Courses - Spring 2014
FRS 116 Evolution of Language
Professor Christiane Fellbaum
When, where, why, and how did human language originate? There are no definite answers, but evidence from many different areas of investigation (including paleontology, archeology, animal communication, neurobiology, genetics, and statistics), when considered in conjunction, shed light on these old and fascinating questions.We will define critical concepts such as language and communication, and analyze key properties of human language that distinguish it from animal communication. We will examine the status of proposed universal properties shared by all human languages (in particular, recursion — the repeated application of a rule or definition to successive results) and the documented birth of new languages like Creole and Nicaraguan Sign Language. We will examine non-linguistic behaviors (sobbing, laughing) with communicative functions that involve brain areas dedicated to language processing. Research in animal communication shows that chimps, gorillas, and vervet monkeys communicate in sophisticated ways, using some of the same brain regions that are involved in human language processing.
We will ask whether language evolved gradually as a product of general primate cognition or whether it appeared within a relatively short timeframe. We will also examine contrasting arguments claiming simple vocalization, gestures, or music as the precursor of language.
At which stage in human evolution were the prerequisites for language given? We will discuss recent fossil evidence with respect to anatomical features (such as cranial volume) that are required for linguistic behavior. We will weigh competing hypotheses regarding a single origin (monogenesis) vs. multiple origins (polygenesis) of language in the light of paleontological, genetic, and statistical linguistic data. What degree of societal organization was necessary for human language to arise? The earliest known artworks were most likely created to fulfill ritual functions; prehistoric tools and beads similarly point to social structures that were unlikely to exist without a well-developed language. Is language in fact primarily a product of cultural development rather than an innate cognitive faculty?
LIN 201/ENG 241 Intro to Language and Linguistics
This course is designed to give you an overview of linguistics, the scientific study of language. We will explore many of the major subfields of linguistics and learn some of the techniques used by linguists to describe and analyze language. Topics include the architecture and diversity of human languages, how children acquire language, and how language is stored in the brain, the relationship between language and society, language change and death.
LIN 303 Linguistic Semantics
Professor Edwin S. Williams
An introduction to central issues and leading theories of linguistic semantics for natural languages. Analysis of specific linguistic phenomena (including: anaphora, quantification, and tenses) will be used to illustrate the interaction of syntax and semantics, the relation between language and the world, and the role of linguistic meaning in communication and understanding.
LIN 306 The Structure & Meaning of Words
Professor Edwin S. Williams
The course will treat the structure of words and the structure of the overall lexicon for human languages. Topics included will be: the rules of word formation; the relation between syntax and the lexicon; the psychology of the lexicon, including an examination of studies of the storage and access of lexical items; the semantics of complex words; the phonology of word formation; lexical redundancy and the learning of the lexicon. Students will prepare one short class presentation on a topic in consultation with the instructor.
PSY 309/LIN 309 Psychology of Language
Professor Adele Goldberg
The cognitive processes underlying the use and understanding of language, and in learning to speak. Topics include speech production and perception, grammar and meaning, knowledge and words, and pragmatic aspects of language.
CLA 208/ENG 240/TRA 208/LIN 208 Origins and Nature of English Vocabulary
Professor Joshua Katz
T TH 1:30-2:20
The origins and nature of English vocabulary, from Proto-Indo-European prehistory to current slang via [Beowulf]. Emphasis on linguistic tools and methodology. Topics include the Greek and Latin elements of English, the Roman alphabet and spelling, social and regional variation, the matter of "proper" language, and the "National Language" debate.
CLA 476/LIN 476 Introduction to Sanskrit II
Professor Elaine Fisher
This course builds on the grammatical foundations acquired in the previous semester (CLA475/LIN475) by engaging with the original Sanskrit language as found in Epic-period literature. Our readings include excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita and the story of Nala and Damayanti as narrated in the Mahabharata.