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Thematic Seminar: The Linguistic Lens: How Language Influences our Perception of the World


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


It is the 2nd of February 2004, the day after the Superbowl, and you pick up an American paper. “Justin Timberlake tears off part of Janet Jackson’s bodice!”, says the headline. Does reading this kind of coverage of the event lead you to believe that Justin Timerblake is responsible for the famous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ that occurred during the controversial half time act of this sporting event? Does it make you think he should receive a hefty fine? According to linguistic research (Fausey and Boroditsky 2010), the answer to these questions is yes. You are more inclined to consider Justin Timberlake to be the perpetrator if you read a description of the event that uses agentive language (identifying Justin Timerblake as the agent, as in the example above) than when non-agentive language is used (“Part of Janet Jackson’s bodice was torn off!”), even if you have already thought about your position on the issue before you read the description.

In this course, we will take a closer look at phenomena like this in order to better understand how language influences people’s perception of the world. In the first part of the course, we will look at the interrelationships between language and thought in a general sense: how does the acquisition of language influence development? Do people who do not share the same mother tongue differ in their perception of the world? And how does the acquisition of more than one language influence thought? The second part of the course will look at how language might be used to engender changes in thought and behaviour. In this light, we will look closer at phenomena such as linguistic framing effects, politically correct language, euphemisms and propaganda. This section will also look at how narratives can be used to change people’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. In the final part of the course, you will form small groups with other students to conduct your own small-scale research on how language influences us, thereby providing you with some hands-on experimental research experience.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Course objectives

The Thematic Seminars for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the multidisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral and written presentation skills:

1. To explain clear and substantiated research results.
2. To provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • aimed at a specific audience.
    3. To actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

1. To be socio-communicative in collaborative situations.
2. To provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position.
3. To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. To collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques.
2. To analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability.
3. To formulate on this basis a sound research question.
4. To design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved.
5. To formulate a substantiated conclusion.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction


Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the Midterm Exam week. This includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), which equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending seminars (2 hours per week x 12): 24 hours

  • Reading literature and preparing assignments: 116 hours

  • Oral presentation and writing the final research essay: 140 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial Grade Weighing
Assignments (individual) 30%
Oral presentation (group) 20%
Final Research Essay (5,000 words) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the Final Essay on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the Final Essay.
In case of resubmission of the Final Essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the Essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the Final Essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2018 – 2019.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for the seminars. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

Readings will consist of a selection of articles/book chapters that will be provided via Blackboard. No materials will have to be purchased for this course.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


  • Enrolment through uSis for Thematic Seminars is mandatory.

  • The Thematic Seminars make use of a waiting list for the enrolment in uSis. If you are on the waiting list for a Thematic Seminar, this does not guarantee you a spot in this Seminar.

  • Enrolment in only one Seminar is allowed. Students are more than welcome to remain on one or more waiting lists, as well as an actual enrolment.

  • If a Thematic Seminar and its corresponding waiting list is no longer available for enrolment in uSis, this means it is full. Do not try to obtain a spot through other means.

  • If you are unsure of your enrolment status for a Thematic Seminar, please contact the BAIS Administration Department.

  • General information about uSis is available here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. H.N.M. De Mulder

When contacting your lecturer, please include your full name, student number, and course title.


The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is Friday 7 June 2019.