Psycholinguistics area of linguistics concerned with linguistic performance in speech or sign production & comprehension

    Nature of linguistic knowledge:

  • not a set of fixed phrases stored in memory
  • speech chain (brain-to-brain linking)
  • mechanisms allow us to break stream of sounds into linguistic units

Comprehension: How do we “unpack”language that is complex?

Breakdowns reveal how the language processor works.

Speech Signal

acoustic terms: describe sounds’ physical aspects
fundamental frequency
spectrograms (voice-prints)

Try to read the above spectrogram.
See more on reading spectrograms here
Once you learn how to read them you can try the Mystery Spectrogram!Formants of vowels: characteristic patterns of vowels on spectrogram; these are the phonemes of American English

Speech Perception and Comprehension

Segmentation: how to listener perceives sounds as distinct units; the “segmentation problem”
Recognition of speech sounds produced by different speakers in various environments  the “invariance problem”

    Perceptual units:

  • phonemes
  • syllables
  • morphemes
  • words
  • phrases

Factors that affect perception/comprehension:

  • native language (perceptual bias)
  • context (situation or topic)
  • content of one’s mental lexicon (lexical access)
  • ability to analyze syntactically (parse)
  • knowledge of lexical semantics 
  • prosodic aspects of speech (intonation)

Note: webmining can be a way for computers to develop lexical semantics

Comprehension Models and Experimental Studies

Top-down vs. bottom-up processing
Top-down: start with semantic and syntactic information and end with sensory input
Bottom-up: move from acoustical signal to semantic interpretation

Lexical access and Word recognition
Lexical decision experiments: response time is measured to find out how quickly words are recognized
Priming techniques: semantically related words can increase the rate of comprehension of other words
Naming task: shows subjects read words faster than non-words

 William Labov:

The Social Stratification of English in New York City

Chapter III The Social Stratification of /r/ in New York City Department stores

Motivation of study: to test 2 ideas:

  1. the variable /r/ is a social differentiator in all levels of NYC speech
  2. casual and anonymous speech events can be used as basis for a systematic study of language

Careful conversation was used for previous dialect studies but Labov felt more accurate data would come from casual conversation.

Comments on Labov’s method for the department store study?

Chapter IV The Isolation of Contextual Styles

Contexts in which casual language is found:

Extra-interview communication (interruptions and asides)

Personal Narratives

The Language of Life and Death

Analysis of Narrative Structure

Complicating Action

Later version:

  • Abstract (A) – the indication that a narrative is about to start and the speaker wants a listener’s attention.
  • Orientation (O) – the ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘what’ and ‘why of the narrative. This sets the scene and provides further contextual information for the listener.
  • Complicating Action (CA) – the main body providing a range of narrative detail.
  • Resolution (R) – the final events, the ‘rounding off’ to give the narrative closure.
  • Evaluation (E) – additions to the basic story, to highlight attitudes or to command the listener’s attention at important moments.
  • Coda: (C) – a sign that the narrative is complete. This might include a return to the initial time frame before the narrative


Atlas of North American English