Language Research Seminar

Intermediate—Spring

“The baby, assailed by eye, ear, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion.” —William James (1890)

The acquisition of our first language is “doubtless the greatest intellectual feat any of us is ever required to perform” (Bloomfield), yet this feat was essentially accomplished by the time we were three years old—and we likely have no memory of it. Furthermore, human language fundamentally influences human ecology, culture, and evolution. Thus, many contemporary researchers in the interdisciplinary field of psycholinguistics argue that our language abilities are a large part of what makes us uniquely human. Are we, in fact, the only species with true language? And how would we begin to answer this question? In this course, we will attempt to answer this and other key questions in the broad field of language development through both our discussions of current and contemporary research and theory and the development of new research in this field. Current “hot” research topics include whether bilingual children have better control over what they pay attention to than monolingual children do (attention and language); whether language influences thought; whether language acquisition is biologically programmed; and why children learn language better from an adult in person than the same adult on television. Over the course of the semester, you will have the opportunity to design an independent research project that investigates one of these key questions or another question of interest to you in the broad area of language development. In doing this, you will learn how to outline the rationale for a research project, develop an effective research methodology, collect data, analyze the data, interpret your results, and communicate your findings in a persuasive yet objective manner. This course thus serves as an introduction to research methods, with a specific focus on research methods in psycholinguistics, through your own research. Topics will include experimental research design, case studies, observational techniques, survey development, and hypothesis testing. To help you design and implement your own research, we will discuss your conference research projects in class throughout the semester; you will obtain feedback from your colleagues on your questions, methods, analyses of the data, and interpretation of the results. This project could include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children. Previous course work in psychology or permission of the instructor is required.