Module PPP-4018:
The Psychology of Language

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Gary Oppenheim

Overall aims and purpose

Language is a defining characteristic of human experience. But it is also a complex system that emerges from a number of domain-general and domain-specific processes and limitations, and thus provides an excellent model system that we can use study to understand how the human mind works. This module will provide a graduate-level survey of core topics in the experimental psychology of language, primarily within an 'information processing' framework, including language acquisition (how do infants and adults learn languages?), comprehension (how do we convert auditory and/or visual signals into meaning?), and production (how do we convert our thoughts into sequences of motor movements that communicate them to others?), as well as consideration of domain-general cognitive processes as they apply to language use (e.g. implicit learning, memory, concept representation, cognitive control).

Course content

Language emerges from a set of general cognitive processes and abilities, so many of the big theoretical questions interface with more general themes in experimental cognitive psychology (e.g. how modular is the functional organisation of the mind? what parts of being human must be innate, and what can be learned through experience? how does experience shape behaviour? how might complex systems emerge from relatively simple algorithms and limitations?). Such motifs recur throughout the three major foci of The Psychology of Language:

  1. Language learning (first and second language acquisition),
  2. Language comprehension (how do we convert auditory and/or visual signals into meaningful messages?),
  3. Language production (how do we convert our thoughts into structured sequences of motor movements that communicate them to others?).

Please note that although language is relevant to many neuropsychological disorders--so a grounding in the science should be useful to anyone working with these disorders--and disorders often inform our understanding of how language normally works, clinical applications are not the main focus of this module.

Assessment Criteria

threshold

C+ to C- Work displays only knowledge of key areas/principles, with limited evidence of original interpretation or relevant background study. The work contains some irrelevant material and weaknesses in structure. Arguments are presented, but they lack coherence. The work contains factual or computational errors with little evidence of problem solving.There are weaknesses in the standard of the presentation and its accuracy.

excellent

A* to A- Work displays comprehensive knowledge and detailed understanding, reflecting extensive background study. The work is highly focussed, well structured, logically presented, and with defended arguments. The work contains original interpretation, and new links between topics are developed. The work is presented to a high standard, with accurate communication and no factual or computational errors.

good

B+ to B- Work displays sound knowledge and understanding, but with some limitations. There is evidence of background study. The work has a defined and logical structure, but with some weaknesses in the way in which arguments are presented. There is some original interpretation and demonstration of links between topics. The work is presented carefully with accurate communication and few factual or computational errors.

Learning outcomes

  1. Describe the major empirical findings that support and challenge these theories.

  2. Summarise major theories of how humans learn, understand, produce, and mentally represent language.

  3. Discuss the role of computational models in developing and testing theories of cognitive processes.

  4. Assess strengths and weaknesses of major theories of how humans learn, understand, produce, and mentally represent language.

  5. Describe the main testable and not-yet-testable assumptions underlying a range of models of language processes.

  6. Distinguish evidence that supports a theory or model from evidence that is merely consistent with that theory.

  7. Identify gaps in current knowledge about how humans learn and use language.

  8. Explain how an array of domain-general human abilities and limitations contribute to language.

  9. Explain what specifically human abilities or constraints may be necessary for human-like language use.

  10. Critically evaluate the relationship between experiments and the theories that they are designed to test.

  11. Apply an understanding of theories about language-related processes to the process of designing experiments to test them.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
INDIVIDUAL PRESENTATION Present first empirical research article

Starting in the second week, each seminar will be devoted to 2-3 students' critical presentations of empirical research articles, followed by article discussions. These articles will be related to the topic that was introduced in the previous lecture, so you and your audience to know the background that we've already covered when you're giving your presentations. In your presentation, you should assume that everyone else will have read the core readings for that topic, but they may not have read the paper that you're presenting. You'll therefore want to prepare and present a short PowerPoint presentation including, 1.) a demo of the behavioural task, 2.) a summary and critical review of the most important aspects of the paper (e.g. necessary background, theoretical questions, important aspects of the experiment design and results), and provide prompts to lead an interactive discussion of the paper's core issues with your classmates. Please note that you should avoid plagiarism here, just as you would in any written assignment. Assume that you will have 15 minutes for your presentation, plus 10 minutes for discussion. Staying within the allotted time may be difficult, so you will probably need to decide on the most important and relevant aspects to include (e.g. many articles include multiple experiments, and you'll have to choose to present only one or two of them). You can consult me on what to include and how to explain things, if you like. Thus:

  1. Prepare a short (15+10 minutes) PowerPoint presentation on the assigned article.
  2. Submit your PowerPoint slides to Blackboard before you present them.
  3. Bring your presentation to class with you in at least two of the following three ways: a.) on a thumb drive, b.) on your own laptop, or c.) email it to me at least one hour before the start of class.
  4. Present it in class, and lead the short interactive discussion.
17.5
INDIVIDUAL PRESENTATION Present second empirical research article

Starting in the second week, each seminar will be devoted to 2-3 students' critical presentations of empirical research articles, followed by article discussions. These articles will be related to the topic that was introduced in the previous lecture, so you and your audience to know the background that we've already covered when you're giving your presentations. In your presentation, you should assume that everyone else will have read the core readings for that topic, but they may not have read the paper that you're presenting. You'll therefore want to prepare and present a short PowerPoint presentation including, 1.) a demo of the behavioural task, 2.) a summary and critical review of the most important aspects of the paper (e.g. necessary background, theoretical questions, important aspects of the experiment design and results), and provide prompts to lead an interactive discussion of the paper's core issues with your classmates. Please note that you should avoid plagiarism here, just as you would in any written assignment. Assume that you will have 15 minutes for your presentation, plus 10 minutes for discussion. Staying within the allotted time may be difficult, so you will probably need to decide on the most important and relevant aspects to include (e.g. many articles include multiple experiments, and you'll have to choose to present only one or two of them). You can consult me on what to include and how to explain things, if you like. Thus:

  1. Prepare a short (15+10 minutes) PowerPoint presentation on the assigned article.
  2. Submit your PowerPoint slides to Blackboard before you present them.
  3. Bring your presentation to class with you in at least two of the following three ways: a.) on a thumb drive, b.) on your own laptop, or c.) email it to me at least one hour before the start of class.
  4. Present it in class, and lead the short interactive discussion.

Please note: if enrolment is particularly high, then (at the module organiser's discretion) we may omit this second presentation, and increasing the weighting of the first (only) presentation to compensate.

17.5
Written assignment, including essay Critical literature and intial experiment proposal

A literature review and short research project proposal (max 2000 words, excluding bibliography; 40%; to be uploaded to Blackboard). This written paper should cover approximately the same scope as the Introduction to an empirical research article, plus the project overview that often appears as the first paragraph of a Methods section. I will ask for paper topics sometime after the 9th week of class, and am happy to discuss possible topics with you.

A major emphasis in this class is connecting empirical data to mechanistic models and theories that propose to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of human language acquisition, comprehension, and production. Your paper should basically follow the structure and scope of the Introduction to an empirical research article that you would write reporting your own new experiment (which you'll briefly describe as the final section of your paper), and you can look at several of the assigned articles for this class to see examples of such scope and structure. They start with a theoretical question, try to answer as much of that question as they can by reviewing previous studies (a critical literature review), and then briefly propose a new empirical study that should help them address the remaining aspects of their question, delineating specific, testable, theory-driven hypotheses (you should be able to derive at least two different hypotheses from competing theories). Please note that hypotheses are NOT just predictions; they are if/then/because statements that clearly spell out the logic, assumptions, and theoretical bases of your predictions, thus allowing you to use observed data to distinguish between theories of 'how' and 'why'.

50
COURSEWORK Pre-class reading summary and questions

Prior to each seminar, you will complete a short form describing and interpreting the content of the assigned readings, and listing two relevant questions that we can use as discussion prompts in class. Print it out (if typed), write your name and the date at the top of the sheet, and turn it in yourself at the beginning of the meeting. Individual submissions will be marked on a pass-fail basis, then averaged over the term to compute your score for this component. These will serve as the basis for our in-class discussions.

15

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Hours
Seminar

Students will take turns presenting and leading classroom discussions of experiment or theory articles relevant to the current topic.

18
Private study

Students will do assigned readings and presentations and write a final written paper.

158
Lecture

Lectures will complement the readings, introducing new topics or subtopics

18
Seminar

Students will identify and attend four non-language-focussed School of Psychology Colloquia of their choosing, to practice relating outside research to the study of language.

6

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • Understand the scientific underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
  • Apply multiple perspectives to psychological issues and integrate ideas and findings across the multiple perspectives in psychology.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in written form.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in oral form.
  • Retrieve and organise information effectively.
  • Handle primary source material critically.
  • Use effectively personal planning and project management skills.
  • Work effectively under pressure (time pressure, limited resources, etc) as independent and pragmatic learners.
  • Problem-solve by clarifying questions, considering alternative solutions, making critical judgements, and evaluating outcomes.
  • Reason scientifically and demonstrate the relationship between theory and evidence.
  • Employ evidence-based reasoning and examine practical, theoretical and ethical issues associated with the use of different methodologies, paradigms and methods of analysis in psychology.

Resources

Resource implications for students

Students will be expected to have consistent access to either a physical copy of the core textbook or an e-book version.

Talis Reading list

http://readinglists.bangor.ac.uk/modules/ppp-4018.html

Reading list

A Reading List including the core text book (ISBN 978-1848720893), plus original journal articles to be sourced from academic journals to which the Library already subscribe (e.g. Psychological Review; Cognition; Journal of Memory and Language; Memory & Cognition; Psychological Science)

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: