Linguistics 306, Spring 2006, Rice University

Outline of the Course

Note about readings: The readings for this course are in two course packets to be purchased at the Linguistics Department coordinator's office (Herring Hall 212). The first one (Part I) is ready. Part II will be made available to students shortly before the Spring break.

After the Course Introduction (first class session), the course is divided into five sections as briefly described below. See also the course schedule.


This section shows that the structure of certain concepts or domains is systematically inherited from that of other concepts or domains by the specific operations of mapping, metaphors, and blending.



This section presents Ronald Langacker'’s theory of Cognitive Grammar (CG). CG'’s main concern is to capture the semiological function of language, namely the symbolic association of meaning and form. Meaning is equated with conceptualization, that is to say anthropomorphic, subjective, and largely culture specific. The conception of language as a usage-based model is also presented. Finally, the subjectivist nature of meaning is further explored with particular reference to prepositions.

Cognitive linguistics models make two claims that will be central to this course:

Since meaning is equated with our mental structurations of the world, we need to explore how these conceptualizations come about. Furthermore, since conceptualization (at least in some measure) is society specific, we need to explore its relation with language within specific individuals and cultures (linguistic relativity).



This section explores the arguments for and against the notion that thinking is influenced by the language(s) one speaks, and that people who speak differently think and perceive differently. It has been proposed that people who speak different languages live in different worlds. These ideas are associated with Edward Sapir and especially with Benjamin Lee Whorf, who promoted them eloquently about sixty-five years ago, but they had also been expressed in various forms by earlier writers. From Whorf'’s time on, these ideas have engendere a huge amount of controversy. The pendulum of prevailing opinion was swinging against them until about ten years ago, when a number of thinkers began using new approaches to examine them.



The claim that linguistic ability represents a specific use of general linguistic abilities (see section 2) makes it impossible for cognitive linguists to posit a specific language acquisition device. How can they then account for language learning? This section argues that just like a linguistic theory, a viable learning theory needs to be usage-based.


5. LANGUAGE AND BRAIN (1 1/2 weeks)

All of a person's cognitive system, that which is used for conceptualizing, perceiving, thinking, speaking, etc., is represented in the brain and ultimately takes its form from the structure of the brain, especially of the cerebral cortex. Understanding how language is represented in the brain will bring us closer to an understanding of the nature of language and thought and will also bring linguistics into a closer relationship with science in general. This portion of the course offers a brief introduction to the neurological basis of language.



Students’ performance in this course will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

Final project topics should be selected in consultation with the instructors.

Examples of possible topics:

  • Analysis of a specific speech type (political, advertising, humorous, motivational for example) in the light of the concepts examined in class
  • An experiment on linguistic relativity
  • Review of additional literature on linguistic relativity
  • Linguistic analysis of specific constructions in a specific language
  • Comparison of specific constructions in different languages
  • Investigation of some aspect of the metaphorical system of a specific language
  • An experiment on differences in cognitive styles, such as those associated with right brain vs. left brain dominance
  • Study of reasoning styles associated with a political group or persuasion

This category includes the students’ involvement in class discussion, as well as ther interaction with the topics presented in the course. At least once during each section of the course, each student should write a 1 page email to the instructor describing her/his reaction to the material presented.

Examples of possible topics for email communications:

  • Disagreement with a point made in an assigned text or in a class session.
  • Comment on, or further evidence relating to, a point made in text or in class.
  • Questions about the material being covered (a good question can be as valuable as an answer!)
  • Presentation of an newspaper article that relates to the topic discussed in class
  • Presentation of an observed facet of everyday life that directly relates to the material discussed in class

ADA statement:

Any student with a documented disability requiring accommodations in this course is encouraged to contact the instructors after class or during office hours.  Additionally, students will need to contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student Center.

Introduction to the Course | Course Schedule | Class Notes | Home Page for the Course

This page last updated 14 February 2006.

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