Course Description

How different are world languages? Do people speaking different languages think differently? What is the advantage of being multilingual? In which ways can people of different language backgrounds misunderstand each other?

Language, with its complexity and abstractness, is the most important means of communications for human beings of any culture. With about 7,000 living languages spoken around the world today, linguistic diversity is evident, fascinating, yet puzzling. Through this course, students will learn to use language as a window to understanding human thinking and communicative behavior. Anyone that has ever been puzzled by and amazed at how a foreign language differs from his or her native language(s) will find this course interesting and relevant.

We will focus on the relationship between three components: linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, and habitual ways of thinking. The key questions that motivate the content and activities in this course are (i) whether knowing a language means thinking in that language, and (ii) how habitual ways of speaking and thinking owing to crosslingualistic differences can lead to potential problems in communication. Through learning to talk about the relation between language and thought, students will be equipped with the analytical tools for describing linguistic diversity, which will further enhance their sensitivity to linguistic communication and facilitate language learning.

The topics of this seminar will include: linguistic consciousness and intuition, crosslingualistic differences in structure, word formation, writing systems, grammar and socioeconomic behaviors, lexical categorization of objects (e.g., mass/count distinctions and classifiers), word order and information organization, numerical cognition, space and frames of reference, metaphors (e.g., space and time, body and emotions), theory of mind, bilingualism, translation and interpreting, and issues in comparing thought processes in the East and the West.

GenEd Information: Currently approved for the IU Bloomington GenEd NS requirement. See the GenEd Website for more information.

Catalog Information: COLL-S 105 FRESHMAN SEMINAR IN N & M

IFS course instructor photo

Course Instructor: Chien-Jer Charles Lin

Charles Lin is Associate Professor of Chinese linguistics at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and an adjunct associate professor at the Department of Linguistics and the interdisciplinary Cognitive Science Program. Having been fascinated by the relation between grammar, cognition, and human communication, Professor Lin does research on the interface between linguistics and cognitive processes. He directs the Language and Cognition Laboratory at Indiana University Bloomington, where he works with students to explore how human language is made possible by the brain. He is particularly interested in what makes grammar the way it is, how crosslinguistic differences may be related to differences in culture and habitual ways of thinking, and more broadly how language affects one's perspective about the world and about themselves. Besides doing linguistic research and teaching about it, he enjoys learning about the world with her two daughters and dancing tango.

Linguistic Communication and Thinking in a Global Context

Linguistic Communication and Thinking in a Global Context: Courses: Intensive Freshman Seminars: Indiana University Bloomington