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Neurolinguistics: language and the brain



Recent advances in both technology and in biological understanding mean that we know more about the workings of the brain than ever. The relationship between language and the brain has been a major area of inquiry since the beginning of modern neuroscience, but in the 21st century we finally have reached a point where neurolinguistic methodology has become not only informative to linguists but also practical. This module will explore the current state of knowledge about the neural underpinnings of language, with a focus on language comprehension.

At the end of the module, students will:

  • Understand the basics of neurocognition, including basic knowledge of brain anatomy and neuroimaging methods
  • Know a state-of-the-art picture of the neural bases of language and language processing
  • Know how neurolinguistics both informs and is informed by linguistic theory
  • Have experience reading and critiquing primary research in neurolinguistics

This module will be capped at 35.



Students must have successfully completed at least ONE of the following:

  • L16I Intermediate syntax
  • L09I Intermediate phonetics and phonology
  • L08I Introduction to language acquisition



Contact hours

In the spring term, there will be a 2-hour lecture every teaching week, except that there will be two lectures in week 9 and none in week 10 (to ensure that all students have enough time to do the open exam). In addition, there will be a 1-hour seminar session every other week (weeks 3, 5, 8 and 9), devoted to formative student work.

In the summer term, there will be a 2-hour lecture in week 1 and a 1-hour seminar in weeks 2-4. These weeks will be spent developing one or two topics in depth, and will form the basis of the final assessment.

Teaching programme

The details of the teaching programme are subject to change, but the overall plan is as follows:

Weeks 2-3 Introduction, Basics of the brain and neuroimaging
Weeks 4-5 The processing of linguistic signals (speech and reading)
Weeks 7-8 The lexicon and the brain (inc. morphology)
Weeks 9 (two lectures) Syntactic and semantic processing, Overview
Weeks 1-4 Topics

Teaching materials

A reading pack will be available via Uniprint, and all required readings will also be placed on the VLE. Slides and handouts will be made avialable for each lecture. Additional optional readings will be made available throughout the teaching terms via the VLE.

Suggestions for reading before the module starts

  • Libben, Gary. 2005. Brain and language. In O'Grady, W., Archibald, J., Aronoff, M. & Rees-Miller, J (eds.). (2005) Contemporary Linguistics: an introduction. New York: Bedford/St Martins.

There are several different editions of the book listed above. It doesn’t matter which edition you use. The chapter on ‘brain and language’ is useful preliminary reading, whichever edition it is in. An electronic version of this chapter will be made available via the module VLE site.

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Formative assessment

  • Quizzes
    There will be several formative quizzes during seminars in spring term, in order to allow students to get feedback on their level of knowledge of key terms and concepts.
  • Guided readings
    Students will be assigned readings with guiding questions, and they will need to write group reports on the readings during some of the seminars; the students will receive oral and written feedback for this work.

Summative assessment

  • Open Exam
    An open exam due week 10, spring term.
    • Length: 1000 words
    • Weight: 40%
    • Feedback: Feedback for the open exam will be given to students at the beginning of summer term.
  • Essay
    Due week 6, summer term. The essay topics will be distributed at the beginning of summer term, and the essay will be developed partially based on student work in weeks 1-4 of summer term.
    • Length: 2000 words
    • Weight: 60%


Transferable skills developed in this module

All modules provide an opportunity to work on general oral/written communication skills (in class and in assessments) and general self management (organising your studies), alongside the specific skills in language or linguistics that the module teaches.

In addition, this module will allow you to particularly develop skills in:

  • application of data analysis skills: in this module you will learn how to interpret experimental data, and draw conclusions from it. You will also get experience in reconciling apparently contradictory data sources.
  • written communication: you will learn how to coherently and succinctly report on research done by others. An emphasis will be placed on identifying and clearly distilling the main ideas in sources that are written at a high level of detail.

Follow this link to hear how past students use transferable skills from their degree in their current jobs.

About this module

  • Module name
    Neurolinguistics: Language and the brain
  • Course code
    L35H (LAN00035H)
  • Teacher
    Eytan Zweig
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits