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Lecture: Psycholinguistics
Professor Dr. Neal R. Norrick
Universität des Saarlandes
Dept. 4.3: English Linguistics
SS 2009
• website:
script, bibliography,
PowerPoint presentations
• attendance, quiz, certificates/credits
1. Introduction
Psycholinguistics = the study of language
and mind
mind versus brain
• mind as understanding, senses, spirit, psyche
• mind as total of cognitive capacities
• myth of the ghost in the machine
language as communication
language as thought
• thought as silent, internal speech
• language as representation of underlying
Psycholinguistics is:
• either - study of underlying language system (in
• or - study of language production & comprehension
reflecting distinction of
competence versus performance
Psycholinguistics versus neighbor disciplines:
Sociolinguistics, Neurolinguistics,
Cognitive Linguistics
2. Biological foundations of speech
2.1 Organs of speech
humans have no specific organs of speech,
but we find specialization for speech in
many parts of system
• evolution of human physiology (phylogenesis)
• development of children from birth (ontogenesis)
result in contemporary adult human speech
• erect posture frees hands to develop fine motor
• fine motor skills in tool-making lead to brain
• brain development enables symbolic
• erect posture lowers epiglottis and larynx
• larger mouth and lower tongue expand range of
2.2 Nervous system
but both systems function together in
complex activity, so that brain gets
feedback on effects
nerve development from birth to two years
reflects growth in motor and language skills
twenty-fourmonth old
special areas of brain for language skills
organization of perception, language
and articulation in the brain:
motor cortex:
2.3 Brain Lateralization
specialization of function in left and right
hemispheres as part of evolutionary
development in brain
still, corpus callosum connects the two
lateralization of
language functions
in brain:
organization and
•dominance of leftbrain in language
Dichotic Listening:
Dichotic listening
tests have shown a
right ear advantage
in recognizing
linguistic sounds,
while non-verbal
sounds received
through the left ear
are processed faster.
3. Linguistics and mental entities
3.1 Words and concepts
word meaning as mental image
words as signs of concepts, labels for concepts
concepts might be figures, images, models etc
concepts include perceptual and functional
Miller & Johnson-Laird's concept:
3.2 Sounds and phonemes
phonemes as psychologically real entities
abstract phoneme /p/
versus positionally variant allophones:
• aspirated [ph] word-initial, as in pill
• preglottalized [p] word-final, as in lip
• unaspirated [p-] after initial s, as in spill
these allophones are predictable variants
they don't distinguish meanings
ability to distinguish meanings defines
hence: minimal pair test
pill - bill
but experiments show:
words are recognized faster than phonemes
we recognize the letter b and the sound /b/
faster in the word bat than in isolation
words are more salient than phonemes
suprasegmental features are also
psychologically salient
intonation distinguishes statements
and questions
Sally's here. versus Sally's here?
stress focuses on any constituent in questions
Sally gave the new car to Judy today?
• can question whether it was Sally (not Suzy),
• whether she gave (not loaned) the car,
• whether it was the new (not the old) car etc
other salient suprasegmentals are volume
and speed,
they signal speaker attitudes
and emotional states.
3.3 Sentences and propositions
sentences as grammatical representations
of underlying meaning in the form of (logical)
пѓ propositions in language of thought
clarify (logical) relations between words
and sentences, represent entailments,
inferences etc
пѓ sentences following the rules of some
natural language
grammar rules transform underlying
meanings into grammatical sentences of
natural language
so a single underlying logical proposition
has multiple possible representations in any
given natural language, e.g.
the cat is on the mat, the cat is on
top of the mat
the mat is under the cat, the mat is
beneath the cat etc
But where would such a logical language
of propositions come from if not from
communication in a natural language?
But if our language of thought is some acquired
natural language, then the specific
characteristics of that language determine our
patterns of thinking - and this leads to the
Sapir Whorf Hypothesis.
3.4 Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis sees language and
human cognition as related in non-arbitrary
Sapir 1921, 1929, 1949, Whorf 1950, 1956
proposed a relationship between language,
meaning, culture, and personality, generally
called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
The strong version of the hypothesis says
our language determines our perception. We
see the things and processes our language
has names for and ignore or cannot see
what our language doesn't name.
The weak version of the hypothesis says our
language influences our perception. We attend
to the things and processes our language has
names for and tend to ignore or find it difficult to
attend to what our language doesn't name, e.g.
English speakers with only a single word wall
find it difficult to understand and make the
distinctions necessary for choosing Wand
versus Mauer in German.
German and English speakers group together
all kinds of spherical objects with the single
word ball, they would not normally distinguish
the objects categorized in French as ball from
those called ballon.
In French, speakers must attend to
differences in size and determine whether
an object is inflated or not to categorize it as
ball versus ballon.
Also, the grammar of the language we're
speaking at any given time (be it our native
language or not) forces us to think in certain
Slobin's �thinking for speaking’ notes that any
language system enforces certain choices in
grammar and lexis, no matter how our
underlying thought patterns work,
e.g. because of the tense/aspect system of
English, all the following questions are relevant
in talking about an event:
• When did the action take place?
present versus past tense
• Is it completed?
perfective versus simple aspect
• Was it an ongoing process or a momentary
progressive versus simple aspect
• Did it only happen once or does it always
progressive versus simple aspect
But in various languages, the questions below
are important for determining grammatical
forms (word order, cases):
• Did I (as speaker) see the event or just hear about
• Is this statement a fact or just my opinion?
• What kinds of words are typically subjects? And
what kinds objects?
I like it,
mi piace,
mich friert,
isch hann kalt,
mir gefällt es,
I'm cold,
mir ist kalt,
j'ai frois
If we must always attend to certain distinctions
and ignore others, in speaking and thinking,
shouldn't that influence the way we think?
Nevertheless, we manage to translate
between languages and to learn other
languages, so apparently our thought
patterns can extend and adapt.
We can grasp and learn to use words from
other languages, even if they have no
counterpart in our native language, e.g.
blind date
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