Language Processing in Spanish

Language Processing in Spanish

Language Processing in Spanish

Language Processing in Spanish


This book presents a set of contributions to the current flow of psycholinguistic research, with new and challenging data gathered from Spanish that may illuminate issues about the generality of language processing models. Although it is possible to find a considerable amount of papers on psycholinguistic research with the Spanish language published in English-speaking journals, unfortunately, the scientific community does not have access to an overview of psycholinguistics in Spain. This book overcomes these limitations because it brings together state-of-the-art descriptions of the research and theory of the different subareas of psycholinguistics currently being studied in Spain.

Spanish, the third most widely-used language in the world, differs from English in a number of important respects. Since English has been predominant in psycholinguistic research, contrasting properties of Spanish may help to test the generality of language processing mechanisms and to refine their description. The set of contrasting features considered in this book includes acoustical and syllabic transparency, shallow orthography, a much richer morphology, flexibility in word order, less variability in intonational contours, and the existence of null pronominal subjects for inflected verbs. There are also interesting contrasts in the frequency of different linguistic units, whose impact on language processing is also evaluated. One of the main lines of argument throughout this book deals with the tension between universality and variation as a way of characterizing the functioning of language capacities and processes.

The variety of topics covered by this book ranges from one end of the spectrum of language related behavior to the other: speech perception, lexical access in word recognition, relations between phonological and orthographic representations, sentence processing, discourse comprehension, and language production. All chapters focus on questions of general interest within each topic, and in most cases they appeal to one particular feature of the Spanish language that is relevant for a given question. Most chapters show the indisputable importance of crosslinguistic research in psycholinguistics to improve understanding on whether universal cognitive mechanisms and language specific routines underlie the ability of understanding and producing language.


Since the early 1980s, there have been a number of important changes in Spain that bear, among other things, on scientific and academic policies: the number of universities has doubled; research funding has multiplied tenfold, with the creation of graduate scholarships, exchange programs, travel grants, and financial support for laboratory equipment; and the organization of scientific meetings has increased dramatically. Psychology has particularly benefited, as an emerging field that has developed in new university departments and curricula throughout the country. This development has coincided with a general trend within psychology toward the study of the functioning of the cognitive mind. The important role played by psycholinguistics in this enterprise has been reflected in the orientation of a considerable number of Spanish scholars and research groups. A sample of their main contributions to the field is offered in this book. In these introductory remarks, however, we offer a brief account of the process that has made it possible.

The concern about language is not entirely new among Spanish psychologists. On a smaller scale, and from quite different perspectives, the work of Mariano Yela in Madrid -- on the factorial dimensions of verbal intelligence -- and by Miquel Siguan in Barcelona -- on developmental stages in language acquisition and bilingualism -- prepared the ground during the late 1960s and the 1970s for the new generation. The changes experienced during the 1980s and 1990s provided opportunities for graduate and postdoctoral training in foreign universities; for establishing contacts and cooperative projects with some of the leading groups in psycholinguistic research all over the world; for attending international conferences; and, at home, for setting up laboratories and starting new projects with an even newer generation of graduate students.

Over these years, we were perhaps overengaged in keeping track of what was happening abroad, trying to absorb new ideas and techniques and test them in our language. Until very recently, we were blind to what was happening within our borders, ignoring the work of our closest fellows. We were trapped in an almost paradoxical situation. It was usually in other countries that we started to meet each other (while visiting foreign research centers or attending international conferences) and to discuss our work on Spanish (sometimes, obligated to speak in a foreign language); at the same time, we also began to meet our compatriots through publications in some of the leading journals in the field. We eventually discovered that exchange and collaboration in psycholinguistics might also be pursued with our next-door neighbors.

An initiative was needed to facilitate communication at home. A

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