Language Proseminar

Psych 5815-001

Fall 2006
Tu/Th 9:00 - 10:40 -- Muenzinger - D428

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

Discussion Forum

Course Goals

Language appears to be at the core of many human cognitive abilities. The goal of this seminar is to introduce graduate students to fundamental issues in cognitive psychology and cognitive science regarding language. We will read and discuss papers that address critical issues on these topics. At the end of the course you will have an idea of why language matters, how language is studied, and an understanding of different theories on how language works, how language is learned, where language comes from, and how language interacts with cognition.


We will meet twice a week. Students are expected to prepare for each meeting by reading assigned material (approximately 2-4 research articles per week) and posting reactions to the readings to the online discussion forum, including 2-3 discussion questions for the whole class to discuss. Discussion questions will be due by 9PM the night before class meets.

Each person will be assigned to lead 1-2 sessions, briefly presenting the major points of the readings and questions to stimulate discussion. We will have all read the same articles, so there will be no need in walking us through it point by point in detail. In addition, each person not presenting will be responsible for sending me feedback for the presenter, following the method pioneered by Lew Harvey. Within two days after each discussion, students should email me with about 3 ``Strong Points'' and 3 ``Weak Points'' for that session. I will compile these comments, and give them to each presenter anonymously and privately. Students should strive for improvement on their second discussion.

During the semester we will have 1-2 debates on core issues of language. Each student will participate in one debate. Debate teams will be assigned in a semi-random fashion. The debate format, at least for the time being, will be as follows. The members of each team will divide the points they want to make among themselves. Each team member will present his/her argument, and all of the members of the other team will have the opportunity to respond. Each presentation will be limited to 15 minutes and each response to it to 10 minutes. Then chaos will ensue.

There will also be midterm and final essay take-home exams.

Evaluation will thus be as follows:


Tuesday Thursday
Week 1 Language & Cognition
Premack, 04
Approaches - Eliana
Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 02
Christiansen + Chater, 01
Week 2 Phonology - Wolfi
Diehl, Lotto, & Holt, 04
Plaut & Kello, 99
first runner-up: a dynamical systems view
Semantics - Chris
Landauer & Dumais, 97
Steels & Kaplan, 02
Week 3 Grammar - Leigh
Luka & Barsalow, 05
Gomez, 02
neat model of Gomez, 02

Simpler Syntax
Reading - Katye
Ehrl, 05
Seidenberg & Plaut, 06
crosslinguistic modeling
Week 4 DEBATE - Katye & Shaw vs.* Keith, Wolfi, & Hannah
Pinker & Ullman, 02a
McClelland & Patterson, 02a
Pinker & Ullman, 02b
McClelland & Patterson, 02b
Brain - Hannah
Martin, 03
Week 5 Evolution - Andrew
Senghas et al, 05
Steels, 03
Jackendoff, 99
Development (words) - Keith
Booth & Waxman, 02
Smith et al, 02
Diesendruck, Markson& Bloom, 03
(I wrote it and, by George, someone will read it!)
Week 6 Development (grammar) -
Tomasello, 00
Lidz & Gleitman, 04
Lidz, Waxman & Freedman, 03
optional responses
Flexibility - Lee
Emerson & Miyake, 02
Bialystok et al, 04
Week 7 Concepts - All
Xu, 02
Boroditsky et al, 03
Gordon, 04, supporting materials
short (or small, depending on your language ;), cool paper
DEBATE - Lee & Chris vs. Leigh & Andrew
Spelke, 03
Bloom & Keil, 01
Week 8 Theory of Mind - Shaw
Moeller & Schick, 06
Slade & Ruffman, 05
Kobayashi, Glover, & Temple, 06
No class!

* where "vs." means not adversarial enemies, but rather partners in the common pursuit of truth. Or something.

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 the instructor and/or teaching assistant.