Psycholinguistics: what it is, objectives and areas of research

One of the characteristics that most differentiates humans from other species is language, thanks to which humans have been able to evolve significantly over the years. Therefore, the study of language, although complex, has become very important in recent decades.

Psycholinguistics is the branch of psychology which makes it possible to analyze both the process of production and understanding of human language, as well as its acquisition from an early age.

In this article, we will explain what psycholinguistics consists of and we will also examine the areas of research that fall under this branch related to both psychology and linguistics.

    What is psycholinguistics?

    The term psycholinguistics first appeared in 1951 at Cornell University (USA), where a psychology and linguistics study committee was set up, which was then chaired by Charles Osgood, the famous American psychologist known for having developed the scale known as the semantic differential. », Which measures people’s attitudes towards a question, based on the choice of one word or the other, which are the opposite.

    Another pioneer in the field of psycholinguistics was Noam Chomsky, who explained that language should be understood as a systematic process consisting of a series of principles and rules that perform their function at the cognitive level and are responsible for creating sentences in a spoken way. This language specialist said that children are able to learn their mother tongue because they are biologically prepared to do so, this being the universal mechanism for all humans; however, they must also be stimulated by their parents and / or guardians.

    Psycholinguistics is therefore the branch of psychology that deals with how humans process spoken language, that is, how they understand, produce, acquire or even lose the ability to speak.

    At the same time, he studies the cognitive processes that come into play during the processing of spoken language, and it is that psycholinguistics is now considered as a science consolidated within the general framework of cognitive sciences, having a very multidisciplinary character, like us will explain it later. detail later.

    This branch of psychology sits simultaneously between psychology and linguistics, using theories from both fields of knowledge to generate new research to understand the mechanisms underlying psycholinguistics.

    Likewise, psycholinguistics focuses attention on the psychological and neurological factors that influence spoken language, by considering psycholinguistics as a field of experimental study (for example, the study of the process of language acquisition during childhood or the study of the process of learning a second language).

      Objectives of psycholinguistics

      Among the objectives of psycholinguistics and the psychology of language, to know and explain the psychological and neurological processes involved in the process of expression through spoken language, note the following:

      • Understand the brain’s process for deciphering the messages it receives through spoken language.
      • Study the processes involved in language acquisition.
      • Understand the process of producing the language spoken by people.
      • Analyze the processes and structures in the brain that give humans the ability to speak.
      • Study the process of storing information in the brain.
      • Analyze the functional organization of the ability to communicate through language.
      • To study the evolution of language during the developmental stages of childhood.
      • Analyze the thinking of human beings.
      • Analyze writing skills.
      • Perform syntactic and semantic analysis of the language.
      • To study the auditory comprehension of human beings.
      • Analyze verbal expression.

      These are some of the goals of psycholinguistics from which studies and research are conducted in various fields, among which those we will explain in the next section.

      Areas of research in psycholinguistics

      Below we will briefly explain the main areas of research of specialists in the field of psycholinguistics.

      1. Production of spoken language

      This field of psycholinguistics is in charge of study and understand the underlying processes that allow humans to produce language (for example, the way in which information intended to express someone through language is transformed into acoustic waves).

        2. Understanding of the spoken language

        In this area, the aim is to understand how an acoustic signal can be interpreted as a language spoken by the person or group of people who received this message by ear.

        3. Language acquisition process

        This area is responsible for studying and analyzing how a child learns a series of skills that enable him or her to acquire the ability to speak along different phases.

          4. Disturbance or disturbance affecting the production and / or comprehension of language

          It is the field of psycholinguistics responsible for studying the various disturbances of the brain which can cause certain difficulties of expression and / or comprehension of language (for example, Wernicke’s aphasia and Broca’s aphasia).

          5. Study of thought and language

          This field is responsible for studying the interrelation between thought and language, which allows a person, among other functions, think before you speak or mentally analyze certain sentences you have heard. This allows you to develop a series of arguments on a particular topic or to express your own ideas.

            6. Neurocognition

            It is the field of psycholinguistics which is in charge of study and understand the different areas of the brain involved in both language production and understanding (For example, today we know that the drill area is a section of the human brain that is involved in the production of language).

            As we can see, psycholinguistics, through the different fields of research, is responsible for carrying out a fairly complete and exhaustive analysis of the language of people, which is why it turns out to be a very important field within scientific research. and, in particular, psychology.

              Relationship with other scientific fields

              As we have seen, psycholinguistics is closely related to other fields such as psychology, linguistics and neuroscience. That is why we will briefly explain its relation to some.

              1. Psycholinguistics and linguistics

              Psycholinguistics and linguistics have always been closely linked from their origins, both falling within the paradigm of information processing; and this is because these two fields have assumed two complementary approaches.

              Psycholinguistic researchers aim to study cognitive processes and mental representations, while linguistics researchers are tasked with studying and understanding how to characterize the grammatical rules of language and the propositional forms they use in natural language.

              When it comes to understanding human language acquisition, pure linguists are tasked with developing hypotheses to understand the initial state consistent with the ability to learn language, while at the same time Linguistic psychologists instead focus on the cognitive mechanisms that make this learning possible., and therefore, it is essential that they understand both the structure of natural language and, for example, the abilities of human beings to process information in the mind.

              It should be noted that there are several currents in the study of language, both in psycholinguistics and in linguistics, which use different approaches.

                2. Psycholinguistics i neuroscience

                There is a close relationship between psycholinguistics and neuroscience, as one of the most important goals for psycholinguists is to study for knowledge and understanding of information processing in the human brain. And it is that the processes which make it possible to understand and produce language are born thanks to the functioning of the brain. So, to perform a thorough analysis of language production and processing, it is necessary to know the underlying brain mechanisms.

                An example is that there are many studies that have shown that there are certain areas of the left hemisphere that are closely related to the processing of information conveyed by language (for example, Wernicke’s area is the main area of the brain in charge of the process of understanding language, and the Broca region is the one that specializes in the production of language).

                Bibliographical references

                • Careers, M. (1997). Discovery and language processing. Madrid: Editorial Trotta.
                • Silva, O. (2005). Where is psycholinguistics going? Form and function, 18, pp. 229-249.
                • UNITE: The University on the Internet (February 15, 2021). Psycholinguistics or psychology of language, what does it consist of? International University of La Rioja.

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