About the Book - More Info
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
||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
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
[then users need to be able to click on 'more info about psycholinguistics'
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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
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
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
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
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
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
* language learning