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Psycholinguistics has not historically been an easy area to study. It has its 'linguistic psychology' branch, where discussion is often closely linked to details of Chomskyan theory. And it has its 'psychology of language' branch which sometimes demands a background in cognitive psychology. Then there are the highly technical contributions of those who work in Artificial Intelligence and in neurolinguistics. Small wonder that aspiring students sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by jargon and deterred by the kind of densely-written prose, rich in cross-references, which scientists and social scientists favour when they are writing in specialist journals.

The aim of Psycholinguistics is to make psycholinguistic theory accessible to the general student. A background in basic linguistics is an advantage but is not a necessity; no prior knowledge of psychology is assumed. Terminology is introduced gradually and explained with care. Background principles are embodied in concrete examples and many essential concepts are presented in a 'hands-on' way, with readers invited to reflect on what happens in their own language performance.

The material featured in the book is drawn from the psychological branch of the field. It sheds light on many everyday language processes that we all engage in but tend to take for granted. What precisely goes on when we pick up a book and begin to read it? Or when we listen to the radio? Or write a letter or speak to a friend? How do we store words in our minds? How do we manage to build those words into ideas? The following topics are introduced in Section A of the book and subsequently developed in Sections B, C and D:

1 Introduction to psycholinguistics 2 Is language specific to humans?
3 Language and the brain 4 Vocabulary storage
5 Using vocabulary 6 Language processing
7 Writing processes 8 Reading processes
9 Listening processes 10 Speaking processes
11 Comprehension 12 Language deprivation and disability

The topics have been arranged according to the relative difficulty of the ideas involved. They are also to some extent progressive: for example, you need the framework provided by 'Language processing' in order to understand the models of writing, reading, listening and speaking which are introduced subsequently.

Section A introduces basic concepts for each subject area in a non-technical way. Important terms are highlighted in bold type and explained; and pointers are given to issues that are explored in other sections.

Sections B and C then focus on more specific aspects of the topic. They do so by asking you to analyse data, to engage in discovery tasks, to reflect on the findings of researchers and to evaluate ideas. Very importantly, you are also asked to reflect upon your own experience; after all, you yourself regularly employ most of the processes which are featured. Section C extends the learning experience by proposing a number of experimental tasks which you can carry out for yourself, thus putting to the test some of the effects which have been described. There are suggestions for essay topics, one based on reading which enables you to an explore a particular aspect on your own.

Finally, Section D offers readings from specialist writers. Most are drawn from books; a few are papers from psychology journals. The passages have been abridged, but should give you a flavour of how theory and research are presented in psycholinguistics. A glossary provides guidance on any complex terminology or dense argumentation which may arise.

Each extract in Section D is followed by suggestions for further reading which may be useful to those who want to undertake an in-depth study of the topic. They cover the topic as a whole (including issues raised in Sections A, B and C). An asterisk marks the titles which are likely to afford a good point of departure.

At the end of the book, there is a glossary of all the technical terms used. References are given to the section where each term is first introduced and explained.

[then users need to be able to click on 'more info about psycholinguistics' and see the following copy:]

Psycholinguistics explores the relationship between the human mind and language. It treats the language user as an individual rather than a representative of a society - but an individual whose linguistic performance is determined by the strengths and limitations of the mental apparatus which we all share. Its agenda is to trace similar patterns of linguistic behaviour across large groups of individual speakers of a particular language or of all languages. In this way, we hope to gain insights into the way in which the configuration of the human mind shapes communication - even though the processes involved may be so well established that we are no longer aware of them.

In fact, the notion Language is a product of the human mind gives rise to two interconnected goals, both the concern of Psycholinguistics.
a. to establish an understanding of the processes which underlie the system we call language.
b. to examine language as a product of the human mind and thus as evidence of the way in which human beings organise their thoughts and impose patterns upon their experiences.

Psycholinguistic research falls into six major areas, some of which overlap:
a. Language processing. What precisely goes on when we are listening, speaking, reading and writing? What stages do we go through when engaging in these skills? How do we manage to turn a grammatical structure into a piece of information?
b. Language storage and access. How is vocabulary stored in our mind? How do we manage to find it when we need it? What form do grammar rules take?
c. Comprehension theory. How do we manage to bring world knowledge to bear upon new information that is presented to us? How do we manage to construct a global meaning representation from words that we hear or read?
d. Language and the brain. What neurological activity corresponds to reading or listening? Where does the brain store linguistic knowledge and semantic concepts? What neurological and muscular activity is involved in speech? Can differences in the human brain account for the fact that our species alone has developed language?
e. Language in exceptional circumstances. Why do some infants grow up with language impairments such as dyslexia or stuttering? How does brain damage or age affect language? What is the effect of profound deafness upon language acquisition?
f. First language acquisition. How do infants come to acquire their first language? What stages do they go through in developing syntax, vocabulary and phonology? What evidence is there that we possess an innate faculty for language which enables us to acquire our first language, despite the supposedly poor quality of the input we receive?

Some commentators include second language acquisition in the study of psycholinguistics. However, SLA is best regarded as a different discipline. Its content ranges widely over topics drawn from sociolinguistics, from social psychology and from educational psychology. By contrast, mainstream psycholinguistics bases itself heavily upon a body of theory provided by cognitive psychology. Furthermore, whereas mainstream psycholinguistics uses a limited range of established experimental techniques, studies in second language acquisition tend to be more eclectic in the methods they employ.

The RELI course begins with two topics which fall under d. above: one examines animal language and one examines how language is organised in the brain. These are followed by two explorations of the nature of vocabulary: examining how it is stored in the mind and how it is retrieved. Language processing forms a major part of the book, with five different areas explored. There is special emphasis on the four language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking). The last two topics covered are comprehension theory and special circumstances (c. and e. above).

Psycholinguistics spreads its net wide. It draws on ideas and knowledge from a number of associated areas, such as phonetics, semantics and pure linguistics. There is a constant exchange of information between psycholinguists and those working in neurolinguistics, who study how language is represented in the brain. There are also close links with research in Artificial Intelligence. Indeed, much of the early interest in language processing derived from the AI goals of designing computers that can turn writing into speech and computers that can recognise the human voice. Here, there has been a two-way traffic. AI researchers have drawn upon psychological accounts of how speech is processed; and psycholinguists have used the operations of the computer as a model of how the mind works. Some of the early insights into lexical access (see Section A5), information processing (Section A8) and the representation of long-term knowledge (Section A11) were achieved by drawing analogies with computational processes.

The discipline of psycholinguistics as described here potentially sheds light on a number of associated fields:
* first language education
* medical and physiological problems which affect language
* syntactic structure
* phonology and phonetics
* lexicography
* language learning

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