by Chris Kelaher
Psycholinguistics is the scientific combination of psychology and linguistics. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology 2ed (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2015):
Psycholinguistics n. a branch of psychology that employs formal linguistic models to investigate language use and the cognitive processes that accompany it. Developmental psycholinguistics is the formal term for the branch that investigates LANGUAGE ACQUISITION in children. In particular, various models of GENERATIVE GRAMMAR have been used to explain and predict language acquisition in children and the production and comprehension of speech by adults. To this extent, psycholinguistics is a specific discipline, distinguishable from the more general area of psychology of language, which encompasses many other fields and approaches.
Other sources frame the term more broadly, however, locating it within the wider scope of cognitive science. Dictionary.com defines psycholinguistics as “the study of the relationship between language and the cognitive or behavioral characteristics of those who use it.” And in the APA Encyclopedia of Psychology (2000), Maria D. Sera tells us that:
Psycholinguistics is the study of human language processing, involving a range of abilities, from cognition to sensorimotor activity, that are recruited to the service of a complex set of communicative functions. It is related to the traditional academic disciplines of linguistics, psychology, education, anthropology, and philosophy, and particularly the cross-disciplinary areas of speech science, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, neurolinguistics, and language learning, teaching, and rehabilitation.
In his book Psycholinguistics 101 (Springer Publishing Co., 2011), H. Wind Cowles writes: “Psycholinguistics asks the question: How is it that people are able, moment-by-moment, to produce and understand language? …. How do children come to have this ability? How and why is it sometimes impaired after brain damage?”
How widely used is the term “psycholinguistics”? Well, typing the word into the Google search engine produces about 500,000 results. To give you some context, the term “psychotherapy” produces 35.5 million results while “neuroscience” produces over 41 million. So while the term is certainly not a state secret, it does not have the broad currency of many more established concepts within psychology. But it is a field growing in interest and significance, and we are excited to increase our offerings in the field of psycholinguistics.
To that effect, APA Books is collaborating with De Gruyter Mouton, a leading international publisher of linguistics and communication science, on a new book series. Language and the Human Lifespan will feature the best contemporary research in psycholinguistics. This month marks the release of the first title in the series, Bilingualism across the Lifespan: Factors Moderating Language Proficiency, co-edited by University of Alberta psychologist Elena Nicoladis and Simona Montanari, a linguist at Cal State, Los Angeles.
The Language and the Human Lifespan Series will be essential for all who work in or are interested in the porous disciplinary boundaries of psychology and linguistics, drawing on top-flight researchers from both fields. Future titles in the series will cover such topics as autism and language, research methods for studying language acquisition, and the concept of entrenchment—the ongoing reorganization and adaptation of communicative knowledge.