Straight-talking style clearly for beginners

November 26, 2004

This is a good reference text, clearly explained, in a style that is succinct and accessible. It would be helpful to students of psychology and linguistics, and I would recommend it to anyone beginning to study these fields. The author’s use of a friendly tone to describe complex concepts lucidly but without excessive detail is pitched exactly right.

John Field covers relevant concepts from cognitive psychology as well as from psycholinguistics, outlining and explaining them with real feeling for their core meanings. Unfortunately, the text reflects a version of linguistics that is deeply ethnocentric and mainly asocial and acultural.

To be fair, this is not all the author’s fault. This type of text needs to cover what is being taught to introductory students of psycholinguistics. But such texts also include a certain amount of selection, and students should be aware of the social underpinnings of linguistic processes. Field’s description of Vygotsky’s work, for example, is clear and relevant, yet it makes no mention of his insight into the origin of language in the infant’s need to communicate. Without this insight, the rest makes little sense.

While there is comprehensive (and commendably clear) description of models based on computer analogy, few entries deal with social or cultural dynamics in psycholinguistics. There are no entries for accent, culture, dialect, intentionality, motivation, semantics or social representation. The overall picture is skewed towards an idealistic perspective with little validity in the real world.

We process written text very differently as disconnected words or paragraphs from the way we read a story or a description of something we are interested in. Students should be aware of just what this book could and could not help them to understand.

Nicky Hayes is visiting lecturer in psychology, Bradford University.

Psycholinguistics: The Key Concepts. First edition

Author - John Field
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 366
Price - £50.00 and £14.99
ISBN - 0 415 25890 1 and 25891 X

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