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UALL2004 PSYCHOLINGUISTICS

1.0 Definition of psycholinguistics

There several ways to define ‘psycholinguistics’. Consider the following definitions and try to define ‘psycholinguistics’ using your own words.

1. Psycholinguistics or Linguistics of psychology is the study of the psychological and neurological factors that enable humans to acquire, use and understand language. 2. ‘Psycholinguistics is the study of how individuals comprehend, produce, and acquire language.’ Carroll (2004)

3. ‘The study of psycholinguistics is part of the field of cognitive science. Cognitive science reflects insights of psychology, linguistics, and, to a lesser extent, fields such as artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and philosophy.’ Carroll (2004) 4. ‘Psycholinguistics is the study of psychological processes involved in language. Psychologists study understanding, producing and remembering, and concerned with listening, reading, speaking, writing and memory for language. They are also interested in how we acquire language, and the way in which it interacts with other psychological systems.’ Harley (2008)

1.2 The nature of human language

Before discussing the nature of human language let us define language. Some features in the definition will help us to understand the nature of language. At the simplest level ‘language’ is a system of symbols and rules that enable use to communicate. Linguists also describe language as having sounds of the language, or meaning of words, or grammar rules to arrange the words. Linguists have assigned words to describe the processes involved in language studies. These words are introduced and brief definitions provided in the table below: * Semantics: the study of meaning

* Syntax: the rules of word order of a language
* Morphology: the study of words and word formation
* Pragmatics: the study of language use
* Phonetics: the study of how sounds are used in the language * Phonology: the study of sounds of a language (It describes the sounds in a language.) * Morphology: smallest unit of meaning

* Inflectional morphology (changes to a word but meaning or syntactic category does not change) * Derivational morphology (changes meaning and syntactic category of words)

Now let us try to understand the nature human language. Language is the tool to express human thought and action. Verbal sounds have no meaning in themselves. They are the media to express or communicate that which is in the thought of the individual. Plato has made clear to us how easy it is to deceive ourselves with words, to labour under an impression that just because we can utter a sound we also necessarily know what we are talking about. We find it simple to define some words and extremely difficult to define others. When providing definition of a word a lot depends on the individual’s experience with the word. Hence the definiteness of a definition of a word is in proportion to the vividness of the experience, its meaning. We easily define table or chair because of our frequent experience with the objects of which the sound is a symbol. We define it in terms of our experience, as an object to write on or sit on. But a definition of terms like truth, or virtue, or honesty, or beauty is more difficult because of their unfamiliarity or complete lack of experience in their abstraction.

How then are the meaning of words developed? What is the relationship between words, things, and action?

Meaning begins as behaviour and culminates as language. There is meaning as behaviour and meaning as language. And meaning as language is the consequence of meaning as behaviour. There can be behaviour without language, but there could be no meaning as language without behaviour. The source of the meaning of words is thus behaviour. The relationship between behaviour and things gives rise to the meaning of words. Meaning is inherent neither in things nor in...
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