394A Seminar: Language and Mind (3 units)

Spring 2008


MWF 1:25-2:15 - Dickinson 209




Angelika Kratzer []

Lyn Frazier []


This course will explore the mysteries of the human mind by looking at a variety of natural language phenomena. We will discuss the perception of linguistic structure by adults and the emergence of complex syntax in normally developing children, but also in children with certain disorders, e.g., mental retardation, Williams Syndrome, and autism. We will see how basic meanings get attached to syntactic structures and combine with information about the utterance situation, intonation, general principles of social interaction, and gestures to produce sophisticated messages that typically convey multiple layers of meanings. Sign languages will be a special focus of attention. We will examine how signs differ from gestures, how sign languages are represented in the brain, and whether being a native signer influences other spatial abilities. In recent years, the creation of a new sign language by children in Nicaragua has been observed and documented, which makes it possible for us to look at the different stages of 'language birth'. Throughout the course we will be concerned with the question of how language influences human perception, cognition and memory.