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Lecture: Psycholinguistics

Professor Dr. Neal R. Norrick



Universitt des Saarlandes

Dept. 4.3: English Linguistics
SS 2009

1. Introduction
Psycholinguistics = the study of language
and mind
mind versus brain
mind as understanding, senses, spirit, psyche
mind as total of cognitive capacities

Psycholinguistics is:
study of language production & comprehension
reflecting distinction of
competence versus performance
Psycholinguistics versus neighbor disciplines:
Sociolinguistics, Neurolinguistics,
Cognitive Linguistics

2. Biological foundations of speech

2.1 Organs of speech
humans have no specific organs of speech,
but we find specialization for speech in
many parts of system

2.2 Nervous system






but both systems function together in

complex activity, so that brain gets
feedback on effects
nerve development from birth to two years
reflects growth in motor and language skills

special areas of brain for language skills

organization of perception, language
and articulation in the brain:

motor cortex:

2.3 Brain Lateralization

specialization of function in left and right
hemispheres as part of evolutionary
development in brain
still, corpus callosum connects the two

3. Linguistics and mental entities

3.1 Words and concepts

word meaning as mental image

words as signs of concepts, labels for concepts
concepts might be figures, images, models etc
concepts include perceptual and functional

Miller & Johnson-Laird's concept:

3.2 Sounds and phonemes

phonemes as psychologically real entities
abstract phoneme /p/
versus positionally variant allophones:
aspirated [ph] word-initial, as in pill
preglottalized [p] word-final, as in lip
unaspirated [p-] after initial s, as in spill

these allophones are predictable variants

they don't distinguish meanings
ability to distinguish meanings defines
hence: minimal pair test
pill - bill

but experiments show:

words are recognized faster than phonemes
we recognize the letter b and the sound /b/
faster in the word bat than in isolation
words are more salient than phonemes
suprasegmental features are also
psychologically salient

intonation distinguishes statements

and questions
Sally's here. versus Sally's here?
stress focuses on any constituent in questions
Sally gave the new car to Judy today?
can question whether it was Sally (not Suzy),
whether she gave (not loaned) the car,
whether it was the new (not the old) car etc

3.4 Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis sees language and
human cognition as related in non-arbitrary
Sapir 1921, 1929, 1949, Whorf 1950, 1956
proposed a relationship between language,
meaning, culture, and personality, generally
called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The strong version of the hypothesis says

our language determines our perception. We
see the things and processes our language
has names for and ignore or cannot see
what our language doesn't name.
The weak version of the hypothesis says our
language influences our perception. We attend
to the things and processes our language has
names for and tend to ignore or find it difficult to
attend to what our language doesn't name.

Slobin's thinking for speaking notes that any

language system enforces certain choices in
grammar and lexis, no matter how our underlying
thought patterns work,

I like it,
mi piace,
mich friert,
isch hann kalt,

mir gefllt es,

I'm cold,
mir ist kalt,
j'ai froid

If we must always attend to certain distinctions

and ignore others, in speaking and thinking,
shouldn't that influence the way we think?

4. Words in the Mental Lexicon

Mental Lexicon versus dictionary
words accessible via sound, meaning,
related words
Mental Lexicon versus encyclopedia
Encyclopedia contains all kinds of knowledge,
usually unnecessary for normal word use,
e.g. for dog

4.1 Word Association Tests (WATs)

Experiments show:
we recognize concrete words like table
faster than abstract words like trouble
table chair
trouble bad

faster, more consistent

lower, less consistent

WATs also show paradigmatic versus

syntagmatic relations:

apple, pear, banana, plum

apple, red, juicy, eat

in WATs:
adults respond paradigmatically:
pillow bed
children respond syntagmatically:
pillow soft

WATs show faster recognition after

associated words:
we recognize roof faster after house
than after some unrelated word like apple
so Lindsay & Norman (1972) postulate
lexical networks

4.2 Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomena

Thinking on Tip-of-the-Tongue (TOT)
phenomena begins with James (1890)
James speaks of a gap that is intensively
active in consciousness when we try to recall a
forgotten name.
Meringer and Mayer (1895), Fromkin (1973) kept
personal catalogues of error types to gather natural

Brown and McNeill (1966) collected intuitions

on remembering in diary studies, e.g.
unable to recall the name of the street on
which a relative lives,
one of us thought of Congress and
Corinth and Concord
and then looked up the address and
learned that it was Cornish.

Burke et al. (1991) write, When a TOT occurs, a

lexical node in a semantic system becomes
activated, giving access to semantic information
about the target word, but at least some
phonological information remains inaccessible.
Subjects in the TOT state often report that a word
related to the target comes repeatedly and
involuntarily to mind, yielding blockers,interlopers
or persistent alternates, e.g.
sexton or sextet for sextant

Burke et al. (1991) identify a semantic system or

network of nodes connecting concepts
the concept chastity is connected with is a virtue,
take a vow of etc
the concept baker with bake bread get up early
sell cakes knead dough etc

4.3 Discourse, frames, prototypes

Cognitive linguists look at discourse contexts where
words occur, e.g. if, for an item like roof,
The house needs a new roof
Then "house has a roof" is part of discourse frame
Consider also frame effects:
We saw an old house.
The roof was in need of repair.

Consider typical collocations and metaphors:

she has no roof over her head
- for 'no house'
we're finally under one roof
- for 'in the same house
Moreover, Rosch and her co-workers have shown:
some properties are more salient than others
some members of a category are more typical

it may be impossible to define certain words without

e.g. colors, fruits, games etc
instead of: "a fruit is the edible part of a plant etc"
we find: "a fruit is like an apple, a peach or a banana"
word meanings and categories are generally not
defined by features or propositions, but by

Testing for prototypes

A. Ask subjects to identify the most typical bird:

Prototype Effects:

A trout is a typical fish

A tadpole is a kind of a fish
Their daughter is a regular fish

Note: real members don't fit here:

*This trout is a regular fish

5. First Language Acquisition

Natural acquisition with no special learning
critical period resulting from a combination of factors:
development of connections between nerve cells
myelination of nerve cells

lateralization of brain functions

dominance of left hemisphere
corresponding development of motor skills
general cognitive stages of development

5.1 Developmental sketch





first words
recurrent, maintained


Language General
11 5-10 recurrent words first steps,
fulfills requests like: recognizes
bring me the blue ball
pictures in
show me the big red dog
12 5 distinct vowels starts walking
5 distinct consonants

Language General
13 recognizable words
daddy nein ball
climbing furniture
14 imitations: horse, train simple puzzles,
turns book pages
byebye, taktak clock




recognizes own name points to himself:

20+ words
Where's Nicky?


vocabulary explosion climbs stairs

2-word units:
without rail
ducky allgone
Nicky haben



3-word units:
hangs on monkey
Nicky cookie haben bars, points to
eyes, nose, mouth
haben Nicky cookie


verb + particle:
lock up / deck zu
4-word units:
Mami Auto fahren kauft
Inni gute Nacht sagen



Age (months): 24
verb endings: Inni spuckt bisschen
Nicky auch essen
Nicky auch essen, ja?
Nicky auch essen
word-formation: cutter knife
auskleben tear apart

kicks soccer ball,
plays hide-n-seek,
draws details:
ears, tails, wheels


first real narrative:

It was a wooden lamby
and it was on the floor
in a barn
and they took it home
and they washed it
and it wasn't ugly


builds Legos,
draws people
and house
with chimney
and windows

Age (months): 36
voiced th: initial okay in the this etc
medial v in other
voiceless th: initial s in sing
final f in both
vocalizes final l and r
mispronunciations: amimals, cimamon, pasketti

double plurals:
mens, feets, mices
double preterites:
sawed, stooded
regularized preterites:
goed, sitted
reverse word-formations: popcorner, mowgrasser
negation: I see it not, That doll sits not right
questions: What it did? What the lady said?
counting: 1 2 3 4 5 6 20 14 fiveteen 16

Mean Length of Utterance (MLU)

as standard measure of first language
development as opposed to age

5.2 Natural order of acquisition:

5.2.1 "Why mama and papa?
Jakobson's order for phoneme acquisition
in babbling, children produce all kinds of
sounds and sound combinations; many
children produce imitations after babbling
but around age 2, children narrow their sound
repertory and begin to produce sounds of
their language in fixed order

order reflects an attempt to create the clearest

possible set of distinctions at any given point, within
the given physiological limits
this order of acquisition also reveals parallel
between different languages
most salient distinction is between Vowels (V) and
Consonants (C)

Vowels are characteristically open and resonant:

the prototypical V is a
Consonants are characteristically closed and
stops are prototypical Cs
the prototypical stop is p
the prototypical syllable is CV: maximizing the C-V
distinction, a child's first syllable should be pa
given children's tendency to reduplication,
a child's first real word should be papa

after the Cs p and m , the child usually acquires t ,

then the third voiceless stop k and so on:

child moves on to ever larger patterns with

increasing numbers of distinctive features

5.2.2 Order of acquisition for syntax

at first, kids produce:
one-word utterances with holistic meaning
two-word utterances with no fixed word order
three-word utterances without inflections
prepositions or other markers
then they begin to acquire syntax

Brown's (1973) order of acquisition for syntax:


present progressive
irregular past tense
regular past tense

girl playing
ball in water
toys, dishes
went, told
Ann's toys
a dog, the dog
jumped, hugged, wanted


regular 3rd person

irregular 3rd person
contracted auxiliary

she goes, talks, watches

she does, has
be: I am, you are, she is
I'm, you're, she's

order of acquisition as reflecting general learning

strategies and stages of development (Piaget) or
as evidence of innate language acquisition device

5.4 Innateness Debate

Chomsky (1986: 150) writes:
What we "know innately" are the principles of the
various subsystems [phonology, syntax, thematic
structure etc.] of S0 [the initial state of the child's mind]
and the manner of their interaction, and the
parameters associated with these principles. What
we learn are the values of the parameters and the
elements of the periphery (along with the lexicon to
which similar considerations apply).

That is:
We "know innately" as part of Universal Grammar (UG)
that sentences will have noun phrases and verb
phrases in some order, but we have to learn the order.
Chomsky argues children must know innately what
they can not learn by observation.

Poverty of Stimulus Argument (POS):

Some patterns in language are unlearnable from
positive evidence alone (due to the hierarchical
nature of languages)
You are happy.

Are you happy?

possible rules:
1) the first auxiliary verb in the sentence moves
to the front
2) the main auxiliary verb in the sentence moves
to the front

but compare:
The girl who is on the bus is happy.
*Is the girl who __ on the bus is happy?
Is the girl who is on the bus __ happy?
Children don't see sentences like this enough to
decide which rule works but nobody ever chooses
the wrong rule

Grammaticality judgments:
Who do you think Mary knows?
Who do you think that Mary knows?
Who do you think knows Mary?
*Who do you think that knows Mary?
Note translations!

Consider the acquisition of vocabulary:

Websters dictionary:
500,000 words
Average educated persons vocabulary: 40,000 words
(+ another 40,000 proper names, idioms, sayings)
thus: monolingual speakers acquire about 4,000 words
per year or about 10 words every day to age 20

5.5 Slobin's Operating Principles &

Universals of Acquisition
Whether parts of language acquisition are innate or
not, developing kids seem to follow specific strategies
and their acquisition processes reveal universals
Operating Principles
A. Identify word units.
B. Forms of words may be systematically modified.
C. Pay attention to the ends of words.
D. There are elements which encode relations
between words.

Universal 1:
postposed forms learned before preposed
articles before nouns less salient than noun

6. Second Language Acquisition

6.1 Contrastive Analysis
growing out of work by Fries (1945) and Weinreich
(1953) most work on Second Language Acquisition
in the 40's and 50's shared the assumptions of
Contrastive Analysis (Lado 1957)

Contrastive Analysis based on transfer

from Native Language (NL) to Target Language (TL)
or First Language (L1) to Second Language(L2)
shared structures facilitate acquisition
distinct structures cause problems
positive transfer when L1 and L2 share structures
e.g. Det Adj N structure in NP in English
and German
the mean dog - der bse Hund

negative transfer when L1 and L2 have

different structures
e.g. Adv V NP in German versus
Adv NP V in English
Morgen fahren wir nach Hause
Tomorrow we go home
so research in Second Language Acquisition
tended to revolve around comparison of language

Language Acquisition was seen as developing a set

of habits to be practiced in accordance with
Behaviorist Theory
but researchers found errors not predictable by
language differences, and the psycholinguistic
process of language acquisition can't be described
solely in terms of linguistic products

6.2 Approximative Systems and Interlanguage

In the 1960's, linguists rejected Behaviorism and
became interested in mentalistic theories
evidence was mounting for a third system between
L1 and L2
Nemser (1971) recognized an Approximative System
for the learner with features of both L 1 and L2

Selinker (1972) introduced the term Interlanguage

for this individual language system
Interlanguages are highly variable, due to:
limited cognitive attention, given so much to learn
and remember simultaneously
Learners lack of knowledge of rules
simultaneous pull from L1 and L2
they represent transitional stages of development

but L2 tends to fossilize at some stage, due to:

1. Negative transfer from L1
e.g. putting temporal Adv before locative Adv
*They went last week to Berlin.
2. Overgeneralization of L2 rules
e.g. extending progressive pattern to stative verbs
*I'm knowing him a long time

6.3 Error Analysis

concern with interlanguage and errors it contains and
their relation gave rise to research in Error Analysis
1. Researchers first look for idiosyncrasies in
learner's production

Error Analysis ends up as a method of describing

data, but not a psycholinguistic theory of language
Error Analysis loses sight of the whole picture of
developing competence in L2 by focusing on errors;
we could instead equate knowledge of L 2 with
fluency and understandability rather than lack of
or we could instead focus on what learners do right
and test to see if they do it right intuitively

6.4 Innateness, Input, Natural Order of

Acquisition in L2
The Innateness Debate from Child Language Research
carries over to research in Second Language Acquisition
Does the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) work for
L2 as for L1?
If the LAD is at work, there should be a Natural Order of
Acquisition in L2 as in L1.
Could L2 learners simply reset the parameters from L1?

Dulay & Burt (1973) posit natural order of

acquisition in L2 parallel to what Brown (1973)
found for L1
at least learners with the same L1 background go
through the same stages in acquiring L2
1. plural -s on nouns:
the books
2. progressive -ing on verbs: they driving
3. forms of main verb be:
this is London,
she was there


forms of auxiliary be:

articles a and the:
irregular past tenses:
3rd person sing pres -s:
possessive -s:

she's driving
a cat, the dog
went, ate, came
she waits
Sally's truck

6.5 Krashen's Input Hypothesis and

the Monitor Model
Language Acquisition versus Language Learning
subconscious acquisition like children's L1
not affected by correction
not based on formally learned rules

Input Hypothesis
We acquire i + 1, the next rule along the natural order,
by understanding messages containing i + 1.
(a necessary but not sufficient condition for acquisition)
i = current level in phonology, morphology, syntax, lexis

7. Bilingualism
individual bilingualism versus societal bilingualism
Compare: bilingualism versus diglossia (Ferguson)
versus unbalanced

dominant, usually first, native language

weaker, second or foreign language
(second or foreign language for special purpose)

7.4 Two languages in one brain

7.4.1 Types of bilinguals
Weinreich (1953) distinguished three kinds of
A. Coordinate: L1 and L2 acquired
in separate contexts
each system is complete in
person functions as
monolingual in both

B. Compound: L1 and L2 acquired in same context

the two systems are merged
person doesn't function as monolingual in
either community
person may experience interference from
L1 to L2 and from L2 to L1

C. Subordinate: L2 acquired based on L1

only one system
person functions as monolingual only in L 1
person experiences interference only from
L1 to L2
Notice that Weinreichs typology works
only at the lexical level, but bilinguals
may experience interference at all levels
from phonetics up to semantics.

As Paradis (1979, 1985) shows, bilinguals come in

many types
Bilinguals may differ with regard to:
manner of acquisition (formal, informal)
mode of acquisition (oral, written)
method of acquisition
(deductive, inductive, analytic, global)
age of acquisition (during or after critical period)
stage of acquisition
degree of proficiency

frequency and modes of use

language-specific features of L1 & L2
sharing features and rules at various levels

on every linguistic level, structures might be

shared or separate
e.g. if L1 speaker produces L2 perfectly, except for
phonetics, i.e. has lots of interference from L1 to L2
at the level of phonetics, we could model the
situation as follows:

8. Language comprehension
means understanding what we hear and read
comprehension as active search for coherence and
sense based on expectations arising from context,
not a passive item-by-item recording and analysis of
words in a linear sequence.

meaning and real-world expectations play a more

important role than grammar
top-down versus bottom-up processing
Until the age of four, kids interpret a-d the same way;
even adults require longer to respond to c, d:
a. The cat chased the mouse.
b. The mouse was chased by the cat.
c. The mouse chased the cat.
d. The cat was chased by the mouse.

8.1 Comprehension of words

Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP):
separate, simultaneous and parallel processes work
to identify words

by pronunciation: to recognize homophones

leadN and ledV pst
by spelling: to recognize homographs
windN and windV
by grammar:
to recognize smell as noun or verb
while hear can only function as verb
by semantics:
synonyms like little and small
antonyms like little and big
hyponyms like car versus vehicle etc

Bathtub Effect:
recall is best for beginnings and ends of words, like
the head and feet of a person which are visible
though the middle remains submerged in the tub

8.2 Comprehension of sentences

Chomsky proposed Generative Transformational
Grammar (TG) as a model of Competence,
suggesting that psycholinguists should figure out how
Performance could be related to his model
Psycholinguists began to test for transformational

Sentences involving more transformations like

should be harder to comprehend than sentences
involving fewer transformations
processing time should increase for sentences a-e:
a. Judy called the boy.
b. Judy didn't call the boy.
c. The boy was called by Judy.
d. The boy was not called by Judy.
e. Wasn't the boy called by Judy?

They found that negatives were harder to process

than either passives or questions, even though
negation seemed like a simpler transformation
Subjects seemed to have difficulty processing
negatives generally.
Consider the difficulty of:
It's not true that Wednesday never comes
after a day that isn't Tuesday.

Subjects also processed passives more easily than

actives, if the passives made more sense, e.g.
The struggling swimmer rescued the lifeguard.
The struggling swimmer was rescued
by the lifeguard.
Apparently, semantics was more important than
derivational complexity as predicted by TG analysis

Garden Pathing is most obvious when we have to

backtrack after an unexpected switch, as in sentence
a; the addition of this in sentence b, or
a comma, as in sentence c, eliminates the problem
a. Since Jay always jogs a mile
seems like a short distance to him.
b. Since Jay always jogs a mile
this seems like a short distance to him.
c. Since Jay always jogs,
a mile seems like a short distance to him.

Tests revealed other syntactic processing differences.

Right-branching constructions are easy to process:
This is the cat that chased the rat that stole
the cheese that lay in the cupboard.
Here each construction is closed before the next
is added.

But left-branching constructions are difficult.

The rat the cat chased stole the cheese.
Left-branching requires that the listener keep the first
construction open (in short-term memory) while
processing the second. Adding a third makes
processing impossible because of the demands it
places on short-term memory.
The cheese the rat the cat chased stole lay
in the cupboard.

8.3 Comprehension of metaphor

metaphors consist of three parts:
tenor, vehicle, ground
billboards are

warts on the landscape

ground (tertium comparationis) =

'ugly protrusions on some surface'

8.4 Comprehending sentences

Given-New Contract (Clark & Clark 1977):
Listeners expect information in a regular pattern.
Coherent texts generally exhibit a characteristic
information flow:
begin each utterance with given information
then move on to new information

e.g. The ballerina captivated a musician during

her performance.
The one who the ballerina captivated was the
(with the ballerina as given and the rest of the first
sentence as new)
In the second sentence, all the information is given,
except the fact that the musician was a trombonist.
Hearing the first sentence reduces processing time for
the second.

Neue Studiengnge:
on HIS LSF POS - July 01-10, 2009
Alte Studiengnge / ERASMUS / exchange students:
Please write me an email @
(including full name, Matrikelnummer, Studiengang,
information on your requirements
if you do need a Schein)


review of this semesters topics in
todays lecture
additional tutorial session on July 21, 09
during the regular lecture time in the regular
Hrsaal (Matthias Heyne)

Please prepare questions or topics youd like to


Thank you for your participation!