University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

Language Mind and Brain

Course Code


Course Details

  • Level: 1
  • Credit load: 20
  • School: Arts, Languages and Culture


This course unit is a whirlwind tour through some of the big questions in the study of language as a human behaviour. How do young children acquire language so easily? Are complex grammars like those found in human language a unique property of human beings, or are they found in other animal communication systems? What role do social structures play in the development of language? To what extent does language influence thought and sensory perception? How are writing and reading different from speaking and listening? What are the structural similarities and differences between signed and spoken languages? Is there something 'special' about how language functions in the mind, and is there a dedicated 'language centre' in the brain?

These questions are the subject of contentious debate in the fields of linguistics, cognitive science, and psychology --- and many of them remain unanswered. We'll explore these issues and find out why these questions are so difficult and so central to understanding how the human mind works. Along the way we'll examine evidence from babies, chimpanzees and other animals, the birth of new languages, perceptual illusions, stroke patients, experiments on the influence of alcohol on speech and the influence of swearing on pain, and modern brain imaging techniques.


Summary of Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the fundamental role of the brain in developing and using language
  • Identify the differences and similarities between language and other communication systems
  • Recognise and understand the key arguments surrounding issues such as modularity of mind
  • Critically assess scholarly and scientific claims and the arguments supporting them
  • Compare competing hypotheses and bring evidence to bear in selecting between them
  • Write brief essays providing evidence and reasoning in favour of a scientific claim



  1. Essay (500 words) 10%
  2. Essay (500 words) 10%
  3. Essay (1000 words) 50%
  4. Seminar participation and formative writing (2000 words) 10%
  5. Quizzes 5%
  6. Participation in a linguistic study 5%


No prior study in psychology or linguistics is assumed.

This course is only open to undergraduate students.

University College course units are available to take on programmes which have 'free choice' options available to them, (i.e. programmes which allow you, as part of the degree programme, to take a number of credits from subject areas outside of your home school). As these courses are credit bearing, you must enrol by following the standard procedure for your school when adding units outside of your home school.

If you are not sure whether you will be able to enrol in University College courses, please contact your School Undergraduate Office to find out whether these options are available for your degree programme.


Wendell Kimper

Teaching and Learning Methods


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