COGS 300

Selected Topics in Cognitive Science

Spring Semester 2012





Instructor:  Nancy Hedberg

Office:  RCB 9211



Office hours: Tuesday, 11:30-12:20; Friday, 12:30-1:20.

Class meetings: Fridays, 9:30-12:20, BLU10655


Class description:

As cognitive systems, language and music share a remarkable number of properties.  Both involve hierarchical organization of discrete elements at multiple levels. Both instantiate systems which differ across cultures and need to be learned, but which also involve capacities that appear to be universal and unique to our species. In this class, we will examine the relationship between language and music as cognitive capacities, by addressing questions such as the following:

1.  How are pitch, rhythm and timbre utilized in music and spoken language, and how analogous are the roles of these components in the two types of systems?

2.  What is the relationship between how music and language are instantiated in the brain?  Do these knowledge systems constitute separate modules, or do they overlap and involve shared cognitive resources?

3.  What are the analogues of music and speech in other species?  Is the structure of bird song analogous to phonology, to syntax, or to the structure of music? 

4. Does music have syntax? Does exactly the same type of mental computational system apply in structuring both, or are they organized differently?

5.  Is there an analogue of semantics in music?  Does music lack meaning, does it express emotions, or does musical semantics have to do with harmonic expectancies?

6.  What is the role of evolution in the development of language and music? Did one develop out of the other? To what extent are both capacities innate? What is the role of cultural transmission in their development?


Required textbook:

Patel, Aniruddh D. 2008. Music, Language and the Brain. Oxford University Press.


Recommended music theory book:

Wharram, Barbara. 2005. Elementary Rudiments of Music. Revised edition. The Frederick Harris Music Co. Canada.


Recommended popular book on music and the brain, featuring discussion of popular music:

Levitin, Daniel. 2006. This is Your Brain on Music. Penguin. WEB edition available at SFU library.


Here is a text on the psychology of music that I am consulting:

Tan, Siu-Lan, Peter Pfordresher and Rom Harrˇ. 2010. Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance. Psychology Press.


Lecture note and recommended listening lists will be available on the instructorÕs website.



Course requirements:

Active participation, including attendance, 10%.

Two short 5-6 pp. double-spaced critical review of articles or groups of articles: 20% each, due week 6 and week 11.

Abstract of project, 1-2 page double-spaced, 5%, due week 10.

Class presentation on project, 10 minutes, 15%, week 12 or 13.

Final project, 14-18 pp. paper double-spaced, or other project to be negotiated with instructor, 30%, due Apr. 13.




Percentage scores on assignments, presentations and projects will be guided by qualitative judgment, according to the following scale. Final letter course grades will be computed from total percentage scores on the basis of the same scale. Evaluation of student writing will depend on clear, concise, logical argumentation in proper academic English.


97-100  A+   Extraordinary performance                          93-96    A     Excellent performance

89-92    A-                                                                                   85-88    B+

80-84    B     Good performance                                          76-79    B-

72-75    C+                                                                                   68-71    C     Satisfactory performance

64-67    C-                                                                                    50-63    D    Marginal performance

< 50      F     Unsatisfactory performance (fail)



General Expectations Concerning Student Behavior:

1.   Students are expected to attend class every day.

2.   Students are expected to have read the assigned readings before class. Because the readings and notes are sometimes complex, students are expected to read them multiple times.

3.   Late assignments will not be accepted without prior approval from the instructor.

4.   Students are responsible for all materials in the assigned readings and lectures.

5.   Academic dishonesty is forbidden. It will result in disciplinary action. Academic dishonesty includes cheating and plagiarism. For information on academic dishonesty visit the following website,


Students requiring accommodations as a result of a disability, must contact the Centre for Students with    Disabilities (778-782-3112 or email to