Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, comprehend and produce language. The discipline is mainly concerned with the mechanisms in which languages are processed and represented in the brain. Initial forays into psycholinguistics were largely philosophical or educational schools of thought, due mainly to their location in departments other than applied sciences (e.g., cohesive data on how the human brain functioned). Modern research makes use of biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, linguistics, and information science to study how the brain processes language, and less so the known processes of social sciences, human development, communication theories and infant development, among others. There are a number of subdisciplines with non-invasive techniques for studying the neurological workings of the brain; for example, neurolinguistics has become a field in its own right. Psycholinguistics has roots in education and philosophy, and covers the "cognitive processes" that make it possible to generate a grammatical and meaningful sentence out of vocabulary and grammatical structures, as well as the processes that make it possible to understand utterances, words, text, etc. Developmental psycholinguistics studies children's ability to learn language.
1 Origin of term 2 Areas of study 3 Theories
4.1 Behavioral tasks
5 Issues and areas of research 6 See also 7 References 8 Further reading 9 External links
Origin of term
The term psycholinguistics was coined in 1936 by Jacob Robert Kantor
in his book An Objective
Phonetics and phonology are concerned with the study of speech sounds.
Within psycholinguistics, research focuses on how the brain processes
and understands these sounds.
Morphology is the study of word structures, especially the
relationships between related words (such as dog and dogs) and the
formation of words based on rules (such as plural formation).
Syntax is the study of the patterns which dictate how words are
combined to form sentences.
Semantics deals with the meaning of words and sentences. Where syntax
is concerned with the formal structure of sentences, semantics deals
with the actual meaning of sentences.
A researcher interested in language comprehension may study word
recognition during reading to examine the processes involved in the
extraction of orthographic, morphological, phonological, and semantic
information from patterns in printed text. A researcher interested in
language production might study how words are prepared to be spoken
starting from the conceptual or semantic level. Developmental
psycholinguists study infants' and children's ability to learn and
In this section, some influential theories are discussed for each of
the fundamental questions listed in the section above.
Speech is planned in advance: speech errors like substitution and exchanges show that one does not plan his/her entire sentence before s/he speaks. Rather, their language faculty is constantly tapped during the speech production process. This is accounted for by the limitation of the working memory. In particular, errors involving exchanges imply that one plans ahead in their sentence but only about significant ideas (e.g. the words that constitute the core meaning) and only to a certain extent of the sentence. Lexicon is organized semantically and phonologically: substitution and pronunciation errors show that lexicon is organized not only by its meaning, but also its form. Morphologically complex words are assembled: errors involving blending within a word reflect that there seems to be a rule governing the construction of words in production (and also likely in mental lexicon). In other words, speakers generate the morphologically complex words by merging morphemes rather than retrieving them as chunks.
It is useful to differentiate between three separate phases of
production: conceptualization "(determining what to say), formulation
(translating the intention to say something into linguistic form), and
execution (the detailed articulatory planning and articulation
itself)." Most psycholinguistic research has largely concerned
itself with the study for formulation as the phase of
conceptualization largely remains an elusive and mysterious period of
For models of speech production, see Psycholinguistics/Models of
Many of the experiments conducted in psycholinguistics, especially
earlier on, are behavioral in nature. In these types of studies,
subjects are presented with linguistic stimuli and asked to perform an
action. For example, they may be asked to make a judgment about a word
(lexical decision), reproduce the stimulus, or name a visually
presented word aloud. Reaction times to respond to the stimuli
(usually on the order of milliseconds) and proportion of correct
responses are the most often employed measures of performance in
behavioral tasks. Such experiments often take advantage of priming
effects, whereby a "priming" word or phrase appearing in the
experiment can speed up the lexical decision for a related "target"
As an example of how behavioral methods can be used in
psycholinguistics research, Fischler (1977) investigated word encoding
using the lexical decision task. He asked participants to make
decisions about whether two strings of letters were English words.
Sometimes the strings would be actual English words requiring a "yes"
response, and other times they would be nonwords requiring a "no"
response. A subset of the licit words were related semantically (e.g.,
cat-dog) while others were unrelated (e.g., bread-stem). Fischler
found that related word pairs were responded to faster when compared
to unrelated word pairs. This facilitation suggests that semantic
relatedness can facilitate word encoding.
Recently, eye tracking has been used to study online language
processing. Beginning with Rayner (1978) the importance and
informativity of eye-movements during reading was established. Later,
Tanenhaus et al. (1995) used the visual-world paradigm to study
the cognitive processes related to spoken language. Assuming that eye
movements are closely linked to the current focus of attention,
language processing can be studied by monitoring eye movements while a
subject is presented auditorily with linguistic input.
Substitutions (phoneme and lexical) – replacing a sound with an unrelated sound, or a word with an antonym, and saying "verbal outfit" instead of "verbal output", or "He rode his bike tomorrow" instead of "...yesterday", respectively, Blends – mixing two synonyms together and saying "my stummy hurts" in place of either "stomach" or "tummy", Exchanges (phoneme [a.k.a. Spoonerisms] and morpheme) – swapping two onset sounds or two root words, and saying "You hissed my mystery lectures" instead of "You missed my history lectures", or "They're Turking talkish" instead of "They're talking Turkish", respectively, Morpheme shifts – moving a function morpheme such as "-ly" or "-ed" to a different word and saying "easy enoughly" instead of "easily enough", Perseveration – continuing to start a word with a sound that was in the utterance previously and saying "John gave the goy a ball" instead of "John gave the boy a ball", and Anticipation – replacing a sound with one that is coming up later in the utterance and saying "She drank a cot cup of tea" instead of "She drank a hot cup of tea."
Speech errors will usually occur in the stages that involve lexical, morpheme, or phoneme encoding, and usually not the first step of semantic encoding. This can be credited to how a speaker is still conjuring the idea of what to say, and unless he changes his mind, can not be mistaken in what he wanted to say. Neuroimaging Main article: Neurolinguistics Until the recent advent of non-invasive medical techniques, brain surgery was the preferred way for language researchers to discover how language works in the brain. For example, severing the corpus callosum (the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) was at one time a treatment for some forms of epilepsy. Researchers could then study the ways in which the comprehension and production of language were affected by such drastic surgery. Where an illness made brain surgery necessary, language researchers had an opportunity to pursue their research. Newer, non-invasive techniques now include brain imaging by positron emission tomography (PET); functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); event-related potentials (ERPs) in electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG); and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Brain imaging techniques vary in their spatial and temporal resolutions (fMRI has a resolution of a few thousand neurons per pixel, and ERP has millisecond accuracy). Each type of methodology presents a set of advantages and disadvantages for studying a particular problem in psycholinguistics. Computational modeling Computational modeling, such as the DRC model of reading and word recognition proposed by Max Coltheart and colleagues, is another methodology and refers to the practice of setting up cognitive models in the form of executable computer programs. Such programs are useful because they require theorists to be explicit in their hypotheses and because they can be used to generate accurate predictions for theoretical models that are so complex that they render discursive analysis unreliable. Another example of computational modeling is McClelland and Elman's TRACE model of speech perception. Issues and areas of research Psycholinguistics is concerned with the nature of the computations and processes that the brain undergoes to comprehend and produce language. For example, the cohort model seeks to describe how words are retrieved from the mental lexicon when an individual hears or sees linguistic input. Recent research using new non-invasive imaging techniques seeks to shed light on just where certain language processes occur in the brain. There are a number of unanswered questions in psycholinguistics, such as whether the human ability to use syntax is based on innate mental structures or emerges from interaction with other humans, and whether some animals can be taught the syntax of human language. Two other major subfields of psycholinguistics investigate first language acquisition, the process by which infants acquire language, and second language acquisition. In addition, it is much more difficult for adults to acquire second languages than it is for infants to learn their first language (bilingual infants are able to learn both of their native languages easily). Thus, sensitive periods may exist during which language can be learned readily. A great deal of research in psycholinguistics focuses on how this ability develops and diminishes over time. It also seems to be the case that the more languages one knows, the easier it is to learn more. The field of aphasiology deals with language deficits that arise because of brain damage. Studies in aphasiology can both offer advances in therapy for individuals suffering from aphasia, and further insight into how the brain processes language. See also
^ Nordquist, Richard. "psycho-linguistics." ThoughtCo, Apr. 25, 2017,
^ Pronko, N. H. (1946).
A short list of books that deal with psycholinguistics, written in language accessible to the non-expert, includes:
Belyanin V.P. Foundations of Psycholinguistic Diagnostics (Models of
the World). Moscow, 2000 (in Russian)
Chomsky, Noam. (2000) New Horizons in the Study of
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