Ling848, Spring 2022

Brain Inspired Inspired:
Topics in Computational Linguistics and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language


Philip Resnik, [he/him/his]


Wednesdays 2-4:30pm.

The official location in the course catalogue is LeFrak 1171, but I am planning to do the class in the "Garage" at the Language Science Center, which is located at 2130 H.J. Patterson Hall.

The current plan is for this class to be a hybrid of in-person and remote (via Zoom), and a Zoom link will be provided on Piazza and in email. (Not posted on this public page in order to minimize the likelihood of Zoom-bombing.) Depending on the facts on the ground, the entire class may wind up being conducted remotely.

Because this is a seminar where interaction is essential, I will ask that remote participants have their video turned on unless there is some important reason not to (in which case please talk with me about it).

Some important notes related to COVID-19.

Where to get information

Overview of Course Goals

This is an interdisciplinary seminar designed to bring together AI folks with neuro folks, and more broadly to engage people who are interested in language from the perspectives of computational linguistics, psycholinguistics, and cognitive neuroscience. The class is dubbed "Brain Inspired Inspired" because it's significantly inspired by Brain Inspired, an excellent podcast hosted by Paul Middlebrooks that focuses on the convergence of AI and neuroscience. We are not going to try to replicate his online neuro-AI course, although it looks really good, because the goals here are a bit more specific. The neuro-plus-AI aspect is the same, but this is intended to be an advanced readings/discussion seminar rather than a cross-disciplinary introduction, and we're going to focus more specifically on language than Middlebrooks does (as opposed to his broader range of topics including things like vision, animal thinking, and consciousness). Because it's going to be a mixed crowd, we certainly will be doing a certain amount of getting up to speed in relevant sub-areas, e.g. making sure that neuro folks get comfortable with deep learning concepts, and that CS/AI folks get comfortable with differences in brain imaging methods. But the basics are going to get addressed in the process of reading and discussing, for the most part, rather than by a lot of standard lecture/instruction.

The design of the seminar is largely motivated by the following questions:


This seminar will mainly involve readings and discussion in class and on Piazza.

'Incomplete' as a grade

My standard practice is not to issue an 'incomplete' as a course grade except for serious, officially valid reasons, e.g. documented medical accommodations or serious emergencies. (In cases like that you should let me know in advance or as quickly as can reasonably be expected, and to provide documentation signed by a health care professional.) That's my normal policy because it's very easy to take an incomplete and then for things to slip further and further; incompletes just aren't good for students if they can possibly be avoided.

However, the pandemic is also creating major disruptions in people's lives, so I'm more open to discussion than most years. If you are having problems of any kind, please talk to me as soon as possible. The best first step in case of trouble of any kind is good communication. Please also see the note below regarding mental health issues.

Other important notes

Use of electronic devices in class (and remotely). I recognize that electronic devices can be extremely useful learning tools in the classroom. You are expected to behave as responsible adults, though, and limit the use of such devices to class-related activities only -- for example, (a) note-taking and (b) doing quick Google searches to confirm your impression that I did, in fact, say something that's utterly incorrect, so that you can shame me publicly as authoritatively as possible. This policy applies to remote participants, too. I'd be really grateful if people could not multi-task online in ways that are not directly related to what's going on in the classroom. Please don't be reading news, checking mail, using Slack, debugging code, or whatever else. It's just rude.

Use of pets and small children in class (and remotely). I recommend against the use of pets or small children in the classroom, for their own well-being and because your classmates might be allergic to either or both. You are, however, welcome to share your pets and small children onscreen remotely, as long as it doesn't get too distracting and we have the option of possibly using them as experimental subjects in final projects.

Course evaluations. I welcome your suggestions for improving this class, so please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts during the semester! You will also be asked to give feedback using the CourseEvalUM system at the end of the semester.

Academic integrity policy. The Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Codes prohibit students from cheating on exams, plagiarizing papers, submitting the same paper for credit in two courses without authorization, buying papers, submitting fraudulent documents, forging signatures, etc. I expect you to follow the academic integrity policy but I am exempting the class from the requirement of hand-writing and signing the honor pledge.

Cheating and collaboration. What you represent as your own work must be your own work. However, talking with one another to understand the material better is strongly encouraged. Recognizing the distinction between cheating and cooperation is very important. If you simply copy someone else's work, you are cheating. If you let someone else copy your work, you are cheating. If someone dictates something to you, you are cheating. Everything you hand in must be in your own words, and based on your own understanding. If someone helps you understand a problem or issue during a high-level discussion, you are not cheating. If you work collaboratively with explicit permission from the instructor, you are not cheating. I strongly encourage students to help one another understand the material presented in class, in the readings, and general issues relevant to any assignments. Any student who is caught cheating will be given an F in the course and referred to the University Student Behavior Committee. Please don't take that chance -- if you're having trouble understanding the material, or if you need some help clarifying what is ok to do and what is not, please let me know and I will be more than happy to help.

Accessibility and Disability Service. See for official information. Students with a documented disability should inform me within the add-drop period if academic accommodations will be needed. We will follow a process that involves meeting with me to provide with a copy of the Accommodations Letter and to obtain my signature on the Acknowledgement of Student Request form. We will plan together how accommodations will be implemented throughout the semester. To obtain the required Accommodation Letter, please contact Accessibility and Disability Service (ADS) at 301-314-7682 or

Mental health issues. Let's face it: grad school can be really hard. And it's way harder in a pandemic. Sometimes students don't know that they need help, or they somehow know they're in trouble but they don't know what to do about it. What's really important for you to know is that at a big university like this one, you don't need to cope with it alone. There are many people on this campus who know how to help students in all kinds of circumstances. It's their job. Some resources you can take advantage of include the Counseling Center, in the Shoemaker Building, 301-314-7651, and Behavioral Health Services, in the Health Center, 301-314-8106; the Office of Student Affairs, 301-314-8430, is another place you can connect with to find help of various kinds. If you are concerned about the behavior of another student, and in particular if you are worried that they might pose a threat to themselves or others, see this page for students concerned about another student.

Anti-Harassment. The open exchange of ideas, the freedom of thought and expression, and respectful scientific debate are central to the aims and goals of this course. These require a community and an environment that recognizes the inherent worth of every person and group, that fosters dignity, understanding, and mutual respect, and that embraces diversity. Harassment and hostile behavior are unwelcome in any part of this course. This includes: speech or behavior that intimidates, creates discomfort, or interferes with a person’s participation or opportunity for participation in the class. We aim for this course to be an environment where harassment in any form does not happen, including but not limited to: harassment based on race, gender, religion, age, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Harassment includes degrading verbal comments, deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Please contact an instructor or staff member if you have questions or if you feel you are the victim of harassment (or otherwise witness harassment of others), or see this page for pointers to relevant resources. Please note that as "responsible university employees" faculty are required to report any disclosure of sexual misconduct, i.e., they may not hold such disclosures in confidence. Campus Advocates Respond and Educate (CARE) to Stop Violence provides free confidential (including anonymous) advocacy and therapy services to primary and secondary survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and sexual harassment; they are not an official reporting entity but rather a resource that can help navigate options and provide connection to appropriate resources; their General Information contact info is (301) 314-2222 ( with a crisis cell contact number at (301) 741-3442. The University of Maryland’s Sexual Misconduct Policy can be found here.

Religious holidays. Please send the instructor a list of all holidays you observe during the semester by the end of the first week of classes, so they can be taken into account in the course schedule.

Emergency protocol. If the university is closed for an extended period of time, we will discuss how the course will be continued. (This used to be just a standard "it never happens" note on the syllabus, and then 2020 came along...)

Basic needs security. Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in this course, is encouraged to use the resources listed below for support. Students are better served and supported when such circumstances are shared with the professor. Please consider sharing your situation with your professor who may be able to assist you in finding the appropriate resources.

Use of student work.Your completed work may be used by me in this or subsequent semesters for educational purposes. Before making such use of your work, I will either get your written permission, or render the work anonymous by removing all your personal identification from the material.

Names and Pronouns. Many people might go by a name in daily life that is different from their legal name. In this classroom, we seek to refer to people by the names that they go by. Pronouns can be a way to affirm someone's gender identity, but they can also be unrelated to a person's identity. They are simply a public way in which people are referred to in place of their name (e.g. "he" or "she" or "they" or "ze" or something else). In this classroom, you are invited (if you want to) to share what pronouns you go by, and we seek to refer to people using the pronouns that they share. The pronouns someone indicates are not necessarily indicative of their gender identity. Visit to learn more.

Right to change information. Although every effort has been made to be complete and accurate, unforeseen circumstances arising during the semester could require the adjustment of any material given here. Consequently, given due notice to students, the instructor reserves the right to change any information on this syllabus or in other course materials.

Philip Resnik, Professor
Department of Linguistics and Institute for Advanced Computer Studies

Department of Linguistics
1401 Marie Mount Hall            
University of Maryland             Phone: (301) 405-7002
College Park, MD 20742 USA	   Fax:   (301) 405-7104	   E-mail: