What is Psycholinguistics?

What is Psycholinguistics?

=> Psycholinguistics is a branch of linguistics. Also, it is a branch of cognitive science in general. It studies language & the mind. In other words, it studies the correlation between linguistic behavior & the mental processes thought to underline that linguistic behavior. The mind is the totality of conscious & unconscious mental processes & activities. Psycholinguists are interested in both these mental processes of the mind.


  • Arbitrariness:
  • The acquisition problem.
  • Structure dependence:

 – Three major areas of psycholinguistics:

  • 1. Language learning/acquisition (1st language & 2nd language).
  • 2. Language comprehension & language production.
  • 3. Language & thought. In other words, does our 1st language totally determine our way of thinking? (The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis).

    The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis comes to say that when:

  • a. Language determines the way we think, that’s called “Linguistic
  • b. The distinctions & the categories encoded in the 1st language can’t be found in any other language, that’s called “Linguistic Relativity”. So, we conclude that language does influence the way of thinking but not

– What are the major issues that arise in psycholinguistics?

1. The acquisition problem.

a – Do humans acquire language because they are born equipped with some linguistic ability? Or are they able to learn language because they are highly intelligent creatures who are skilled at solving problems of various kinds? Or could it be a mixture of these two possibilities?

b- The link between language knowledge (competence) & language usage (performance). Linguists, such as Chomsky, often claim to be describing a person’s representation of language knowledge rather than how that knowledge is actually used. So, many formal linguists, especially generative grammarians, are interested in describing this phenomenon.

– How does usage link up with knowledge?
=> Anybody who has learned a language can do three things:

a. Understand sentences.

b. Produce sentences.
c. Store linguistic knowledge.

“a” & “b” fall within language usage, whereas “c” falls within the language

Many pure linguists, like Chomsky, claim to be interested in “c” rather than
“a” & “b”.

GRAMMAR has 2 meanings: grammar 1 refers to the theory of language knowledge, & grammar 2 means abstract knowledge which is always tacit.

ycholinguists are interested in knowing whether the types of grammar proposed by linguists really reflect a person’s internalized knowledge of their language. In other words, how can we evaluate the extent to which the linguistic theory reflects the abstract knowledge that is possessed by native linguists? This is what is called “The Psychological Reality Problem“. Psycholinguists examine these questions by considering 4 types of evidence or data:

1. Animal communication systems.
2. Child language (baby talk in sociolinguistics).
3. The language of normal adults.
4. The speech of aphasics (speech disturbances/disorders).

The link between child language & adult language is seen in the speech of 8 to 14-year-olds. The language of normal adults is linked to that of people with speech disorders by speech errors that occur in the speech of all normal people, yet show certain similarities with speech aphasics.

I. FIRST LANGUAGE ACQUISITION: Fundamental questions.

  • 1. What is it about the human mind that makes it possible to acquire
  • 2. Which aspects of the language program are biologically/genetically
  • 3. What underlies apparent differences between language acquisition in
    children & adults?
  • 4. Is there a critical “period” for language acquisition that distinguishes first & second language acquisition?
  • 5. Are there universal stages in the acquisition of sounds & structures of
    any language?

II. WHAT IS ACQUIRED? The nature of human language.

The design features of human language are the key properties that are found only in human language but are not shared by any other communication systems (Charles F. Hocket)

2. Arbitrariness:

The property of language by which there is, in general, no natural relation between the form of a linguistic expression & what it means. The relation is completely arbitrary.

For example, if we take the word ‘dog’ we see that there is no way to guess the meaning of this word based on how it sounds or how it is shaped. There is nothing in the word ‘dog’ that denotes its meaning.

What is Psycholinguistics?


2. Structure dependence:

(Reliance on internal adherence to the organization) Sentences in language have got internal abstract structure, that is not heard or pronounced but it is nonetheless there. Language makes use of structure-dependent operation which adheres to the organization of sentences into phrases or constituents, which means the adherence of syntactic operations.

In conclusion, a sentence is not a random collection of words, it is a highly structured whole.


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