Cognitive & Linguistic Sciences

Academic Program Introduction

Cognitive and linguistic sciences is the study of how the mind works. It is a dynamic interdisciplinary investigation of the nature and origins of thought and language. How do we learn, remember, and sense the world around us? What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? What factors contribute to the shaping of the mind? Could a computer think?

Linguistics is the study of the structure, history, philosophy, psychology, and use of language: What are the properties of languages and how are they acquired? How did language develop and how have languages changed over time? How is language organized in the brain?

We draw upon techniques and expertise from disciplines including psychology, linguistics, computer science, philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Despite different methods of investigation, cognitive scientists are committed to a set of ideas: The mind is a function of the brain, thinking is a kind of computation, and language and cognition are best understood as a set of specialized processes and representations.

Learning goals

  • Read and analyze cognitive science literature across disciplines.

  • Recognize and evaluate important ways in which philosophers, scientists, and others have perceived the mind over time.
  • Solve problems in cognitive and linguistic sciences using formal symbolic systems.
  • Recognize and describe the different research methodologies of various disciplines, and apply the research methodologies employed in a concentration discipline.

Programs of study

Cognitive and linguistic sciences major

Students will concentrate in a discipline (psychology, linguistics, computer science, philosophy) to strengthen and deepen their understanding of the mind within a single domain.

Course Highlights

  • How do our brains give rise to conscious thought, action, and experience? This is a key question that motivates cognitive science, the interdisciplinary study of the mind. Cognitive scientists integrate approaches from psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and more, to study this issue. This course will survey the major theories, debates, and findings from cognitive science. Topics covered include perception, memory, decision-making, language, consciousness, and more. We will also consider cognitive science from a historical perspective to understand how the study of the mind has evolved in the past century, and what approaches we can take into the future. (CLSC 110 and PSYC 110 are cross-listed courses.)
  • Over the centuries, invented, or artificial, languages have been devised for many reasons, including a desire to improve existing languages, an effort to unite the world, or a need to explore how languages are learned. The vast majority have failed, but why? Is there a place for invented language? What do invented languages teach us about natural language? We will look at invented languages from a variety of points of view: linguistic, historical, philosophical, psychological, and sociological. We will explore the linguistic underpinnings of various languages, from seventeenth century Real Character to Na'vi, with a look at a successful "reinvented" language, Modern Hebrew. Students will design their own miniature artificial language.

Research highlights

  • Professor Sabriya Fisher shows a student how to operate a recording device. The professor is standing and the student is sitting. Both are smiling.

    In the Sociolinguistics Lab, students investigate questions related to the study of language variation, language change, and language in social context. Sanaa Walker ’23 and Camille Osumah ’23 collected interview data with students in Boston area high schools as part of the Spencer Foundation-funded Language Variation and School Experiences Project. Anna Kraffmiller ’24 is researching variable rhoticity among Black adolescents in Boston and Philadelphia.

  • A student wearing headphones uses a desktop computer.

    In the Language and Speech Lab, students collected and analyzed data on dialect change among Jamaican speakers who immigrated to the U.S. Gabby Garcia ’23 and Ann Zhao ’24 helped design an artificial language experiment to determine use of reduplication among native Armenian speakers.

Opportunities

  • Research

    Students can gain research experience in the cognitive and linguistic sciences in numerous ways.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

Many of our graduates obtain advanced degrees in psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and computer science. Majoring in cognitive and linguistic sciences provides an excellent background for any profession that involves the workings of the human mind. Our graduates pursue careers in education, law, speech pathology, marketing/advertising, human-computer interaction, and behavioral economics.

Cognitive & Linguistic Sciences Program

Address
Green Hall
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Contact
Angela Carpenter
Program Director