Language and Cognition

Psych 7215-003

Spring 2011
W 1:30 - 4:00PM -- Muenzinger - D424

Instructor:Eliana Colunga
Office: Muenzinger Room D447-B
Office Phone: 303-492-4282
Email: <- preferred contact
Office Hours: by appointment

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.


Participation.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. The format of this participation will be discussed in the first day of classes. Discussion questions will be due by noon Tuesday before class meets.

Presentations. Each person will be assigned to lead 1-2 sessions, briefly presenting the major points of the readings and questions to stimulate discussion. At the end of the class we will briefly discuss the effectiveness of the presentation. Presenters should strive for improvement on their second discussion.


Big Ideas
Week 1 Jan 12 Introduction - Overview
Week 2 Jan 19
Words & Categories
Week 3 Jan 26 Babies - within language - Louisa
Week 4 Feb 2 Adults - within language - Chad
Week 5 Feb 9 Different Languages - Juli
Inner Speech & Executive Control
Week 6 Feb 16 Developmental - within language - Jackson
Week 7 Feb 23 Adults - within language - Kate
Week 8 Mar 2 Special Cases - Clare
Grammar & Theory of Mind
Week 9 Mar 9 Developmental and across languages - Kevin
Week 10 Mar 16 No or late language - Mallene
Week 11 Mar 23 Spring Break - no meeting
Abstract Thought and Metaphors
Week 12 Mar 30 Symbols
Week 13 Apr 6 Time metaphors
Week 14 Apr 13 Space metaphors
Week 15 Apr 20 More metaphors
Week 16 Apr 27 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.