Critical Thinking: Language & Thought

PSYCH 4521-004

Spring 2007
T-Th 12:30-1:45PM -- LIBR M300D

People Course Goals Coursework


Other Information Schedule

this week

02/06/07:The fallacy & summary assignments are available now.

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Instructor: Eliana Colunga
Office: Muenzinger Room D447-B
Office Phone: 303-492-4282
Office Hours: W 12:00-1:00 and by appointment

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 study by philosophers, psychologists, linguists, cognitive scientists and others. Are we smartbecause 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? Does language have an impact on issues like sexism and racism? The answers to these 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 will give examples of these questions in the first few classes.

Quizzes. On most class days, there will be a 1 pt multiple choice quiz covering the reading for that day. These quizzes are not meant to be tricky, just to make sure that you're learning the basics you'll need to participate in discussions and to get the most out of the course. There will be more than 15 of these quizzes, so that you can score more than 15 points total. As a result, you should not be penalized in your quiz score if you must miss a class. Anything above 15 points will count as extra credit toward your final grade.

Assignments. During the course of the class there will be four group assignments that will have as purpose to integrate or apply what we have discussed so far. Before each of these assignments you will be given a series of questions to think about or exercises to complete in preparation for the group assignment to come. Your grade for these assignments will composed by the grade of your individual prep work and the evaluation of your group work as a whole.

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 wikipedia (this one also 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 impress your friends.)

In addition, once during the semester, each of you will be responsible for emailing me a short one-paragraph summary of what we discussed in class. At the beginning of the class we will review this summary to help us 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
Feb. 27 Paper topic
Mar. 6 Outline and references
Mar. 22 Paper draft
May 3 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:
Participation 10
Discussion Questions 15
Quizzes 15
Assignments 10
Fallacy & Summary 5
Final Paper 45
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

Policy information


There are no makeups with no exceptions unless you have had a real catastrophe. (I hope not). You may, however, work on assignments in advance. All assignments will be posted on the webpage at least 2 days before they are due and can be requested with up to one week in advance by email. Note however, that you take a risk when you get the assignments in advance because frequently the preparation for the assignment is done in class, and they may be difficult to do without attending class. To get credit, you must turn your assignment in by email no later than the end of class on the day that it is due. Note that if you choose to go this route, you assume total responsibility for getting the assignment in on time. Any technological difficulties you may experience are your problem to solve and will not justify a change in the due date or time for your assignment. Thus, if you have absences due to personal business or religious observances you can plan ahead. If you are so sick that you cannot do the assignments ahead and miss more than the extra credit quizzes, you will need a doctor's note and a really good story even to discuss other arrangements.

Remember that requests for assignments must be done by email, not in person before or after class. And if they are not turned in during class, they must be sent before class by email. This is so that we can keep records correctly.


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 16 Introduction
Jan 18 Language and thought -- related, how?
Premack, 04, Q1
Week 2 Jan 23 Language of Thought
Pinker, 94, Q2
Jan 25 Language for Thought
Boroditsky, in press
Not-so-controversial Language Effects
Week 3 Jan 30 Labeling effects on categorization - babies
Xu, 02
Feb 1 Labeling effects on categorization - adults
Goldstone, Lippa, & Shiffrin, 2001
Week 4 Feb 6 Verbal mediation
Emerson & Miyake, 2003
Feb 8 Assignment - mechanisms
No reading, but please answer this in preparation for class activity.
Different languages - Cross-cultural research
Week 5 Feb 13 Gender
Boroditsky, Schmidt, & Phillips, 2003
Feb 15 Space
Majid et al, 2004
Week 6 Feb 20 Time
Borodistky, 01
Feb 22 Assignment: methods
No reading, but please answer this in preparation for class activity.
More than one language - Bilingualism
Week 7 Feb 27 Discuss paper topics Paper topic due
Mar 1 Bilingual Brains
Kim et al, 97
Week 8 Mar 6 Flexibility
Bialystok et al, 04
Outline & references due
Mar 8 Self-construal
Marian & Kaushansakya, 04
Week 9 Mar 13 Education
Lesaux & Siegel, 03
Mar 15 Assignment: policy
Answer this and this for a class activity.
Any language at all - Special cases
Week 10 Mar 20 Overview
Pinker, 94
Mar 22 Word learning in dogs
Kaminski et al, 04, Markman & Abelev, 04
Week 11 Mar 27-29
Spring Break
Week 12 Apr 3 Theory of Mind in chimps
Tomasello et al, 03
Apr 5 Nicaraguan Sign Language
Linguistic Big Bang
Paper draft due
Week 13 Apr 10 Specific Language Impairment
SLI fact sheet
Apr 12 Assignment: application
No reading, but please answer this in preparation for class activity.
Putting it all together
Week 14 Apr 17 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
Apr 19 Presentations: Christina, Chris B., Tiffany, Chris Sams
Week 15 Apr 24 Presentations: Joel, Heather, Nate, Nicole
Apr 26 Presentations: Alicia, Stacey, Julia, Chris Sample
Week 16 May 1 Presentations: Danielle, Cotton, Katie, Dorsey
May 3 Presentations: Julie, Rachael, Kirsten Final paper due