Skip to main content

Instructor: Dean Pettit. This course meets TR 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. in CW 105.

This course explores the phenomenon of human language and its relationship to the human mind. Contemporary linguistic theory suggests that language is an innate, uniquely human capacity. Despite the conspicuous differences between languages, all human languages share a common underlying organization—what Noam Chomsky calls universal grammar—that is rooted in the innate workings of the human mind. If this view of language is correct, the study of language promises to reveal deep and important truths about the human mind and the distinctive way it represents the world. We will examine the evidence for this view of language and explore its philosophical consequences. We will confront a range of important issues. Is language fundamentally a cultural phenomenon or a psychological one? Do non-human animals have language? When children acquire language, is this a form of learning? Is it knowledge? What is the underlying structure of human language? What is the relationship between language and thought? Does our language influence or structure the way with think, or perhaps even constrain the range of thoughts we can think?