This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
AUTHORS: Dany Byrd and Toben H. Mintz TITLE: Discovering Speech, Words, and Mind PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell YEAR: 2010
Katya Pertsova, Department of Linguistics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
''Discovering speech, words, and mind'' provides a psycholinguistic perspective on the study of language focusing mainly on the issues of speech organization and perception, morphological processing, as well as issues of language and mind. It is written as a textbook for students with little to no experience in linguistics or psychology and it seeks to situate the study of language below the word level within the main findings of psycholinguistics and cognitive neuroscience. Each chapter includes a summary, a short list of suggested readings, boxes with additional information and exercises, and liberal illustrations. There is also an on-line component to the textbook containing supplementary charts, videos, links to YouTube clips, articles, etc.
The volume's first chapter (Human Language as a Scientific Phenomenon) introduces novices to the study of language as a scientific enterprise and as an integral part of cognitive science. This chapter is divided into two parts. In part 1, the authors explain basic standard notions in linguistics such as linguistic competence and mental grammar. They address some preconceptions people have about language and discuss how language is different from and similar to other communication systems. Part 2 focuses on the cognitive science aspect of language models. Here the authors draw important distinctions among the different levels of analysis emphasized by Marr, that is the computational, algorithmic and the implementation levels.
Chapter 2 (Speaking, Sound, and Hearing) reads like a crash-course in introductory phonetics complete with information on the anatomy and acoustics of speech and hearing as well as information on phonetic transcription. This chapter goes into fair detail on topics including the explanation of the source-filter model and the use of sound-waves and spectrograms to analyze sound.
Chapter 3 (Phonetic Diversity in the World's Languages and Diversity Among Dialects of English) is a natural extension of the previous chapter. It focuses on dimensions of phonetic contrast in the world's languages and takes a closer look at phonetic variation across dialects of English. The authors emphasize how everyone speaks a dialect, and that dialectal variation is valuable and informative for language scientists.
Chapter 4 (The Scientific Method and Experimental Design) explains basics of experimental design and analysis. The topics covered here include distinctions between dependent and independent variables, the organizational components of experiments such as conditions, trials, and groups, as well as a discussion of how statistics is used to analyze experimental results.
Chapter 5 (Speech Perception) begins by describing variability in the acoustic signal and how it presents a difficulty for explaining how humans can accurately perceive speech. A motor-theory of speech perception and a cue theory are invoked as possible answers to the variability problem. Next, the authors discuss the phenomenon of categorical perception as it applies to adults, infants, animals and non-speech stimuli such as face recognition. The reader also learns about related psycholinguistic findings such as bottom-up and top-down influences on category boundary shifts and duplex perception. The third section treats word segmentation, summarizing state of the art proposals for how we segment the continuous stream of speech into words and morphemes.
Chapter 6 (Word Recognition) is about accessing the mental lexicon to retrieve words. The authors discuss the top-down influences on word-recognition, such as effects of context and effects coming from speakers' word knowledge (e.g., frequency and neighborhood density effects). In this chapter we also learn about how word recognition can be modeled computationally using an example of the connectionist model TRACE. Predictions of this model and of a rival psycholinguistic model of word recognition, the cohort model, are evaluated based on empirical findings.
Chapter 7 (Phonological Units and Phonological patterning) has a more linguistic bend and discusses the aspect of language generally referred to as phonology. Here, the absence of the standard notion ''phoneme'' is notable. The units of phonological patterning are gestures and features which yield segments, corresponding to the units of phonetic transcription. Other phonological units discussed are syllables and stress feet.
Chapter 8 (Word Form and Function) covers morphological structure, beginning with the notion ''morpheme'' and morphological contrasts. The authors make standard distinctions between open-class and closed-class lexical items as well as bound and free morphemes. They discuss the hierarchical structure of words and ways in which morphological contrasts can be marked cross-linguistically.
Chapter 9 (Sign Languages) briefly surveys sign languages -- more specifically, their history, linguistic structure, and significance for the study of the mind. One of the goals of this chapter is to dispel misconceptions about sign languages still prevalent among the linguistically naïve. Another goal is to show how these languages provide unique insight into the human mind, in particular with respect to questions of innateness (or in authors' words ''internal constraints of the language learner'').
Chapter 10 (Language and the Brain) overviews key phenomena in the cognitive neuroscience of language, such as hemisphere specialization, language areas in the brain, aphasia, and neuroimaging techniques. The authors describe experiments with split-brain patients and dichotic listening studies in support of language lateralization to the left hemisphere. The chapter concludes with a look at how neuroimaging techniques can help us test and revise cognitive/functional models of language processing.
Chapters 11 (Language, Speech, and Hearing Disorders) covers the following disorders: SLI, deafness and hearing loss, voice disorders, apraxia, and stuttering. Discussion of hearing loss takes up most of this chapter, covering the anatomy of hearing loss, reasons for hearing loss, and technology used to overcome it. These themes are not tightly connected to the book's other chapters. What the authors want the reader to take away is that ''research on communication disorders and their treatment and/or management is a compelling area of study.''
Finally, Chapter 12 (Reading and Dyslexia) deals with the human ability to read. The authors begin by exploring possible ways of reading: using the direct access route (direct mapping of written words to meaning) or the orthographic route (the mapping that goes from orthography to phonology first). An overview of some psychological studies suggests that skilled readers use both routes, and that the orthographic route plays an important role for all systems of writing that encode phonology in some way (even in very limited form). Learning how to read crucially depends on the ability to map orthography to phonology. Disruptions in one of these reading routes lead to a reading disorder, dyslexia.
Overall, this book successfully accomplishes its goal of providing a compelling introduction to the body of scientific knowledge on how language (below the word-level) is organized and encoded in the mind. What's most impressive for an introductory text such as this one is the range and sophistication of topics covered. The authors manage to explain complex concepts and experimental studies without making the book too technical or boring. The strength of this textbook is its dual nature: connecting the theoretical and psychological aspects of scientific analysis of language. The tone is serious and expository, but the language is accessible and very clear. One really appealing aspect is that upon introducing a new abstract unit of structure, the authors are quick to explain empirical evidence supporting its existence, or show how it makes the analysis easy or more revealing. This way the student is not asked to just trust the experts (because the actual explanation is too complex, for instance), but rather is given concrete reasons behind why researchers come to the conclusions they do.
This book would make a great supplemental reader for a psycholinguistics course or an introduction to linguistics as a cognitive science course. The introductory chapter and the chapter on experimental design provide a nice framework for understanding how the scientific method is applied in linguistics. These chapters will prove useful to students not only for better understanding the material in the book, but also for doing outside readings and for thinking how to design their own experimental studies. One suggestion I can offer that could encourage students to dig a little deeper would be to include the references to the cited studies at the end of each chapter in addition to further readings. This would also be helpful for the instructor who wanted a quick access to the original literature.
Louis Goldstein writes, in praising this book on the jacket, that it is unique among similar introductory textbooks in providing a detailed look into speech articulation and acoustics. This is true, and the ''speech'' part of the book is arguably most detailed and most strongly linked to the other chapters. It dovetails nicely with the discussion of dialects, problems in speech perception, phonological patterning and hearing disorders. This however creates an impression of a slight imbalance: some chapters seem disjointed while others are connected, some are written at a more introductory level while others cover more advanced material, some of the earlier chapters seem at first to serve as a set-up for later discussions, but this expectation is not fully confirmed throughout the book. Thus, the overall organization of the book could be improved in my opinion. Perhaps a quick fix would be to include an introductory note about the book's purpose and organization to help the reader navigate the text and be prepared for what to expect.
The absence of the notion ''phoneme'' and the focus on segment is surprising in the phonology chapter. It makes one wonder whether the status of a phoneme as a legitimate unit of linguistic analysis is being questioned. Given the author's excellent examples of motivating the existence of mental abstractions, one wonders why they would choose to omit the mental category of sound. After all, the knowledge of a word entails knowledge of what phonemes it consists of, while the segmental and gestural makeup of the word will vary depending on prosodic context, style of pronunciation, and other factors.
My final wish for the book is perhaps not a fair one, given that the authors explicitly restrict their content to ''speech, words, and mind'', however, I can't help but regret the absence of any mention of syntax and semantics in an introductory text that includes a mind-component and that is embedded within a general discussion of language as a critical part of cognitive science.
All in all however, I recommend this textbook for its cogent exposition of important and foundational findings in psycholinguistics and for connecting theoretical and empirical aspects in the study of language in a compelling discussion.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Katya Pertsova is as Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University
of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her interests include morphological theory,
the Mental Lexicon, and computational models of language acquisition.