Language Comprehension and Production Psychologists have long been interested in language. It was motivated by Chomsky’s work in linguistics, and by his claim that the special properties of language require special mechanisms to handle it. The special feature of language on which Chomsky focused was its productivity. Early psycholinguists described our comprehension and production of language in terms of the rules that were postulated by linguists (Fodor et al. 1974). As the field of psycholinguistics developed, it became clear that theories of sentence comprehension and production cannot be based in any simple way on linguistic theories; psycholinguistic theories must consider the properties of the human mind as well as the structure of the language (Fodor et al. 1974). Language comprehension, basically, is the ability to understand language. However, this ability is much more complex than it seems on the surface. Language comprehension is more complicated than it might at first appear (Mark Ylvisaker 2008). Scovel claimed that understanding language, like producing it, is such an automatic task that it may appear to be a relatively straightforward process (1998: 50). Language comprehension develops along with the brain and is able to be enchanced with the use of gestures. Though it is unknown exactly how early comprehension is fully developed in children, gestures are undoubtedly useful for understanding the language around us. With time, comprehension may be able to be fully understood (Kelly et al. 2009).
Comprehension involves much more than just sounds, letters, and lexical meanings, it also involves the semantics of sentences. Psycholinguists first began to examine the comprehension of sentences by basing their research on the model of sentence grammar originally proposed by Chomsky in the 1950s. In comprehension of sentences is very important Automated Transition Networks (ATNs) which can be used to predict the next word or word sequence in any sentence which is spoken or written. Scovel claims that ATNs have met with limited success, and this particular approach is not very popular, because it seems to be too simple to explain sentence comprehension on the basis of the single process of sequential prediction (1998:65). The easiest for all listeners and readers to make predictions about the meaning of a sentence is garden-pathing. Garden-pathing is such a natural comprehension strategy, we are unaware of it until it is interrupted, as it is unintentionally in poor writing, or intentionally in jokes or psycholinguistic research.” (Scovel 1998: 66).
Scovel claims, “The comprehension of words is much more complex than the processing of phonemes. It’s is indeed a very complex psycholinguistic process and one model that psycholinguists have adopted to account for this complexity is Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP)” (Scovel 1998: 55). The PDP perspective argues that we use several separate processes when we try to understand spoken or written language. Scovel claims, that these processes are used at all levels of linguistic analysis (1998: 55). A clear example of the usefulness of a PDP approach to the comprehension of words is an experience many of us encounter on an almost daily basis, what psychologists term the Tip-Of-the-Tongue (TOT) phenomenon (Scovel 1998). Psycholinguists have studied the TOT phenomenon. They discovered, that suddenly lost word is not always completely forgotten. Parts of the word are often subject to recall and, most commonly, these remembered fragments are the first letter of the first syllable (Scovel 1998).
The processes of speech production fall into three broad areas called conceptualization, formulation, and articulation (Levelt 1989). At the highest level, the processes of conceptualization involve determining what to say. These are sometimes also called message-level processes. The processes of formulation involve translating...
References: Fodor, J., T.G. Bever & M.F Garrett, 1974.The Psychology of Language. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kelly, S., Maris E. & Özyüre A., Two sides of the same coin: speech and gesture mutually interact to enhance comprehension. 6 Feb. 2009. Colgate University, Hamilton.
Levelt, W. J. M. 1989. Speaking: from intention to articulation. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Mark Ylvisaker, Ph.D, available at http://www.projectlearnet.org/tutorials/language_comprehension.html, accessed on April 2008.
Scovel, T. 1998. Psycholinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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