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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). It is concerned with linguistic and semiotic relativity. The first part of the course examines lexical structure and codification in the domains of space, family, time, ethnobotany, ethnopsychology (emotions and the body and mind), ethnophilosophy (indigenous knowledge, cultural norms). It explores the cognitive and communicative functions as well as the cultural variation in the use of gestures. The second block of the course examines the relationship between language, culture, and society from the methodological and theoretical perspective of linguistic anthropology. Such an approach treats language as a lived part of the social world rather than as a disembodied and autonomous system, and thus requires a focus on interaction, context, social structure, and power relations as irreducible dimensions of linguistic behavior. Special attention is paid to the collection and analysis of data in these areas. Examples will be drawn from African South American as well as familiar European languages.

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.



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 do a class presentation on an article of their choice on a topic in the area of language, culture and cognition. (20% of final grade). There will be a schema for the presentations and students should sign up for the days they would like to present. Depending on numbers students can present in pairs

The presentation 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. Each presentation should raise questions for discussion in class.

  1. Students are also expected to write two essays on a topic of their choice related to the issues of language, culture and cognition (80% of the final grade). One essay should be related to issues discussed in block one and handed in at the end of that block (October 30the 2015) The second essay should relate to the issues discussed in the second block and should be handed in by 15th January 2015 at the latest. Each essay should be about 3 000 words.

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



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).


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 World view

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

  2. The body, emotions and experience

  3. Space in language, culture and cognition

6.Gesture, cognition, culture and interaction

  1. Ethnography of speaking and language as social action

  2. Units of analysis: (imagined) communities, networks, and publics

  3. Semiotics, metapragmatics and language ideology

  4. Genre, register, indexicality, and interdiscursivity

11.Anthropological approaches to multilingualism, code-switching, and language contact

  1. Language and power