INSTRUCTOR: Terry Rew-Gottfried
OFFICE HOURS: MTF 1:00-2:00 p.m., or by appointment
The 1960s were watershed years, not only politically, but also scientifically, particularly in the social sciences. Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) Structure of Scientific Revolutions challenged the traditional notions of how scientific theories changed and led scientists and historians to reconsider the nature (or even the possibility) of scientific truth and progress. Even before Kuhn’s landmark book appeared, however, a relatively obscure Dutch press published a book that stood traditional linguistic theory on its head. The innocuous title of Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures (1957) veiled a revolutionary challenge to the dusty dry empiricism of structuralist linguistics, spawned metatheoretical changes in psychology to embrace the notion of innate structures and mental constructs, and led to the establishment of cognitive science as an interdisciplinary enterprise. Way cool. If this wasn’t scientific revolution in progress, what was? Chomsky was hot…and it didn’t hurt that he also preached a radical anarchism in response to the US military intervention in Vietnam.
Like all new approaches in psychology, this was not entirely new. And as Kuhn suggests for scientific revolutions in general, that which was noticed in the new linguistics and psycholinguistics had been observed before, but was now "seen" in an entirely new light. Before Chomsky’s work in the late 1950s, linguists and psychologists often considered their disciplines as only tenuously connected. The variety of human languages, which was once seen as evidence for the great mutability and versatility of human behavior, is now seen to demonstrate a great universal grammar, common to all humans. Children’s halting attempts to acquire their first language were once seen as demonstrating the principles of learning and reinforcement, but are now viewed as revealing a language acquisition device and a language "instinct." Psycholinguists today ask questions that have been considered by philosophers and scientists for centuries, but the way we currently understand the relationship between language and thought is only about 40 years old. Modern psycholinguistics is founded in Chomsky’s revolutionary approach to languagethat it is not merely behavior, but that it also reveals human knowledge and mental competence.
Psycholinguistics therefore emphasizes, like cognitive psychology, the mental structures and processes that explain the acquisition, comprehension, and production of language. We will, for example, consider experimental and observational studies of speech perception and production, memory and comprehension of text, cognitive and social rules for conversation, first and second language learning, and the brain structures that make such phenomena possible. Psycholinguistics is also, as the name implies, interdisciplinary. We will, therefore, examine theories and data from other disciplinary perspectivesneuroscience, anthropology, computer science, education, philosophy.
Field, John (2004). Psycholinguistics: The key concepts. London: Routledge.
Pinker, Steven (1999). Words and rules: The ingredients of language. New York: HarperCollins.