Psycholinguistics II - Spring 2015 (LING 641)

The focus of this course is on linguistic computation: (i) how language users mentally construct and manipulate linguistic representations; (ii) how language learners construct and update their mental grammars. In contrast to Psycholinguistics I, the focus of this course is on combinatorial representations, mostly at the sentence level.

The course will focus on understanding the overarching problems that need to be solved, and on exploring how existing findings and claims contribute to addressing those problems.

We will take seriously the richness of linguistic structure and the details of cross-language variation. We cannot hope to properly understand language learning and language use if we trivialize the content of what is learned/used. This means that the course will dig into more challenging linguistic material than Psycholinguistics I.

Basic Logistics

Meeting time: 12:00 – 1:30 (to be confirmed in 1st class)
Location: 1108B Marie Mount Hall

Best way to reach Colin: email. Need to discuss the class: email to arrange a meeting.

Expectations and Grades

You will learn more if you participate actively. I promise. The course is structured to facilitate this.

Here are some ways that you can participate:

  • Read and ask yourself questions about it!
  • Contribute to class discussions.
  • Give brief presentations to introduce readings
  • Collaborate on course projects

And here is how this will be recognized in your course grade:

  • 50%: quality of labs and assignments
  • 50%: quality of class contributions (examples above)

Lab Assignments

Lab #1: Defining the Learning Problem (due Tuesday February 17th)

Lab #2: Probing Children’s Grammars (due Friday March 13th)


  1. Jan 26 – Introduction: Defining the problem
  2. Jan 28 – Introduction: Defining the problem
  3. Feb 2 – Learning: Input and variability
  4. Feb 4 – Learning: Input and variability
  5. Feb 9 – Learning: Testing learners’ knowledge
  6. Feb 11 – Learning: Testing learners’ knowledge
  7. Feb 16 – Learning: learning theories
  8. Feb 18 – Learning: learning theories
  9. Feb 23 – Levels of analysis and types of explanation
  10. Feb 25 – Levels of analysis and types of explanation
  11. Mar 2 – Linguistic architecture: what are the components?
  12. Mar 4 – Linguistic architecture: what are the components?
  13. Mar 9 – No Class (CP @ Gallaudet)
  14. Mar 11 – Language use: generating structures
  15. Mar 23 – No Class (CP @ Brazil)
  16. Mar 25 – No Class (CP @ Brazil)
  17. Mar 30 – Language use: generating structures
  18. Apr 1 – Modularity and ambiguity resolution
  19. Apr 6 – Modularity and ambiguity resolution
  20. Apr 8 – Language and memory
  21. Apr 13 – Language and memory
  22. Apr 15 – Language and prediction
  23. Apr 20 – Language and prediction
  24. Apr 22 – Comprehension-production relations
  25. Apr 27 – Comprehension-production relations
  26. Apr 29 – Learning and language processing
  27. May 4 – Learning and language processing
  28. May 6 – wrap-up
  29. May 11 – wrap-up

Materials and Readings

We will draw on a mix of overview articles and pieces on specific findings, and we will draw on both old and very new material.

This list is a stub, it will change and grow over the semester.

  • Chomsky, N. (1975). Reflections on language.
  • Conroy, A., Takahashi, E., Lidz, J., & Phillips, C. (2009). Equal treatment for all antecedents: How children succeed with Principle B. Linguistic Inquiry.
  • Crain, S. & Thornton, R. (1998). Investigations in Universal Grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Dillon, B., Sloggett, S., Mishler, A., & Phillips, C. (2013). Journal of Memory and Language.
  • Goro, T. (2007). Language specific constraints on scope interpretation in first language acquisition. PhD dissertation, University of Maryland.
  • Jackendoff, R. (2002). Foundations of language. Oxford University Press.
  • Levy, R. (2008). Cognition.
  • Lewis, R., Vasishth, S., & Van Dyke, J. (2006). Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
  • Lewis, S. & Phillips, C. (2015). Aligning grammatical theories and language processing models. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, in press.
  • Omaki, A. & Lidz, J. (2014). Language Acquisition.
  • Pinker, S. (1989). Learnability and cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Sprouse, J., Wagers, M., & Phillips, C. (2012). A test of the relation between working memory capacity and syntactic island effects.