24.900 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Linguistics

Assignment 1

Due: Session 7

LengthApproximately 1000 words (≈ 4 pages, double-spaced)

For the first paper in this class, you will read a published article that makes a claim about language, and write a short critical paper that summarizes and evaluates the authors’ claim. In order to do this, you will need to consider the evidence that is put forward in support of the claim and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the authors’ evidence and arguments.

The articles that you may choose from are listed below and can be accessed under “Assignment 1: Critical Summary Articles.”

A well-written paper should:

  • concisely summarize the main claim of the paper,
  • describe the key evidence that is presented in support of the claim,
  • evaluate whether the evidence confirms the researchers’ claim, or whether there might be other possible interpretations of the findings, and,
  • explain what broader and deeper questions about language are engaged by the research reported in the paper; in other words, why are the authors’ results interesting (or not) as part of a broader agenda of research on language?

In addition, the paper should do one or more of the following:

  • If the evidence is ambiguous or insufficient to confirm the claim, discuss what type of data would be helpful in order to distinguish between the competing hypotheses or interpretations.
  • If the evidence actually seems to support a different interpretation than the one that is advanced in the article, provide an argument for why we should draw a different conclusion from what the authors advocate.
  • Discuss possible implications of the finding, if you believe it is true. For example: what further predictions might we make, based on this result? What are some new hypotheses that we might make, and what sorts of additional data might we want to collect to test them?

You are not expected to do any research or consult other sources of information for this assignment.

Be sure to cite page numbers of any quotations from the article. A full bibliographic APA citation of the article should appear at the end of the essay. Please keep your paper to approximately 1000 words (not counting the bibliographic citation).

Articles to choose from:

Berent, I., Lennertz, T., Jun J., Moreno, M. & Smolensky, P. (2008). Language Universals in Human Brains. PNAS 105(14): 5321–5325.

Culbertson, J., & Adger, D. (2014). Language learners privilege structured meaning over surface frequency. PNAS 111(16): 5842–5847.

These articles do have some technical content, but they are not intended solely for readers with a strong background in Linguistics. Although there will be some technical terms and details of the analysis that go beyond what you have studied so far, you should be able to grasp the central ideas and claims of the article, which is all that we are expecting. If you are uncertain as to whether you are interpreting a technical term or analysis correctly, you can simply indicate this, and proceed on the assumption that you are correct. It is also fine to ask the instructor or a TA to verify your interpretation.

Grading Rubric

Criteria Pts

Introductory Framing & Focus

  • Does the introduction provide background about the linguistic issue? (3 pts)
  • Does the introduction present the article and a brief summary? (4 pts)
  • Does the introduction establish a clear position in the form of the central thesis? (3 pts)

10 pts   

Summary of the Article

  • How clearly does the essay describe the experimental method? (5 pts)
  • How explicitly does the essay present the key findings? (5 pts)
  • How well does the essay explain the authors’ interpretation of the findings linking it to the claim? (5 pts)

15 pts   

Critical Analysis Section

  • Does the author clearly formulate the key critical points in their analysis? (7 pts)
  • Is the critical analysis supported by evidence and reasoning? (8 pts)

15 pts   


  • Does the essay briefly recapitulate the key points of the paper and the analysis? (5 pts)
  • Does the essay highlight the significance of the study or suggest the direction for future research? (5 pts)

10 pts   

Use of Sources and Citations

  • Is evidence from the source material incorporated into the essay appropriately (mostly through paraphrasing)? (4 pts)
  • Is the source material cited in text where appropriate? (3 pts)
  • Does the essay add the source at the end of the paper? (3 pts)

10 pts   


  • Does the essay have a clear overarching structure? (5 pts)
  • Are the key points arranged in a logical sequence? (5 pts)
  • Are paragraphs structured around a central, unifying idea that’s expressed in a topic sentence? (5 pts)
  • Are transitions & signal phrases used to highlight connections among the main points? (5 pts)

20 pts   


  • Are ideas and information conveyed in clear, fluent prose? (5 pts)
  • Is the tone of the essay neutral and respectful? (5 pts)
  • Is the style of the essay appropriate for the essay’s purpose and target audience? (5 pts)

15 pts   


  • Is the essay free of mechanical errors, including grammar, punctuation, & spelling?

5 pts   
Total Points: 100

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022
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