Ling 499R: Understanding Language Understanding, Spring 2024

Course Description

The verb "understand" gets thrown around a lot in linguistics and AI. We use it to refer to the process of human language comprehension. We talk about, and debate, the idea of artificially intelligent agents understanding us. We also use the word to refer to our goals in scientific research: we seek to understand how language works.

In this class we'll ask, what does it mean to understand language? We'll look at the pieces of the puzzle from two perspectives: the sciences of the artificial (to steal a term from Herbert Simon), and the sciences of the natural world, i.e. the study within cognitive science of the human capacity for language.

This is an advanced undergraduate course designed for students who are studying both Linguistics and Computer Science. It tends to be lecture plus seminar-style discussion. The focus of the class is on understanding ideas, not on building practical skills -- except in the sense that grappling with ideas, understanding arguments, and assessing evidence are among the most important skills you could possibly have.

I consider every course I teach a work in progress. Although some formal requirements are necessarily spelled out in advance in the syllabus, as well as the overall plan for the semester, the exact content of classroom time, readings, and homework assignments may evolveas we become better informed about the capabilities and interests of the people taking the class.

Course Goals

After successfully completing this course you should be able to:

Logistical info

Course Times: MW 2:00pm - 3:15pm

Classroom: Jimenez (JMZ) 0103 [map]


Schedule of Topics

Class discussions and announcements will take place on Piazza -- sign up here if you're not already a member of the class there. It is very important that you check Piazza frequently and/or pay attention to email notifications about new messages there, since sometimes there's time-sensitive information (e.g. if I'm extending the due date for an assignment).