Cognitive Neuroscience of Language

Module Lecturer: Dr. Richard Shillcock,

Informatics: Room 4.24 in the Informatics Forum, tel: 50-4425.

Psychology: N.B. My Psychology office (B4) is used as a laboratory; find me in 4.24 IF.

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Times and Places

Lectures are 11.10-13.00 (with a ten-minute break). This course runs during the first semester. Lectures will take place in Seminar Room1 Crystal Macmillan Building. Details of this course, the lecture notes and readings for each week, etc., will be available on WebCT this year.

Aims and Objectives

This module provides an advanced introduction to the processing in the brain that underlies normal and atypical language use. We will look at the range of techniques by which we can investigate brain processing during listening, speaking, reading and writing, and the conclusions we can draw about these aspects of human cognition. We will look at how theoretical models of language use are developed and may be implemented computationally. We will look at a variety of ways in which language breaks down or is used atypically in acquired or developmental exceptional conditions, such as the varieties of dysphasia and dyslexia and a range of cognitive disorders. The aim is to provide MSc students with a rich range of current research data and theory on language and the brain, together with the relevant metatheoretical underpinnings, so as to stimulate students' individual departures into particular research topics at the level of the essay required for this course, the final MSc project, and future PhD research.


The contents of the course are subject to minor revision and change as the course progresses, particularly with respect to the readings, the goal being to supply state-of-the-art views of the field. I'm happy to respond to feedback and suggestions regarding additional topics, within limits.
Intellectual skills development
The students will develop skills in understanding how complex linguistic behaviour may be represented from a cognitive and a computational perspective. The students will understand how studying impairment can illuminate normal representation and processing.  Students will also be expected to learn about the concepts behind cognitive modelling, the design of experiments and the interpretation of their outcomes. They will be expected to read descriptions of experiments and theoretical reviews of particular topics in psycholinguistic research.
Eighteen hours of lectures, private study of the readings provided, defining a topic for the assessed essay.
MSc students will be assessed by means of an essay of approximately 3,000 words (excluding the references), which will count for 100% of the mark.
Undergraduates will be assessed by means of a one-and-a-half hour exam, which will count for 100% of the mark.


The course is accessible to students from most backgrounds. No programming expertise is involved.
People with no acquaintance with psycholinguistics can obtain background knowledge in Harley, T. A. (2007). The Psychology of Language. 3rd Edition. Psychology Press.
People with no acquaintance with neuroscience can obtain background knowledge in Ward, J. (2006). The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience. Psychology Press.

Older but still useful textbooks include:
Brown, C.M. & Hagoort, P. (1999). (Eds.) The Neurocognition of Language. Oxford: New York.
Rugg, M.D. (1997). (Ed.) Cognitive Neuroscience. Psychology Press; Hove.
Bishop, D. & Mogford, K. (1993). (Eds.) Language development in exceptional circumstances. LEA, Hove.
There are chapters on spoken and written language in most introductory textbooks on (cognitive) neuroscience and most of these will provide an introduction to a range of core issues and will make useful background reading.


Readings will be provided to accompany each lecture. The readings will be emailed out to the class in .pdf form. The identity of the readings is given in an early slide in each lecture (see below for .pdfs of slides). The goal is to provide students with current examples of critical research papers, recent reviews or book chapters dealing with controversies in the field, and examples of state-of-the-art research on language and the brain. As a guide, there will be around 40 pages of reading per week. Copies of the slides will be made available on this page as the course progresses. The slides will typically not contain a lot of text. There will be no printed lecture notes provided; attendance at the lectures and effective note-taking will be of prime importance in this course.

Lecture topics and readings

The nature of the problem as expressed in the range of crosslinguistic variation with which the brain must deal. Some of the range of facts which have conspired to shape language behaviour in anatomical and cultural evolution. Some of the ways in which we might conceive of the relation between language and the brain.

For additional reading for the first week, please take a look at any one of the introductory neuro- texts to familiarize yourself with the basic anatomy of the brain, the names and locations of the major structures of the brain. A useful website that allows a 3-D appreciation of brain structures is to be found here

Slides for Lecture 1 Introduction and meta-theoretical issues

Slides for Lecture 2 Language, modularity and brain location

Slides for Lecture 3 Systematicity and grounding in language and the brain

Slides for Lecture 4 Imaging technologies, language and the brain

Slides for Lecture 5 Language, the hemispheres and the corpus callosum

Slides for Lecture 6hemispheric specialization for language

Slides for Lecture 7 Visual information processing and the brain

Slides for Lecture 8 Auditory information processing and the brain

Slides for Lecture 9 Synaesthesia and language

Slides for Lecture 10 Deep dyslexia

Slides for Lecture 11 Brain areas for spoken and writeen wordforms

Slides for Lecture 12 The dyslexias

Slides for Lecture 13 Neglect dyslexia and peripheral dyslexias

Slides for Lecture 14 Syntax and the normal brain

Slides for Lecture 15 Binocularity and real reading

Slides for Lecture 16 Language exotica

Slides for Lecture 17 Autism and language

Slides for Lecture 18 Memory and language

Last year essay titles

Autism: Can the current accounts be reconciled?
Dimensions of dyslexia: A medical problem or a learning disability? An approach to the detection and management of the child and the adult dyslexic.
Psycholinguistic, neurolinguistic and neuroscientific study of simultaneous interpreting.
Segmenting the speech stream and the acquisition of morphemes: The role of phonology in linguistic development.
Deep dyslexia: Right hemisphere or damaged left hemisphere reading?
Is there a critical period for second language acquisition?
First language acquisition.
Constraint programming and connectionism as models of human language processing.
Coarse Semantic coding and the role of the right hemisphere in language processing.
The neuropsychological perspective of bilingualism: brain injury and recovery. Implications for the understanding of language function and dysfunction in bilinguals.
Acquisition and Expression. The role of conceptual and contextual keys in storage and retrieval for long term memory.
Syntax, semantics and the brain: Understanding the significance of event-related potentials.
A high-level cognitive model that considers emotional content for the assignation of semantic meaning.
Swearing in aphasia and Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome.
Savants: the phenomenon revisited. Smith and Tsimply's "The mind of a savant: Language learning and modularity" put in context.
Structure-driven or constraint-based parsing. Insights into different sentence comprehension models.
Broca's aphasics and syntax.
Language acquisition: First steps towards a cognitive approach?.
Foreign accent syndrome.
Models of syntactic parsing preferences in the light of ERP investigation.
Writing language.
Differences between the linguistic processing styles of brain's hemispheres .

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