Student review: Fundamentals of Psycholinguistics

November 4, 2010

Authors: Eva M. Fernandez and Helen Smith Cairns

Edition: First

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Pages: 336

Price: £55.00 and £19.99

ISBN 9781405191524 and 1470

Psycholinguists are proud of their rather edgy-sounding job title, and rightly so since they are cast with explaining one of the most remarkable human abilities. The psychology of language is a huge field and Fundamentals of Psycholinguistics boldly attempts to give an overview in just eight chapters, covering the biological basis of language, first- and second-language acquisition, speech production and perception, and syntactic, morphological and discourse processing.

Eva Fernandez and Helen Smith Cairns open with an examination of the basics of experimental psycholinguistics.

Put simply, they lay out the phenomena of language in the mind. In doing so, the reader is compelled to read on for evidence of the mechanisms outlined.

Assuming little knowledge of linguistics, the book swiftly debunks potential misconceptions, eg, the influence of language training for children, prescriptivism versus descriptivism and the perceived superiority of certain language varieties over others.

The structural discussions of phonology, morphology and syntax are essential precursors to sections on their processing; these discussions could be used as introductory or consolidatory reading for students of general linguistics and specialist psycholinguists alike. The novice linguist may be confronted with a lot of new terminology at times, but the authors ease the learning curve with glosses and contextual examples.

Theoretically, the book is loyal to nativist approaches to language acquisition and processing, although other schools are acknowledged. Cross-camp controversies are gently alluded to ("Healthy fields always contain controversy", they observe at one point), but not explored. The reliance on Universal Grammar as the underlying mechanism for language learning is frustrating at times - some discussion of other perspectives (eg, language as a learned system grounded in statistical regularities) would have provided a more balanced picture.

The strengths of the book are many: its attention to monolingual and bilingual contexts, its clear explanation of methodology, and its selection of key illustrative studies. Within the biological basis chapter, the overview of early anatomical evidence to recent neuroimaging data gives a sharp sense of the development of the field.

I was inspired to get into the lab and start my own research. The extensive discussion of research methodology, findings and implications gives an accurate picture of how psycholinguists work, and explanations arm the reader with the skills required to begin research, including project planning and interpretation of results.

Who is it for? Linguistics and psychology undergraduates, and master's students new to the field.

Presentation: Generic, with study questions after each chapter and an appendix on experimental design.

Would you recommend it? Yes. It works well as an introduction to the field, as conversion from linguistics to psychology (or vice versa), or as a refresher for specialist researchers.

Recommended

Researching English Language: A Resource Book for Students

Author: Alison Sealey

Edition: First

Publisher: Routledge/Taylor and Francis

Pages: 2

Price: £17.99

ISBN 9780415468985

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