This course is designed to introduce students to the “cognitive revolution” and its impact on the contemporary study of language. The course reviews the Chomskyan shift away from speech behavior or “languages” as the object of inquiry to the experimental and theoretical study of the cognitive mechanisms underlying our unique human capacity for language, the exercise of which permeates virtually every aspect of human life, including what you are now doing! In every household, all of the children, barring pathology — but none of the dogs, cats or other organisms (nor the inanimate objects!) — acquire the language spoken (or signed) by the adults. There is some biological property of humans that makes this feat possible.
- What do we know when we know a language?
- What does it mean to say that humans have an innate capacity for language?
- Why has this innateness claim generated so much contentious debate?
- How do languages differ, and why?
- How is it that you are now scanning text with your visual system, and converting little squiggles you perceive into meanings?
- What is a meaning?
- Given that you can perform this squiggle-to-meaning conversion, how does your converter work?
- How do speakers of sign languages (again, humans but not dogs) convert moving hand shapes into meaning?
Isn’t it true that the conversion to meaning you are now performing allows your mind to now know what my mind was thinking when I wrote this? That is, through this process aren’t you acquiring knowledge of my thoughts, (thereby facilitating educated guesses as to what this course and this Prof. will be like?) or is that crazy talk about “mind reading”?