Saturday, August 3, 2013

Intro to Linguistics: Psycholinguistics

Today we're going to take a brief look at the linguistic field known as psycholinguistics. The psycho in this term doesn't mean "crazy", unfortunately. Instead, it comes from an Ancient Greek word meaning "soul" and "mind". Psycholinguistic study focuses on the brain in relation to language, to put it simply.

Due to its wide scope, psycholinguistics is a combination of many different scientific disciplines. These include biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, speech pathology, psychology, and of course, many linguistic fields. For example, phonetics and phonology are integral to research on how the brain processes speech sounds. 

You may be wondering, given that long list of scientific fields, what exactly it is that psycholinguists study. The majority of their research is focused on four main areas:

We reckon this wombat is a fan of Universal Grammar.
Language acquisition is focused on how language is acquired, unsurprisingly. In particular, this term generally refers to how children acquire language from birth. Some say it is a taught behavior, while others, most prominently Noam Chomsky, argue that everyone is born with the ability to learn grammar due to how their brain is wired, and that language is acquired innately.

Second language acquisition is similar, but deals with how adults learn new languages. An important part of pyscholinguistic research is dedicated to studying the "sensitive periods" in the life of a human when language is learned more easily. Children acquire language much more rapidly than adults, but researchers are also trying to pinpoint certain times in life which could prove to be the best times to learn language rapidly and with ease. 

Language production is exactly what it sounds like. Related psycholinguistic study includes things like aphasiology, which looks at how damage to certain parts of the brain can cause language problems.

Language comprehension focuses on how people understand and process language. All kinds of experiments can be done, such providing a subject with linguistic stimuli and then using brain imaging scans from an fMRI to study where certain language processes take place in the brain! It sounds pretty cool if you ask us.