Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Language, Cognition and Society

LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Institute of Linguistics and Language Technology

DESCRIPTION This unit will deal with two areas of linguistics that focus on the interface of language with cognition and society in turn.

Part i: Biolinguistics
The “cognitive revolution”, heralded by Chomsky’s work on generative grammar in the 1950s, promised to put the discipline of theoretical linguistics within the broader programme of cognitive science, which includes psychology, philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary biology. This part of the study-unit will place contemporary work in theoretical linguistics within the context of these other disciplines, introducing participants to the issues in the study of mind that have been fundamental to progress in the field.

Part ii: Sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics is the study of the complex relationship between language and society. It is concerned with describing how people use language in different social contexts. This part of the study-unit provides a broad introduction to this area of linguistics, covering such topics as bilingualism and multilingualism, as well as dialectology and language variation more generally. Language use resulting in and from situations of language contact, including phenomena such as language choice and code-switching will be discussed. Moreover,various aspects of interaction which can be seen to correlate with various social factors such as age, education, sex, socio-economic status, as well as other factors such as regional provenance, will be explored.

Study-unit Aims:

The first part of this study-unit aims at making explicit the connection between the various core areas of research in theoretical linguistics and the more general study of human cognition. In this respect, students will be encouraged to think about the cognitive basis of language in the light of development in both linguistics and cognitive science. Students will then be introduced to sociolinguistics in order to begin to understand that, despite their common cognitive basis, the varieties spoken by distinct groups of people can differ in a variety of ways and to a considerable degree.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• explain the role of contemporary linguistic theory in bringing about the cognitive revolution;
• explain how the different subfields of linguistics dealt with in other study-units address the more general question of how language is triggered in the human mind/brain and what the relation of the language faculty to other cognitive systems is;
• identify the complex ways in which social context impinges on language use;
• identify and assess the significance of key theoretical perspectives in the study of language and society.

2. Skills:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• start thinking about language from an interdisciplinary perspective;
• become conversant with basic issues underlying cognitive science;
• compare and evaluate theoretical claims in the light of empirical evidence, while taking into account contrasting claims;
• apply sociolinguistic insights to understanding their own everyday knowledge of language and experience of language use;
• use terminology and concepts acquired in the course of this study-unit to work with data involving language in everyday use;
• apply their new knowledge and understanding to work on mini-analyses involving data involving sociolinguistic variation of some sort.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main texts:
- Boeckx, C. (2009) Language in Cognition: Uncovering mental structures and the rules behind them. Oxford/Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Meyerhoff. M. (2011). Introducing sociolinguistics (2nd ed.)

Supplementary texts:
- Bickerton, D. (1990). Language and Species. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
- Chomsky, N. (1981). Knowledge of Language: Its nature, origin and use. New York: Praeger
- Elman, J., Bates, E. A., et al. (1998). Rethinking Innateness: A Connectionist Perspective on Development. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press
- Fasold, R. (1984). Sociolinguistics of society. Oxford: Blackwell
- Fasold, R. (1990). Sociolinguistics of language. Oxford: Blackwell
- Fodor, J. (1983). The Modularity of Mind. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press
- Jackendoff, R. (1997). The Architecture of the Language Faculty. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press
- Jackendoff, R. (2002). Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar,Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Mesthrie, R., Swann, J., Deumert, A., & Leap W. L. (2009). Introducing sociolinguistics (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell
- Pinker, S. (1995). The Language Instinct. London: Penguin
- Pinker, S. (1999). How The Mind Works. London: Penguin
- Stockwell, P. (2002). Sociolinguistics: A resource book for students. London: Routledge
- Wardhaugh, R. (2010). An introduction to sociolinguistics 6th edition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell



Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 50%
Assignment Yes 50%

LECTURER/S Paul A. Falzon
Sarah Grech
Michael Spagnol
Stavros Assimakopoulos
Alexandra Vella

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.