Critical Thinking: Language & Thought

PSYCH 4521-002

Spring 2009
T-Th 2:00-3:15PM -- MUEN E130

People Course Goals Coursework

fallacy & summary assignments

Other Information Schedule

this week

Join our Online Discussion Forum, now on CULearn!

Instructor: Eliana Colunga
Office: Muenzinger Room D447-B
Office Phone: 303-492-4282
Office Hours: T 10:00-11:00 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 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? 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 on time, you will post TWO discussion questions inspired by the assigned reading and/or answers to other people's posted questions. The 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. These questions/answers should be posted by 9AM the day we are due to discuss the corresponding reading. There will be approximately 20 of these; 3 will be dropped. That means you can miss 3 discussion postings without affecting your grade.

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. The purpose of these assignments is to integrate or apply what we have discussed during the preceding section of the course. 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 will bring handouts explaining your chosen fallacy and including one or two examples, as well as post this information in the dedicated topic in our online discussion forum. You can choose one from wikipedia (this one also has good examples).. Soon we will be able to accuse one another of committing the fallacy of converse accident or whatnot. (Note: Using obscure terminology is not a sanctioned way of arguing a point in this class (in fact, it is a logical fallacy), but go ahead and use it to impress your friends.)

In addition, once during the semester, each of you will be responsible for posting a short one-paragraph summary of what we discussed in class in the dedicated thread in our online discussion forum. 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 15-20 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 45 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 26 Paper topic
Mar 5 References
Mar 12 Outline
Apr 7 Paper draft
Apr 30 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 13 Introduction
Jan 15 Language and Thought
Quick overview
Week 2 Jan 20 Languages and Concepts
Carruthers, 09
Jan 22 Language and Human Cognition
Premack, 04
Not-so-controversial Language Effects
Week 3 Jan 27 Labeling effects on categorization - babies
Xu, Cote, & Baker, 05
Jan 29 Labeling effects on categorization - adults
Lupyan Rakison, & McClelland, 2008
Week 4 Feb 3 Verbal mediation
Emerson & Miyake, 03
Feb 5 Assignment - mechanisms
No reading, but please answer this in preparation for class activity.-->
Different languages - Cross-cultural research
Week 5 Feb 10 Gender
Boroditsky, Schmidt, & Phillips, 2003
Feb 12 Space
Hermer-Vazquez, Moffet, & Munkholm, 01

Hespos & Spelke, 04
Week 6 Feb 17 Time
Borodistky, 01
Feb 19 Number
Gordon, 04, supporting materials
Week 7 Feb 24 Assignment: methods
Please read Majid et al, 04 and answer this in preparation for class activity.
Feb 26 Discuss final paper Paper Topic
Some or no Language - Special cases
Week 8 Mar 3 Dogs - Word Learning
Kaminski et al, 04, Markman & Abelev, 04
Mar 5 Chimps - Theory of Mind
Tomasello et al, 03
Week 9 Mar 10 Nicaraguan Sign Language
Morgan & Kegl, 06
Mar 12 Autism
Whitehouse et al, 06
Outline due
Week 10 Mar 17 Late Talkers
Jones, 03
Outline due
Mar 19 Assignment: intervention
Please answer this in preparation for class activity.
Week 11 Mar 23-
Mar 26
Spring Break
More than one language - Bilingualism
Week 12 Mar 31 Bilingual brains
Kim et al, 97 (if you need a language in the brain primer)
Apr 2 Evaluating Bilinguals
Rivera-Mindt et al, 08, pp. 255-260
(guest lecture by Nicole Sager, please email her your discussion questions/comments directly)
Week 13 Apr 7 Flexibility
Bialystok et al, 04
Apr 9 Picture Naming
Gollan et al, 07
Draft due
Week 14 Apr 14 Dementia
Bialystok, Craik, & Freedman, 07
Apr 16 Assignment: application
Please make a list of research findings regarding bilingualism and cognitive measures in aging populations in preparation for class activity.
Putting it all together
Week 15 Apr 21 Presentations: Mariya, Nick, Kate, Meredith, Bog
Apr 23 Presentations: Amisha, Smarika, Anna, Kati, Kelly
Week 16 Apr 28 Presentations: Kristen, Amuda, Lenka, Brett, Dan
Apr 30 Presentations: Adrian, Jen, Cara, Erica, Jamie Final paper due