The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics

The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics

The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics

The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics

Synopsis

This accessible and concise introduction to psycholinguistics requires no prior knowledge of the subject. Chapter by chapter, Jean Aitchison tackles the basic questions central to the study of psycholinguistics such as:* Is language restricted to humans?* Is there biological evidence for innate language activity?* Exactly how do children learn language?* How do we understand, plan and produce language?She investigates these issues with regard to animal communication, child language and the language of adults and includes in the text full references and helpful suggestions for further reading.This highly successful book has now been substantially revised. In particular Jean Aitchison has taken account of the considerable changes in Chomsky's recent ideas. As a result, the chapters on grammatical innateness, child language acquisition and speech comprehension have been largely rewritten.

Excerpt

Psycholinguistics is sometimes defined as the study of language and the mind. As the name suggests, it is a subject which links psychology and linguistics. The common aim of all who call themselves psycholinguists is to find out about the structures and processes which underlie a human’s ability to speak and understand language. Psycholinguists are not necessarily interested in language interaction between people. They are trying above all to probe into what is happening within the individual.

Both psychologists and linguists are involved in studying psycholinguistics. Both types of people can be classified as social scientists, so in one way their approach is similar. All social scientists work by forming and testing hypotheses. For example, a psycholinguist might hypothesize that the speech of someone who is suffering from a progressive disease of the nervous system will disintegrate in a certain order, perhaps suggesting that the constructions the patient learned most recently will be the first to disappear. This hypothesis will then be tested against data collected from the speech of someone who is brain-damaged. This is where psychologists and linguists differ. Psychologists test their hypotheses mainly by means of carefully controlled experiments. Linguists, on the other hand, test their hypotheses mainly by checking them against spontaneous utterances. They feel that the rigidity of experimental situations sometimes falsifies the results. Neither way is right or wrong. Provided that each side is sympathetic to and interested in the work of the other, it can be a great advantage to have two approaches to the subject. And when the results of linguists and psychologists coincide, this is a sure sign of progress.

Most introductory books published so far have been written by psychologists. A few have even argued that the name ‘psycholinguistics’ should be restricted to psychological experiments on language. This is an attempt to provide an introduction to the subject from the linguist’s point of view - although inevitably and rightly, it includes accounts of work done by psychologists. It also covers some of the work done by both linguists and psychologists under the broad umbrella label ‘language and mind’. This book does not presuppose any knowledge of linguistics - though for those who become interested in the subject, a number of elementary books are suggested on p. 266.

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