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Language, Culture and Cognition


Admission requirements


This course discusses the relationship between cultural patterns, language use and language structure (language, worldview, and cognition). In particular it examines the lexical structure in the domains of space, family, time, ethnobotany, ethnopsychology (emotions, health/illness of the body and mind), ethnophilosophy (indigenous knowledge, cultural norms). Special attention is paid to the collection and analysis of data in these areas.

Course objectives

The aim of this course is to broaden the students understanding of the debates, controversies and pitfalls in studying the reflexive relation between language, culture and cognition. The course examines the many interrelationships between language & thought and asks questions such as: Do people who speak different languages think differently? Do multilinguals think differently when speaking different languages? Are some thoughts unthinkable without language? Ideas and findings from various disciplines such as linguistics, anthropology, cultural psychology, philosophy as well as neuroscience will be brought together. A second aim is to acquaint students with contemporary methods for investigating world view and its relation to language, culture and cognition. A third aim is to explore the applications of the language-culture-cognition nexus in the challenges of contemporary African life in domains such as health and child rearing and education.


To be added. Timetables

Mode of instruction

Master Class

Assessment method

Students will be expected to write a critical review of an article on a topic in the area of language, culture and cognition. (35% of final grade). A list of suggested articles will be given out.
Students are also expected to write an Essay on a topic of their choice related to the issues of language, culture and cognition (65% of the final grade).



Reading list

Preliminary Reading
This course builds on the BA course on Anthropological Linguistics. It is therefore assumed that participants have an introductory knowledge about the discipline. To ensure that we all start on the same wavelength, students for the masters class are advised to read one of the following books before hand:

  • Duranti, Alesandro (1997) Linguistic anthropology. Cambridge University Press

  • Foley, William (1997) Anthropological linguistics: an introduction. Routledge

  • Palmer, Gary (1996) Towards a theory of Cultural linguistics. Chicago University Press

Course Readings:
Students are expected to read the assigned literature which will be discussed in class followed by a foreshadowing of issues in the next set of readings to be discussed in class the following week (for details, see overview).


Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Register via uSis.

Contact information

Teacher Dr. F.K. Ameka


Topics to be treated include:
Perspectives on the role of language in shaping thought

  • Boroditsky, Lera. 2002. Linguistic relativity. Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Editor-in-Chief Lynn Nadel. Nature Publishing Group.

  • Hill, Jane H., and Brian Mannheim. 1992. “Language and World View.” Annual Review of Anthropology 21:381-406.

  • Gleitman Lila and Anna Papfragou 2006 Language and thought In: K. Holyoak and B. Morrisson (eds) Cambridge Handbook of thinking and reasoning. Cambridge University Press

  • Gumperz, John J., and Stephen C. Levinson. 1996. “Introduction: Linguistic Relativity Re- examined.” In Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Eds. J. J. Gumperz and S. C. Levinson, pp. 1-18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Lucy, JohnA. 1997 “Linguistic relativity”. Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 291-312

  • Slobin, Dan I. 1996. From “thought and language” to “thinking for speaking”. In Gumperz, John J. and Levinson, Stephen C. Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp.70-96.

  1. Cultural motivations and cognitive consequences of nominal classification in African languages
    Case studies: Murle (Arensen); Bantu (Palmer et al. 1999, Contini-Morava 2008);
    Fulfulde (Breedveld 1995); Kana classifiers (Ikoro 1996).
    Delplanque, Alain. 1995. Que signifient les classes nominales? L’exemple du Mooré, langue Gur. Linguistique Africaine 3:53-95.

  2. World view
    Michael Kearney 1984 Worldview. Novato: Chandler and Sharp
    Case studies: Peace is everything in the Senegambia; Pokot – world view and translation

  3. The body and body part nomenclature across languages and cultures
    Dingemanse, Mark (2006) The body in Yoruba. Doctoraalscriptie, Leiden University
    Enfield N. J et al (eds) (2006) Specal issue The Body Language Sciences
    Schladt, Mathias 1995 Kognitive Strukturen von Körpteilvokabularien in keninischen Sprachen. Köln: Rudiger Köppe

  4. The body, emotions and experience

Wierzbicka, Anna 1999 Emotions across languages and cultures. Cambridge University Press
Enfield N. J. and Anna Wierzbicka (eds) The body in the description of emotions. Special issue of Pragmatics and Cognition 10(1-2) Focus on papers by Dimmendaal and Ameka
Matissoff, James 1973 Variational semantics in Tibeto Burman

  1. Folkbiology: the classification of plants and animals across languages and cultures
    papers by Cecil Brown, Berlin Brent, Scott Attran and Anna Wierzbicka

  2. Thinking and thought

Talking about thinking across languages. Special Issue of Cognitive Linguistics 14 (2/3) 2003
Focus on the introduction, six dimensions of variations across languages and cultures (Goddard) and the grammatical encoding of “thinking” in Amharic

  1. Space in language, culture and cognition
    Basic locative function; frames of reference; motion and deixis and landscape descriptions