Language and Thought

Psych 7215-002

Spring 2008
M 9:30 - 12:00 -- Muenzinger - D156

Instructor:Eliana Colunga
Office: Muenzinger Room D447-B
Office Phone: 303-492-4282
Office Hours: TR 12:30-1:45 and by appointment

Discussion Forum

Course Goals

Language is in many ways 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, and cognitive scientists. Theorists point to language as both proof and explanation of humankind's special cognitive abilities. Are we smart because have language or do we have language because we're smart? Do words help learning or thinking? Do people who speak different languages think differently? How about people who speak more than one language? or no language? How about other species? In this seminar we will discuss interactions between language and cognition from an interdisciplinary perspective and with a special emphasis on mechanism. We will attempt to ground the big philosophical ideas on mundane cognitive mechanisms and well-known within-language effects.


We will meet once 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 1-2 discussion questions or replies for the whole class to discuss. Discussion questions will be due by 10AM Sunday 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 posting feedback for the presenter, following the method pioneered by Lew Harvey. Within two days after each meeting, students should post in the appropriate discussion topic on the presentation and discussions's "Strong Points" and "Things to improve" for that session. Presenters should strive for improvement on their second discussion.


Week 1 Jan 14 Introduction - Big ideas
Week 2 Jan 21 MLK - No Meeting
Words & Categories
Week 3 Jan 28 Babies - within language - Chandra
Week 4 Feb 4 Adults - within language - Allison
Week 5 Feb 11 Different Languages - Jessie
Inner Speech & Executive Control
Week 6 Feb 18 Developmental - within language - Maria
Week 7 Feb 25 Adults - within language - Hannah
Week 8 Mar 3 Special Cases - Allison
Grammar & Theory of Mind
Week 9 Mar 10 Developmental and across languages - Hannah
Week 10 Mar 17 No or late language - Jessie
Week 11 Mar 24 Spring Break - no meeting
Abstract Thought and Metaphors
Week 15 Mar 31 Symbols - Eliana
Week 12 Apr 7 Numbers - Chandra
Week 13 Apr 14 Space - Eliana
Week 14 Apr 21 Time - Katye
Week 16 May 5 Back to Big Ideas - 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.