Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences

Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences became a department in 1986, with Sheila Blumstein as its first chairperson. One of the first such departments in the country, it offers undergraduate concentrations in Linguistics and in Cognitive Science, and also graduate programs in Linguistics specializing in psycholinguistics, theoretical linguistics, and computational and mathematical linguistics, and graduate programs in Cognitive Science which include research in visual perception and perception and action, language and cognition, formal linguistics, reasoning and problem solving, neural models of cognition, and animal cognition. The new department superseded the Center for Cognitive Sciences and the Department of Linguistics.

Formerly collaboration between the Department of Cognitive Sciences and the Center for Neural Sciences had been fostered by the Institute for Cognitive and Neural Research, which was created in May 1981. Administered by a director and a five-member executive committee, the Institute encouraged research and cooperation among its colleagues who represented the disciplines of psychology, linguistics, neural science, computer science, applied mathematics, engineering, philosophy and anthropology. Henry Kucera, professor of linguistics and cognitive sciences was named director of the Institute, and concentrations in both cognitive science and neural science were offered. The Center for Cognitive Science was established in 1977 under the direction of Richard Millward, professor of psychology, with funding from the Sloan Foundation. The Center for Neural Studies began in 1973 to study animal central nervous systems and the human brain. In 1978 it became the Center for Neural Sciences, with faculty members from the Departments of Psychology, Linguistics, Engineering, Physics, Applied Mathematics, and Biomedical Science, to facilitate interdisciplinary research projects. The Center for Neural Sciences was chaired by Leon Cooper, professor of physics, and Ford Ebner, professor of medical sciences, as cochairmen.

Linguistics became important at Brown with the appointment of Hans Kurath as professor of German in 1930. His coming brought to Brown the headquarters of the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada. Before coming the Brown, he had been at Yale as director of the Atlas while on leave of absence from Ohio State, where he was professor of German and general linguistics. The Atlas was a project for studying and recording American English as it is spoken in various parts of the country. The headquarters of the Atlas moved to Brown in 1932, and six volumes of the New England Atlas were published with the imprint of the University. The staff of the Linguistic Atlas held a series of conferences at Brown in the summer of 1934. Graduate students helped gather phonograph records of New England speech. Kurath was chairman of the German Department from 1931 to 1941, and chairman of the Division of Modern Languages from 1941 until his resignation in 1946 to become professor of English and editor of the Middle English Dictionary at the University of Michigan.

An undergraduate honors concentration program in linguistics was introduced in 1957. The Department of Linguistics was established in 1960, and offered master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

In 1959 Professor Henry Kucera was working on comparing the phonological structures of several languages. To process his data he enlisted the aid of William Prager, professor of applied mathematics, who taught him computer programming. In exchange Kucera taught Prager how to read Russian scientific articles. When the computing center opened in 1960 Kucera taught a course in computational linguistics. W. Nelson Francis, whose field was the structure and history of the English language, joined the department in 1962 and was appointed chairman in 1968. Francis began to collect contemporary American-English texts to use as resources for computer-based research in the English language. He and Professor Kucera published two books based on this one-million-word collection which became known as the “Brown Corpus.”

In 1962 five Egyptian teachers of English came to Brown for two years of graduate study as part of a program, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and the State Department, in which Brown, Cornell and the University of Texas cooperated to improve the teaching of English in the United Arab Republic. Five more arrived annually for the next three years to take a course arranged by Professor W. Freeman Twaddell leading to the degree of Master of Arts in Linguistics. In 1965 Brown joined with the University of Texas and Cornell University in a project supported by the Ford Foundation to establish a modern language laboratory in Cairo to improve the teaching of English. Also in 1965 the Brown-Tougaloo Language Project was begun under the direction of W. Nelson Francis with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. The project sought to provide students entering Tougaloo College with language deficiencies with a viable version of standard English required for their further education. Chairmen of the Department of Linguistics after Kurath were W. Freeman Twaddell, W. Nelson Francis, Philip Lieberman, and Sheila E. Blumstein.