Course outline

COSC421 addresses the question of how language is implemented in the human brain. Answering this question draws on research in several disciplines: neuroscience, psychology, linguistics and computational modelling. The aim of the course is to provide an accessible introduction to the relevant topics for students from each of these disciplines.

We will approach the topic by focussing on the interface between language and the sensorimotor system. We consider an observer perceiving a simple concrete event (a man grabbing a cup), and examine what is involved in converting the sensorimotor representation of this event to a linguistic representation - for instance, the English sentence 'The man grabbed a cup'.

There are three parts to the course.

  • Part 1: Models of the perception, execution and representation of reach-to-grasp actions. (Visual attention, object classification, visuomotor control, action recognition, working memory representations.)
  • Part 2: Models of natural language syntax. (Chomsky's Minimalism, construction grammar, statistical language models.)
  • Part 3: Models of language acquisition in infants. (Phonological, lexical and syntactic development.)

Students will learn about:

  • The key empirical methods employed in psychology and neuroscience (behavioural experiments, neuroimaging, single-cell recording, lesion studies)
  • Some of the influential computational models of sensorimotor cognition and language processing (saliency maps, convolutional networks, motor control, the mirror system, competitive queueing networks, Elman networks, cross-situational word learning)
  • The basics of two influential syntactic theories (Chomsky's Minimalism and Goldberg's Construction Grammar).