty

Students are expected to adhere to the University of Colorado Student Honor Code for every assignment and exam in this class. Honor code information is at

Classroom behavior policy

The information on classroom behavior policy can be found at However, in addition to not being incredibly disruptive and obnoxious in class, I expect you to be on time for class meetings, not read newspapers or magazines in the classroom, not disrupt the class with conversation, interact with fellow students in a respectful manner during class discussions, ask questions when you don't understand the material, and communicate complaints, criticisms and suggestions either personally or anonymously to me.


The Issues
Week 1 Jan 11 Introduction
Jan 12 Language and thought -- related, how?
Premack, 04, Q1
Week 2 Jan 18 Language of Thought - Pinker
Pinker, 94, Q2
Jan 20 Language for Thought - Levinson
Levinson, 03, Q3
Not-so-controversial Language Effects
Week 3 Jan 25 Labeling effects on categorization - adults
Goldstone, Lippa, & Shiffrin, 01, Post your questions here.
Jan 27 Labeling effects on categorization - babies
Xu, 02
Week 4 Feb 1 Verbal mediation
Emerson & Miyake, 02
Feb 3 Laguage effects on thought - revisiting mechanisms
no reading, but answer this for a class activity.
Different languages - Cross-cultural research
Week 5 Feb 8 Gender
Borodistky, Schmidt & Phillips, 03
Feb 10 Actions
Hespos & Spelke, 04
Week 6 Feb 15 Time
Borodistky, 01
Feb 17 Space
Majid et al, 04
Week 7 Feb 22 Reasoning
Au, 83
Feb 24 Laguage effects on thought - experimental methods
no reading, but answer this for a class activity.
More than one language - Bilingualism
Week 8 Mar 1 Discuss paper topics Paper topic due
Mar 3 Bilingual brains
Perani et al, 98
Week 9 Mar 8 Flexibility
Bialystok et al, 04
Outline & refs due
Mar 10 Theory of Mind
Goetz, 03
Any language at all - Special cases
Week 10 Mar 15 Evolution
Pinker, 94
Mar 17 Dogs
Kaminski et al, 04, Markman & Abelev, 04
Week 11 Mar 22-24 Spring Break
Week 12 Mar 29 Nicaraguan Sign Language
A Linguistic Big Bang, New York Times Magazine
Mar 31 Specific Language Impairment & Late Talkers
SLI fact sheet, Late Talkers, Contemporary Pediatrics
Paper Draft due
Putting it all together
Week 13 Apr 5 Language and Society
Sexism: A Person Paper on Purity in Language by William Satire (Douglas Hostsadter)
               Guidelines for the Use of Nonsexist Language, University of New Hampshire
Politics: Metaphor, Morality and Politics by George Lakoff
Apr 7 No class
Week 14 April 12 Katherine
April 14 Mallory
Week 15 April 19 Madeline
April 21 Allison
Week 16 April 26 Joe
April 28 Final Thoughts Final paper due