The Psychology of Language

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9780130266095: The Psychology of Language

A comprehensive survey of classic and cutting edge research, this book shows how people comprehend, produce, and acquire language—and represents how powerful language processes are, and the importance of language in everyday life. It looks at emotional aspects of language processing in social contexts, and demonstrates not just “what language is” but also “what language does.” Chapter topics cover brain and language; speech perception; words and word recognition; sentence processing; speech production; writing and reading processes; figurative speech and thought; language development: phonology, lexicon, grammar, emergence, emotion, and embodiment; language and thought in a social context; applied psycholinguistics; and language delay and disorders. For anyone who uses language—and wants to understand its emotional implications in different social settings.

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It took me two years to write this book. The first year I spent writing the book 1 wanted to write, and the second year I spent writing the book my reviewers wanted to adopt. As anyone who has authored a text knows, writing is an arduous task, painful at times. A textbook cannot be written without some compromises, making decisions about what to include and what to omit. In this text I aimed to cover the classic paradigms and standard issues, but I also wanted to include more than these. I wanted to broaden the scope of psycholinguistics to include more research on the emotional and cultural aspects of language. I wanted to pay closer attention to the idiosyncratic nature of our personal linguistic practices. I wanted to recognize each of us situated in our unique speech communities with our own emotional attachments to words and their meanings. I wanted to pay homage to the foundational studies in psycholinguistics but at the same time invigorate a new generation of students of language with exciting and cutting-edge research. After the second round of revisions, I think I can offer you this text. I breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear from the final round of reviews that students would not find this book boring; in fact, they would probably engage many of the topics very enthusiastically.

By the time I started working on The Psychology of Language, I had spent twenty-five years studying emotional language, offensive language, taboo language, and cultural influences on speech. I have become quite familiar with the process of asking questions about little-studied areas of human communication. As I started outlining this textbook, it was clear that most of the emotional aspects of speech I studied had remained outside of the mainstream of psycholinguistic research. It always bothered me to open new textbooks on language acquisition and see no mention of the fact that children readily acquire and use taboo speech. All of us who have raised children know how disturbing, humorous, frustrating, and problematic this aspect of language development can be. It also bothers me to look in the index of important books like Gernsbacher's Handbook of Psycholinguistics (1994) or Elman et al.'s Rethinking Innateness (1996) and not find an entry for "emotion." Can this be right? Can we really construct a theory of language, develop a way of studying language, without addressing topics like emotion and culture? Can we really understand language acquisition by ignoring its cultural and emotional contexts? I don't think so, and that is one of the reasons why I wrote this book—to include emotion and culture in the outline of traditional language phenomena. In the end, the book aims to offer something familiar to language scholars and something new to both scholars and students.

Part One is designed to parallel other texts in psycholinguistics with respect to scope and outline. The material is similar to that covered in other books, but much of it is unique. Chapter 1 uses traditional material to set the stage for the rest of the text: What is language? Do animals have language? What is the history of psycholinguistics? And so on. Chapter 2 examines the neurological basis for language. It is positioned early in the text to establish the importance of neuroscience in language studies and to introduce the role of emotion in language into the neuroscience literature. Some instructors may not be comfortable with this early emphasis on neuroscience at first glance; however, neuroscience is becoming more prominent in psychology textbooks, and our students must be properly prepared. Chapter 3 takes a fairly traditional journey through the speech perception literature, with one exception: It covers theories of speech perception that are currently motivating research questions rather than outlining all of the models that have emerged historically. Chapter 4 is a long chapter on words and word recognition. The first part covers traditional material on the nature of reference, semantic meaning, and the organization of the mental lexicon. The second part concentrates on recent research on the topic of lexical access. I have included the connectionist theory (Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989), which has been gaining increasing attention in recent years. Since this is a long chapter, some instructors may wish to cover the material in Chapter 4 as two separate topics. Chapter 5 is dedicated to the topic of sentence processing. It is filled with many examples of parsing problems and the sentence processing models that have been developed to account for parsing research phenomena. I have also addressed the issues of individual differences in processing, emotional involvement, and working memory constraints. Chapter 6 covers speech production and uses errors in the production process to suggest the stages of production. This approach is fairly traditional. I have included research on Freudian slips, which has often been avoided, I suggest, because there is no adequate theory to explain them. Another unique feature of this chapter is the inclusion of speech production models that incorporate gestures. Chapter 7 is dedicated to writing and reading processes. I have developed material on the process of writing and the stages of writing that are not generally detailed in psycholinguistics textbooks as they are here. I am convinced that basic and applied research on the writing process will become more important in the future. Writing research needs more thorough attention from students of language and classroom instruction to make progress in this area. The reading section covers research on deaf reading, reading tongue twisters, and Chinese reading processes. I included a connectionist model of reading with traditional models. These first seven chapters are meant to cover the traditional material and lay the foundation for the rest of the text.

Part Two extends beyond traditional topics to include important research on the emotional and social aspects of language use. Chapter 8 addresses the topic of discourse in conversations and narratives. I have drawn on a lot of material from Gernsbacher's influential Handbook (1994) and the work of H. Clark (1996) on conversation. What will be new for many readers here is the material on storytelling, joking, and humor. Chapter 9 provides extensive and up-to-date coverage of figurative speech, including metaphors, irony, idioms, and name-calling. Chapter 10 is the first of two chapters on language development. It concentrates on phonological, lexical, and grammatical development. Chapter 11 is probably the most controversial chapter, covering the topics of emergence, emotion, and embodiment. I look back at the literature demonstrating how a word's affective components are classically conditioned. I look forward to cutting-edge research on less well known concepts such as emergence and embodiment of language because they are helpful in understanding the emotional and cultural aspects of language acquisition. Chapter 12 examines the nature of language and thought, linguistic relativity, bilingualism, and categorical language. Readers will find the material on slang, sex talk, taboo words, and language standards both informative and provocative. Chapter 13 covers what I call applied psycholinguistics—the application of psycholinguistic research to everyday problems and settings. These contexts include classroom instruction, law, forensic linguistics, doctor-patient dialogues, mass communication, and human factors (ergonomics).

The pedagogical features of each chapter are similar to those employed in other textbooks. Each chapter opens with a set of critical thinking questions. These are meant to stimulate inquiry into what lies ahead and to expose the content and structure of the chapter. Students probably will not use these questions unless the instructor develops their pedagogical or functional utility. For example, I use these kinds of questions in review sessions prior to examinations. The content of each chapter is meant to expose central issues on the topic and the experimental methods designed to address those issues. Each chapter contains exercises designed to stimulate interest in the topic at hand. There are also throughout each chapter a number of boxed features in the form of discussion questions, special topics, and review questions. These boxed materials are designed as points of departure that push the reader to integrate the material in the box with text material. Like the critical thinking questions, instructors have to make the material in boxed sections prominent in classroom discussion to persuade students to use and think about them. Each chapter ends with a list of recommended Web sites.

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