LOT Summer School 2018

Language and thought: How are they related?

Gary Lupyan



Title of the course:

Language and Thought, how are they related?



Course description:

What is the relationship between language and thought? Is human cognition meaningfully affected by experience with one language versus another? What might human cognition be like in the absence of language entirely? We will begin by reviewing some of the classic formulations of the so-called “Whorfian” question and consider how to ask the question in a sensible way (“the logical problem”). We will then review some basic facts about how linguistic experiences differ from nonlinguistic experiences and the relevance of linguistic diversity (“the empirical problem”). Next, we will review of some of the experimental approaches researchers have used to investigate the relationships between language and “nonlinguistic” cognition. We will end by taking stock: What do we know? What do we not know? What kinds of data—both descriptive and experimental—would help turn our state of ignorance into knowledge?

Background readings (easy and fun; please read well ahead of time)

Boroditsky, L. (forthcoming). 7,000 Universes: How the Language We Speak Shapes the Way We Think. Chapters 0-2.

Week 1: Week 1: What is at stake? The logical problem. Let’s get the issues straight!

1.Bloom, P., & Keil, F. C. (2001). Thinking through language. Mind & Language, 16(4), 351–367.

2.Levinson, S. C. (2003). Language and mind: Let’s get the issues straight! In Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought (pp. 25–46). Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

3.Clark, A. (1998). Magic words: How language augments human computation. In P. Carruthers & J. Boucher (Eds.), Language and Thought: Interdisciplinary themes (pp. 162–183). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Week 2: Language diversity in grammar and vocabulary. The empirical problem. Turning the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis into a scientific hypothesis. What aspects of language should matter, why, and when?

1.Whorf, B. L. 1956. "Science and linguistics". Technology Review 42: 227-31, 247-8 (1940). Reprinted in Language, thought, and reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, ed. by J. B. Carroll, 207-219. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

2.Whorf, B. L. 1956. "Languages and Logic ". Reprinted from Technol. Rev., 43:250-252, 266, 268, 272 (April 1941). Reprinted in Language, thought, and reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf,ed. by J. B. Carroll, 233-245. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

3.Lupyan, G. (2012). Linguistically modulated perception and cognition: the label-feedback hypothesis. Frontiers in Cognition, 3(54). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00054


a)Lupyan, G., & Lewis, M. (2017). From words-as-mappings to words-as-cues: The role of language in semantic knowledge. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2017.1404114

Week 3: The isolates of experience: categorization, nameability, and translation.

1.Pullum, G. K. (1989). The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory, 7(2), 275–281. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00138079

2.Lupyan, G., Rakison, D. H., & McClelland, J. L. (2007). Language is not just for talking: labels facilitate learning of novel categories. Psychological Science, 18(12), 1077–1082.

3.Hofstadter, D. R. (2001). Analogy as the Core of Cognition. In D. Gentner, K. J. Holyoak, & B. N. Kokinov (Eds.), The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science (pp. 499–538). Cambride, MA: The MIT Press/Bradford Book. Retrieved from http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/hofstadter...


a)Lupyan, G., & Casasanto, D. (2015). Meaningless words promote meaningful categorization. Language and Cognition, 7(2), 167–193. https://doi.org/10.1017/langcog.2014.21

b)Lupyan, G. (2009). Extracommunicative Functions of Language: Verbal Interference Causes Selective Categorization Impairments. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16(4), 711–718. https://doi.org/10.3758/PBR.16.4.711

Week 4: Language experience in action: the case of color, number, and space.

1.Frank, M. C., Everett, D. L., Fedorenko, E., & Gibson, E. (2008). Number as a cognitive technology: Evidence from Pirahã language and cognition. Cognition, 108(3), 819–824. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2008.04.007

2.Haun, D. B. M., Rapold, C. J., Janzen, G., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). Plasticity of human spatial cognition: spatial language and cognition covary across cultures. Cognition, 119(1), 70–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.009

3.Winawer, J., Witthoft, N., Frank, M. C., Wu, L., Wade, A. R., & Boroditsky, L. (2007). Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(19), 7780–7785.


a)Davidoff, J., Davies, I. R. L., & Roberson, D. (1999). Colour categories in a stone-age tribe. Nature, 398(6724), 203–204.

b)Lupyan, G., & Ward, E. J. (2013). Language can boost otherwise unseen objects into visual awareness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(35), 14196–14201. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1303312110

c)Majid, A., Bowerman, M., Kita, S., Haun, D. B. M., & Levinson, S. C. (2004). Can language restructure cognition? The case for space. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8(3).

d)Boroditsky, L., Fuhrman, O., & McCormick, K. (2011). Do English and Mandarin speakers think about time differently? Cognition, 118(1), 123–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.010

Week 5: Moving forward: how to proceed? The empirical and logical problems revisited.

1.McWhorter, J. H. (2014). Chapter 1 from The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

2.Wolff, P., & Holmes, K. (2011). Linguistic relativity. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 2(3), 253–265.

3.Lupyan, G. (2016). The centrality of language in human cognition. Language Learning, 66(3), 516–553. https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12155


a)Casasanto, D. (2008). Who’s afraid of the big bad whorf? Crosslinguistic differences in temporal language and thought. Language Learning, 58(1), 63–79.

b)Boroditsky, L. (2012). How the languages we speak shape the ways we think: the FAQs. In M. J. Spivey, M. Joanisse, & K. McRae (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Psycholinguistics (p. 615-632). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.