Honors | Thinking With, Without and About Language (HON)
H240 | 31946 | Steve Franks

TuTh 1:00-2:15pm
HU 111

This is a Critical Approaches course. It surveys the broad
question of the relationship between language and thought, both in
the individual and the species, from diverse perspectives. As such,
it introduces concepts from diverse disciplines, including biology,
anthropology, and cognitive science. Although the course is not
about linguistics per se, it certainly teaches the basics of syntax.
Students will learn about how human language is structured and the
extent to which that structure impacts non-linguistic cognitive
activities. They will learn about animal communication systems, both
in the wild and attempts to teach language to other primates, from
the perspective of how uniquely human a capacity language is and how
it could have evolved in the species. They will learn about how
children acquire knowledge of language and what happens when
linguistic ability is impaired. They will also learn about how
languages can differ and the properties that they all share,
including visual languages such as American Sign Language. A major
theme of the course is that, although language and thought are
doubly dissociated, language provides a scaffolding for reasoning.
Students will read much of Steven Pinkerís The Language Instinct,
but will also be assigned more current articles and book chapters
relating to the various modules examined. Course requirements
include three writing assignments, most likely: 1) a 1000-1500 word
design of a thought experiment with regard to linguistic relativity;
2) a 1500-2000 word open essay, on a topic to be determined (such as
a hypothetical first language acquisition scenario; the viability of
Orwellian Newspeak; the evolution of language in homo sapiens;
animal cognition and/or animal communication systems; debates over
linguistic issues with cultural impact, e.g. cochlear implants,
language preservation, dialect status, gender neutral language;
relationship between linguistic and other cognitive abilities; use
of metaphor, and 3) a 1500-2000 word critical review of a book (or
series of articles or book chapters) related to the general theme of
the course, to be selected in consultation with instructor. There
will be a variety of facultative activities (films, guest lectures)
and during the week of 7 November, Patten Lecturer Ray Jackendoff
(Seth Merin Professor of Philosophy at Tufts) will be visiting class.