Language and cognition: from theory to application (SVI)

Language and cognition: from theory to application

University Course Taught in English
(elective course open to both foreign and Croatian students)

Instructor: Renata Geld, PhD
Institution: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb
Course title: Language and cognition: from theory to application
Language: English
Number of hours per semester: 30 hours
ECTS: 4 credits
Level: graduate
Course content: Students attending this course will be encouraged to discover and re-discover the nature of language and its relation to various aspects of cognition, and hypothesize the relevance of this relationship for various fields of science and everyday life.
Being a sophisticated and complex phenomenon, language offers numerous insights into how our mind works, i.e. how language relates to thought. The aim of this course is to introduce the fundamental notions related to human conceptual organization and discuss evidence supporting the idea that language communicates with other cognitive processes. If this is so, the language we speak represents a source of information about the nature of our mental imagery and cognitive processes such as attention, judgment and categorization, perspective, etc. Furthermore, the interrelation between language and our perceptual and conceptual knowledge opens up possibilities to investigate how human interaction with the world and our specific sensory experience affects the nature of language. This, in turn, allows linguists, psychologists, educationalists, special needs educationalists and speech therapists, first and second language researchers, philosophers, computer scientists, i.e. cognitive scientists from various disciplines as well as other scientists, to use language as a “diagnostic” tool to determine both highly individual and largely universal phenomena pertaining to the way we perceive, process and understand, store and use our knowledge. For example: the language children speak tells us a great deal about how their perceptual and conceptual categories are formed; various elements in the language of the congenitally blind are likely to be very informative about their mental imagery and the role of alternate sensory input they experience; what we attend to in the process of learning something new tells us a great deal about what we already know and how our domains of knowledge relate to each other, etc.

The course structure:

UNIT 1 – Introduction to central notions: human mind, general cognitive processes, perception, mental representation(s), mental imagery, concepts and conceptualization, experience and embodiment, language and linguistic meaning construal.
UNIT 2 – Cognitive science – the significance of interdisciplinarity in scientific research.
UNIT3 – Students’ profiles and reports (brief reports on the students’ field(s) of interest and future profession, motivation for joining the course, and tentative ideas about the importance of fundamental notions introduced).
UNIT 4 – The nature of general cognitive processes and their relation to language. Basics of cognitive development, and fundamental theoretical assumptions related to language acquisition.
UNIT 5 – The relationship between our body and mind, and the affect this relationship is likely to have on our thought and language.
Unit 6 – How our language(s) structure time and space, and what our language(s) reveal about our sensory experiences, cultural phenomena, and everyday life. The issue of creativity of human mind.
UNIT 7 – Students’ reports on selected topic(s). Discussion.
UNIT 8 – Individual and universal phenomena in cognitive processing. The nature of abstract thought and its interrelation with general cognitive processes and experience (examples from language, mathematics, physics, arts, etc.).
UNIT 9 – Brainstorming and discussing ideas for individual micro-projects.
UNIT 10 – Presentation of topics for micro-projects.
UNIT 11 – How to test theoretical assumptions, conduct research, and apply relevant findings.
UNIT 12 – Consolidation and revision.
UNIT 13 – Students’ reports (micro-projects).
UNIT 14 – Students’ reports (micro-projects).
UNIT 15 – Students’ reports (micro-projects).

Required reading:
Croft, W. and Wood, E. J. (2000). Construal operations in linguistics and artificial intelligence. In: Albertazzi, L. (ed.), Meaning and Cognition, A multidisciplinary approach. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
– Croft, W. and Cruse, D. A. (2004). Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (selected chapters).
– Ellis, N. C. (2003). Constructions, Chunking, and Connectionism: The Emergence of   Second Language Structure. In: Doughty, C. and Long, M. (eds.), The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Malden/Oxford/Melbourne/Berlin: Blackwell Publishing.
– Geld, R. and Šimunić, M. (2009). A case study of a blind speaker of English as L2. In: Brdar, M.,Omazić, M., Pavičić Takač, V. (eds.), Cognitive Approaches to English: Fundamental, Methodological, Interdisciplinary an Applied Aspects. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
– Gibbs, W. R. (2006). Embodiment and Cognitive Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
– Langacker, R. W. (1999). Grammar and Conceptualization. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, (selected chapters).
– Parrill, F., Tobin, V., and Turner, M. (eds.) (2010). Meaning, Form, and Body. Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and Information (selected chapters).
At the end of this course, at a general level, the students will be able to:
–   find relevant literature and read it critically;

–   analyze and synthesize various data;
–   participate in discussions argumentatively and open-mindedly;
–   appreciate and accept criticism and other people’s opinions;
–   initiate, design and conduct a small-scale research.

 At a more specific level, the students will be able to:
–  consolidate their prior linguistic and general knowledge with new insights about the nature of  language and human conceptualization;
–  consolidate their prior linguistic and general knowledge with new insights about the interrelation between language and other cognitive processes;
–  apply theoretical knowledge about the nature of language and cognition to their own areas of interest;
–  recognize the relevance of certain interrelations between language and cognition for various scientific disciplines and fields of life.