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Initial forays into psycholinguistics were in the philosophical and educational fields, 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 mind-brain processes language, and less so the known processes of social sciences, human development, communication theories, and infant development, among others.


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There are several subdisciplines with non-invasive techniques for studying the neurological workings of the brain. For example: neurolinguistics has become a field in its own right; and developmental psycholinguistics, as a branch of psycholinguistics, concerns itself with a child's ability to learn language.

In seeking to understand the properties of language acquisition, psycholinguistics has roots in debates regarding innate versus acquired behaviors (both in biology and psychology). For some time, the concept of an innate trait was something that was not recognized in studying the psychology of the individual.[4] However, with the redefinition of innateness as time progressed, behaviors considered innate could once again be analyzed as behaviors that interacted with the psychological aspect of an individual. After the diminished popularity of the behaviorist model, ethology reemerged as a leading train of thought within psychology, allowing the subject of language, an innate human behavior, to be examined once more within the scope of psychology.[4]

The theoretical framework for psycholinguistics began to be developed before the end of the 19th century as the "Psychology of Language". The work of Edward Thorndike and Frederic Bartlett laid the foundations of what would come to be known as the science of psycholinguistics. In 1936 Jacob Kantor, a prominent psychologist at the time, used the term "psycholinguistic" as a description within his book An Objective Psychology of Grammar. [5]

However, the term "psycholinguistics" only came into widespread usage in 1946 when Kantor's student Nicholas Pronko published an article entitled "Psycholinguistics: A Review".[6] Pronko's desire was to unify myriad related theoretical approaches under a single name.[5][6] Psycholinguistics was used for the first time to talk about an interdisciplinary science "that could be coherent",[7] as well as being the title of Psycholinguistics: A Survey of Theory and Research Problems, a 1954 book by Charles E. Osgood and Thomas A. Sebeok.[8]

The field of linguistics and psycholinguistics has since been defined by pro-and-con reactions to Chomsky. The view in favor of Chomsky still holds that the human ability to use language (specifically the ability to use recursion) is qualitatively different from any sort of animal ability.[10] This ability may have resulted from a favorable mutation or from an adaptation of skills that originally evolved for other purposes.[citation needed]

Many of the experiments conducted in psycholinguistics, especially early on, are behavioral in nature. In these types of studies, subjects are presented with linguistic stimuli and asked to respond. For example, they may be asked to make a judgment about a word (lexical decision), reproduce the stimulus, or say 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" word later.[22]

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 methodology has advantages and disadvantages for the study of psycholinguistics.[30]

Another unanswered question in psycholinguistics is whether the human ability to use syntax originates from innate mental structures or social interaction, and whether or not 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. It is much more difficult for adults to acquire second languages than it is for infants to learn their first language (infants are able to learn more than one native language easily). Thus, sensitive periods may exist during which language can be learned readily.[35] 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.[36]

Glossa Psycholinguistics publishes contributions to the field of psycholinguistics in the broad sense. Articles in Glossa Psycholinguistics combine empirical and theoretical perspectives to illuminate our understanding of the nature of language. Submissions from all fields and theoretical perspectives on any psycholinguistic topic are appropriate, as are submissions focusing on any level of linguistic analysis (sounds, words, sentences, etc.) or population (adults, children, non-native speakers, etc.). Methods and approaches include experimentation, computational modeling, corpus analyses, cognitive neuroscience and others. Glossa Psycholinguistics publishes methodological articles when those articles make the theoretical implications of the methodological advances clear. Contributions should be of interest to psycholinguists and other scholars interested in language.

To fully understand psycholinguistics, we must begin with its history. Discussions on the psychology of language first began towards the end of the 18th century when psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt, Edward Thorndike, and Frederic Bartlett began studying things like behaviorism, sign language, and memory. Subsequently, they laid the foundations for psycholinguistics as we know it today.

The term psycholinguistics itself is believed to have first appeared in the American psychologist Jacob Robert Kantor's book An Objective Psychology of Grammar (1936). In his book, Kantor suggests that grammar is a psychological phenomenon and that, as of yet, no theory in psychology has been appropriate to understand language. Kantor believed that language and grammar should be studied from an objective psychological point of view, meaning we should see them as a type of human behavior.

As previously mentioned, the application of psycholinguistics can be divided into four main theories: language acquisition, language comprehension, language production, and second language acquisition.

Language comprehension is all about how we take meaning from the words we see and hear, and it is closely related to the field of semantics. Just because we can see or hear language does not mean we understand it. A vital area that psycholinguistics covers is reading comprehension. There are currently three main language comprehension learning theories:

To show an example of psycholinguistics in action, it is best to examine a methodology psycholinguists use. One common and influential methodology used to help understand language processing is the tracking of eye movements.

Our group asks how this feat is achieved, whether it is achieved in the same fashion across languages with varying word order and morphological markers, what are the possible neural encoding mechanisms for richly structured information and how the dynamics of language processing differ in adult native speakers, child and adult language learners, or in atypical learners. Some distinctive features of the Maryland group include its expertise in cross-language research (e.g., recent studies on Japanese, Hindi, Mandarin, Portuguese, Basque, Russian, American Sign Language and Spanish); its use of diverse tools to investigate language-related processes (reading time, eye-movement measures, EEG and MEG measures of millisecond-grain brain activity and fMRI measures of brain localization); and its work involving neuro-computational modeling of language processing and studies of developmental and atypical populations. The rich network of connections between investigators make it feasible to try to seamlessly align insights from formal grammars with findings from psycho/neurolinguistics and computational neuroscience, often in ways that we could not have imagined a few years ago. Research in psycholinguistics at Maryland is not pursued as a separate enterprise, but rather is closely integrated into all research areas of the department and the broader language science community. Weekly research group meetings primarily feature student presentations of in-progress research and typically attract 20-30 people. 041b061a72


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