LINGUIST List 14.2820

Fri Oct 17 2003

Review: Psycholinguistics: Field (2003)

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  1. Phaedra Royle, Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students

Message 1: Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students

Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 19:11:26 +0000
From: Phaedra Royle <phaedra.roylemail.mcgill.ca>
Subject: Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students

Field, John (2003) Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students,
Routledge, Routledge English Language Introductions.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-1697.html


Phaedra Royle, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill
University.

Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students is an introductory
textbook to the domain of psycholinguistics. The main purpose of
Psycholinguistics is as a classroom text for undergraduates. The text
presents some essential areas of study in psycholinguistics (human
communication, language and the brain, lexical access, language in
exceptional circumstances, etc.) to the uninitiated reader. The book
contains the following additional sections: How to Use this Book,
Contents, Contents Cross-referenced, List of figures, List of Tables,
Acknowledgements, A Key to English Phonemic Symbols, Materials for
Activities, Further Reading, References, and Glossary, in addition to
the main body of the text.

Routledge English Language Introductions are presented as
'flexi-texts' ''in order to promote different study styles.'' The book
is thus divided into four sections (Introduction, Development,
Exploration and Extension) that each cover the main topics of the
text, while approaching them from different angles. Each section is
divided into 12 topics that are cross -referenced across the book
sections. For example, part A9 (Introduction) of the book addresses
key issues in listening, part B9 (Development) provides data on
categorical perception, part C9 (Exploration) adds further data based
on listening in real time and part D9 (Extension) is an abridged
version of an article by Ann Cutler and Sally Butterfield entitled
'Rhythmic cues to speech segmentation: Evidence from juncture
misperceptions' (1992). The book can thus either be read from
beginning to end, in a traditional fashion, or read across
topics. Each section of Psycholinguistics also contains activities
that can be used by students to bring newly acquired ideas to another
level. These activities are presented, in the Introduction section, in
the form of questions, asking the reader to relate what they have just
read to a previous concept. In the Development and Exploration
sections, they are presented as design questions, based on
experiments, stimuli, and so on. In addition, the Exploration section
presents 'Experimental tasks' and 'Essay, further study' sub-sections,
encouraging students to go beyond what they have just learned and to
apply their new knowledge to experimental design and to theoretical
aspects of psycholinguistics. Finally, the Extension sections contain
activities encouraging thoughtful reading and a glossary at the end of
each text. Additional material such as 'A note to statistics in
psycholinguistics' has also been added, in order to make reading more
effective.

This is the first time I have encountered a 'flexi-text' book and I
was initially intrigued. I find the formula quite attractive, but I
still found a number of drawbacks in the design. One that could easily
be repaired it that it is not always clear which topic is being
addressed. One way to resolve this issue would be to indicate the
topic on each page. For now, only the main section is noted (e.g. D)
without reference to the topic (e.g. D4), except on the first page of
the subsection. This makes it more difficult to use the book across
topics or when flipping back and forth through the text, following
cross-references to different sub-sections. I cannot help wondering if
this particular structure would be a strong impediment for someone
with dyslexia trying to read the book. (It happens. I only have two
years teaching experience and I have already had one student with this
learning disability).

Another potential problem with this type of structure is that
information will either be repeated across different sections, or it
will be inconsistent. I found that, in general the book was not
repetitive, however, I did notice that there were ways of presenting
information that would probably cause confusion in a student with
little knowledge of the field. For example, in section A12, learning
language in exceptional circumstances, there is a discussion of
different types of dyslexia where it is mentioned that ''[s]ome
dyslexics appear to suffer from a phonological deficit -- they have
problems in guessing the spelling of non-words. Others show signs of
'whole word' deficit and cannot recall the spellings of unusual
words.'' (p.43) In the related Development section, B12, when
discussion reading acquisition stages, it is stated that '' [s]ome
dyslexics (*surface dyslexics*) experience problems at this
[whole-word] stage ... especially with spellings which permit of two
interpretations.'' (p.89) No effort is made to link the notions a)
problems with non-words, b) whole-word access and, c) surface
dyslexia. Also, I think the technical term *surface dyslexic* should
have been introduced and defined in the Introduction section, in order
to avoid confusion from the offset. Finally, because there is so much
cross-referencing throughout the book, it could be difficult to follow
a discussion on a specific topic. The potential for editing errors is
large. An error was noted on p. 43 where a reference was made to the
same page (p. 43) instead of the following one, which it should have
been. Another problem found was referring to non-existent bullets
''... two topics which fall under d above...'' (p.3, 'd' does not
exist). Typos were also found. This seems to indicate that a bit more
effort should have been put into editing this book.

I would also add that I find the book a bit thin. Discussion of basic
concepts is very perfunctory. The domain of study of psycholinguistics
is wide and interdisciplinary. It seems to me that some additional
topics could have been incorporated into the book without making it
unmanageable, since it is quite short. Some possible areas where
fruitful study has been ongoing would be: morphological structure
(frequency of certain structures in a given language, transparency --
phonological or semantic -- of the process, default rules, etc.),
language acquisition, semantics (ambiguity, idioms, etc.),
cross-linguistic issues other than writing system effects, already in
the text (effects of different linguistic structures on processing,
morphological richness, etc.), and bilingualism (bilingual versus
monolingual activation, homographs, language dominance, etc.). Field
notes that he did not address language acquisition in the book because
this topic would merit a whole volume in itself, but this argument is
valid for any area of psycholinguistics and is thus moot.

Despite these drawbacks, the potential this book offers seems
important. One problem I have encountered, when developing syllabi
for psycholinguistics classes, is that the textbooks tend to be full
of facts and data but don't address how the data speaks to theoretical
models of language processing and representation. In addition, books
rarely address the issue of experimental design. The only book that I
have found that does discuss experimental evidence quite thoroughly is
Harley's Psychology of Language (2001). However, I believe that the
density of information in Harley's book is too much for a 3-credit
undergraduate course in psycholinguistics. Field has thus managed to
create a text for students with no prior knowledge in the field, while
allowing for the book to go beyond the simple statement of data and
experimental results, as well as providing an overview of theoretical
implications and models. The book also shows potential as a graduate
course primer, to be supplemented with more in-depth articles on
aspects of processing not covered in the text.

Another problem I have encountered in teaching psycholinguistics to
future clinicians and researchers, in speech and language disorders
programs, is that students in these programs typically have largely
varied backgrounds in linguistics and psycholinguistics. This book
allows for different learning levels, as it covers going over the
basic concepts, as well as expanding to experimental design,
interpretation of results, and more advanced theoretical discussions
of the pros and cons of different models of language processing and
representation. The balance struck by Field in this book is
refreshing, to say the least.

REFERENCES

Ann Cutler and Sally Butterfield (1992) Rhythmic cues to speech
segmentation: Evidence from juncture misperceptions. Journal of Memory
and Language, 31: 218-38.

Harley, Trevor. (2001) The Psychology of Language: From Data to Theory
(2nd Edition). New York: Taylor and Francis.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Universit´┐Ż de
Montr´┐Żal. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics, language disorders
(Specific Language Impairment), language acquisition and
morphology. Her thesis investigated lexical access in
language-impaired French-speaking adolescents and adults. She is
presently carrying out postdoctoral research on early language
acquisition in French-speaking children with and without language
delay, at McGill University, in the School of Communication Sciences
and Disorders.
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