Psychology of Language 5820
Fall 2017; 11:30-12:25 MWF, COE (College of Education) 145

Instructor: Dr. William Langston
Office: JH 100
Phone: 615/898-5489 (office)
Office Hours: 12-1 T, 2:30-3:30 W, drop in anytime, calling first is a good idea, email for appointments.
[Text] [Description] [Responsibilities] [Grading] [Policies] [Calendar]
Required Text:
Pinker, S. (2000). The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: HarperPerennial.
Additional readings are linked on the course page.
Course Description:
Psychology has had a long-standing interest in language for both philosophical reasons (such as understanding the link between language and thought) as well as practical reasons (defense department interest in projects like machine translation means lots of research money). In this course we will survey the topic areas in the psychological approach to language.
Course Responsibilities:
1. Exams: We will have two exams spaced evenly throughout the semester. Exams will be a mix of take-home and in-class essays, and you will have the opportunity to choose which questions to answer. Exams are worth 100 points each.
2. Final: There will be a comprehensive final covering everything in the course. The final is worth 150 points.
3. Weekly Reaction Reports (WRRs): During the semester you will write at least 5 reports on topics that we are covering. These will be based on the assigned reading. Note that these are reaction reports, meaning that you are expected to critically evaluate the material being discussed, not write a book report. No more than one WRR will be accepted in a given week, none will be accepted during finals week. WRRs are worth 10 points each. If you write more than 5, additional scores may be counted as extra credit. A brief presentation on a topic will be substituted for a WRR. Information on WRRs is available on the Language page.
4. Reading: You'll be expected to know the material in the chapters assigned from the book, and it's a good idea to keep up with this material as we go. If I assign an article for discussion, it is important for you to read the article before class. You may write WRRs on articles we discuss.
Assignments: Description: Points:
2 @ 100 each

10 @ 10 each
NOTE WELL: Good attendance/participation in discussions will be used to decide borderline cases.
Your grade is based on the number of points earned. Cut-offs are on the 7s and 3s.
General Policies:
1. Attendance: Attendance is mandatory. I will pass around a sign-up sheet every meeting.
2. Late policy: Complete assignments on time.
3. Grading guarantee (my late policy): Exams will be returned within one week of the exam date. Bonus points will be awarded at the rate of five points per incomplete exam per day until they are graded. Bonus points will be divided equally amongst all students with perfect attendance.
4. Missed exams: If you know in advance, notify me to make arrangements. Make-ups will only be given in cases where some emergency forced you to miss the exam.
5. Course notes are available on the web at
6. Drop deadlines: The last day to drop without a grade is September 10. The last day to drop is November 1 (you will receive some sort of grade). If you stay in the class after November 1, you will not be able to drop unless you experience a major tragedy or emergency. I am not the person who makes that determination. Incompletes will only be given if you have successfully completed the majority of the coursework and were prevented from finishing by a major tragedy or emergency.
7. Any student engaging in any form of academic misconduct will lose credit for the relevant assignment and will be subjected to the appropriate university proceedings.
8. If you experience problems in the course, see me. Youíre welcome in my office anytime.
9. Reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities: If you require assistance or accommodation (e.g., testing, note-taking, etc.), or you have questions related to such accommodations, speak to me as soon as possible. Also, the Disability and Access Center (898-2783) can provide information about such accommodations. Additional information is here:
10. Do you have a lottery scholarship? To retain the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship (TELS) eligibility, you must earn a cumulative TELS GPA of 2.75 after 24 and 48 attempted hours and a cumulative TELS GPA of 3.0 thereafter. A grade of C, D, F, FA, or I in this class may negatively impact TELS eligibility. If you drop this class, withdraw, or if you stop attending this class you may lose eligibility for your lottery scholarship, and you will not be able to regain eligibility at a later time. For additional Lottery rules, please refer to your Lottery Statement of Understanding form ( or contact your MT One Stop Enrollment Counselor (
MTSU faculty are concerned about the well-being and development of our students and are legally obligated to share reports of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking with the Universityís Title IX coordinator to help ensure studentís safety and welfare. Please refer to MTSUís Title IX site for contact information and details:

Schedule of events:
Week of:  Topic: Notes: Read: 
Introduction/What is language/History
1, 2
Pinker, Chs. 1, 2, 3, 12
H O L I D A Y Monday, 9/4

Speech perception 3
Pinker, Ch. 6
Speech production
Fonts/Visual perception/Reading 5
More Fonts/Visual perception/Reading

Exam 1 Friday, 9/29

The lexicon
Pinker, Ch. 5
10/9 Syntax
Pinker, Ch. 4, 7
H O L I D A Y Monday, 10/16

More syntax

Semantics and discourse

More semantics and discourse

Exam 2 Friday, 11/3

Biological basis of language
Pinker, Chs. 8, 10, 11, 13

Independent study Friday, 11/10

Biological basis of language; language evolution

Language evolution
10 Pinker, Ch. 9

H O L I D A Y Wednesday, 11/22

H O L I D A Y Friday, 11/24

11/27 Language evolution; development

12/4 Development

12/8 Final exam -- Friday, 12/8, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Please note:  Some due dates and topics may shift to later dates.  In no event will due dates be moved to an earlier date.

Psychology of Language Syllabus
Will Langston
Back to Langston's Psychology of Language Page