Psycholinguistics: What It Is, Objectives And Areas Of Research


One of the characteristics that most differentiates human beings from other species is language, thanks to which human beings have been able to evolve considerably over the years. Therefore, the study of language, while complex, has acquired great relevance in recent decades.

Psycholinguistics is that branch of psychology that allows us to analyze the process of both the production and understanding of human language, as well as its acquisition at an early age.

In this article we will explain what psycholinguistics consists of and we will also see the areas of research that are found within this branch that is linked to both psychology and linguistics.

What is Psycholinguistics?

The appearance of the term psycholinguistics took place in 1951 at Cornell University (United States), where a committee was created for the study of psychology and linguistics, which at that time was chaired by Charles Osgood, the famous American psychologist known for developing the scale known as “semantic differential,” which allows measuring attitudes. of people towards an issue, based on the choice of one word or another, which are at the opposite pole.

Another pioneer in the field of psycholinguistics was Noam Chomsky, who explained that language must be understood as a systematic process composed of a series of principles and rules that fulfill their function at a cognitive level and are responsible for creating spoken sentences. This language scholar stated that children are capable of learning their mother tongue because they are biologically prepared for it, this mechanism being universal for all humans; However, for this it is also necessary that they be stimulated by their parents and/or caregivers.

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Thus, psycholinguistics is the branch of psychology that is responsible for studying the way in which humans process spoken language that is, the way they understand, produce, acquire or even lose the ability to speak.

At the same time, it studies the cognitive processes that come into play when processing spoken language, and psycholinguistics is considered today as a consolidated science within the general framework of cognitive sciences, having a very multidisciplinary character, such as We will explain in greater detail later.

This branch of psychology is located between psychology and linguistics, using theories from both areas of knowledge to generate new research in order to understand the mechanisms underlying psycholinguistics.

Likewise, psycholinguistics focuses attention on both psychological and neurological factors that influence spoken language providing psycholinguistics with consideration as an area of ​​experimental study (e.g., studying the process of language acquisition during childhood or also studying the process of learning a second language).

Objectives of Psycholinguistics

Among the objectives of psycholinguistics and the psychology of language to know and give an explanation of the psychological and neurological processes that intervene in the process of expressing oneself through spoken language, It is worth highlighting the following:

These are some of the objectives of psycholinguistics from which studies and research are carried out in various areas, including those that we will explain in the following section.

Objectives of psycholinguistics

Research areas of Psycholinguistics

Below we will briefly explain what the main areas of research of specialists dedicated to the field of psycholinguistics consist of.

1. Spoken language production

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

2. Understanding spoken language

In this area the objective is to understand the way in which an acoustic signal can be interpreted as language spoken by the person or group of people who have received this message through hearing.

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3. Language acquisition process

This area is responsible for studying and analyzing the way in which a child acquires a series of skills that allow him to acquire the ability to speak throughout different phases.

4. Disturbance or disorders that affect the production and/or understanding of language

It is the area of ​​psycholinguistics that is responsible for studying the different disturbances in the brain that can cause certain difficulties in expressing and/or understanding language (for example, Wernicke’s aphasia and Broca’s aphasia).

5. Study of thought and language

This area is responsible for studying the interrelation between thought and language, which makes it possible for a person to, among other functions, think before speaking or mentally analyze certain phrases you have heard This also allows you to develop a series of arguments regarding a given topic or express your own ideas.

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6. Neurocognition

It is the area of ​​psycholinguistics that is responsible for study and understand the different areas of the brain that are involved in both the production and understanding of language (for example, today we know that the broca area is a section of the human brain that is involved in language production).

As we can see, psycholinguistics, through its different areas of research, is responsible for carrying out a fairly complete and exhaustive analysis of people’s language, which is why it proves to be a very important area within scientific research and, in particular, of psychology.

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Relationship with other areas of science

As we have seen, psycholinguistics is closely related to other areas such as psychology, linguistics and neurosciences. Therefore we will briefly explain its relationship with some of them.

1. Psycholinguistics and linguistics

Psycholinguistics and linguistics have always been closely related since their origins, both being located within the information processing paradigm; These two areas have involved two approaches that complement each other.

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Psycholinguistics scholars have cognitive processes and mental representations as their object of study, while linguistics scholars are responsible for studying and understanding how to characterize the grammatical rules of language and the propositional forms used in the language. natural language.

With respect to understanding language acquisition by humans, pure linguists are responsible for developing hypotheses to understand the initial state that is compatible with the ability to learn language, while Linguistic psychologists focus, rather, on the cognitive mechanisms that make this learning possible and for this, it is essential that they understand both the structure of natural language, and, for example, the capabilities of the human being to be able to process information in the mind.

It should be noted that there are various currents in the study of language, both within psycholinguistics and within linguistics, that use different approaches to this.

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2. Psycholinguistics and neurosciences

There is a close relationship between psycholinguistics and neurosciences, since one of the most important objectives for psycholinguists is the study of knowledge and understanding of information processing in the human brain. And the processes that allow us to understand and also produce language originate thanks to the functioning of the brain. Therefore, To carry out a comprehensive analysis of language production and processing, it is necessary to know the underlying brain mechanisms

An example of this is that there are numerous studies that have revealed that there are some areas of the left hemisphere that are closely related to the processing of information transmitted through language (e.g., Wernicke’s area is the main area of the brain responsible for the process of language comprehension, and Broca’s area is the one that is specialized in language production).