Language Proseminar

Psych 5815-003

Fall 2005
Tu/Th 9:30 - 11:10 -- Muenzinger - D424

Instructor:Eliana Colunga
Office: Muenzinger Room D447-B
Office Phone: 303-492-4282
Office Hours: Th 1:30-2:30 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 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 10PM 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. 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 at least 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 an essay take-home exam.

Evaluation will thus be as follows:


Tuesday Thursday
Week 1 Language & Cognition
Premack, 04
Approaches - Erika
Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 02
Christiansen + Chater, 01
Week 2 Phonology - Deanna
Goldinger & Azuma, 03
Plaut & Kello, 99
Semantics - Chandra
Landauer & Dumais, 97
Steels & Kaplan, 02
Week 3 Grammar - Deanna
Lidz, Waxman & Freedman, 03
responses and reply
(Wikipedia on Poverty of Stimulus)
Reading - Angie
Hutzler et al, 04
Goswami, 03
(the other model)
Week 4 Brain - Erika
Gernsbacher & Kashak, 03
Mills, Plunkett, Prat, & Schafer, 05
(Inferring "how" from "where")
Genes - Angie
Fisher, Lai & Monaco, 03
Scharff & Haesler, 05
Week 5 Evolution - Ryan
Jackendoff, 99
Senghas, 03
(Tomasello & Rakocszy, 03)
Development (nouns) - Chandra
Booth & Waxman, 02
Smith et al, 02
Diesendruck, Markson& Bloom, 03
(Colunga & Smith, 05)
Week 6 Development (verbs) - Maria
Tomasello, 00
Lidz & Gleitman, 04
Gomez & Lakusta, 04
(what's in the input?)
Week 7 DEBATE: Linguistic Relativity
Chandra, Erika, Maria vs.
Angie, Deana, Ryan
Background Readings:
Pinker, 94
Levinson, 03

Flexibility - Maria
Miyake et al, 04
Bialystok & Martin, 04
Week 8 Concepts - Ryan
Spelke, 03
Gordon, 04
Theory of Mind - All

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.