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Language, Culture and Cognition: Linguistics


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 and 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.



Mode of instruction

Master Class

Course Load

Language, Culture and Cognition: Linguistics (10 ects) in hours

Classes: 26
Preparation to classes (30 pages reading per class): 55
Review article 1000 words: 28
Preliminary reading: 31
Essay (4-6000 words): 140

Total: 280

Assessment method

  1. Students will be expected to write a critical review of an article on a topic in the area of language, culture and cognition. (30% of final grade). A list of suggested articles will be given out in class. The review should be handed in by 31st October 2014.

The review should summarise the main claims and arguments of the paper and provide a critical evaluation of the work. Where relevant suggestions should be made with respect to how to investigate or ameliorate the problems raised. The review should be about 1000 words.

  1. Students are also expected to write an Essay on a topic of their choice related to the issues of language, culture and cognition (70% of the final grade). The Essay should be handed in at the latest by 15th January 2015. The essay should be between 4000 and 6000 words.

Resit: students who fail the course may resit the essay.



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

They should also read one of the following:

  • Michael Agar 1994, Harper Collins 1994.

  • Guy Deutscher, through the laguage glas, Heinemann, 2010.

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).

Students will take turns (depending on the numbers either individually or in pairs) to lead the discussion on a topic each week.


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

Register via uSis.

When registering, students that are registered for the specialisation that this course belongs to, or the Research Master, take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies

Contact information

MA Linguistics departmental office, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;


Topics to be treated include:

  1. Perspectives on the role of language in shaping thought

  2. Cultural motivations and cognitive consequences of nominal classification in African languages

  3. World view

  4. The body and body part nomenclature across languages and cultures

  5. The body, emotions and experience

  6. Folkbiology: the classification of plants and animals across languages and cultures

  7. Thinking and thought

  8. Space in language, culture and cognition