LINGUIST List 28.2945

Thu Jul 06 2017

Review: General Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics: Dronkers, Menn (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <clarelinguistlist.org>


Date: 03-Feb-2017
From: Phaedra Royle <phaedra.royleumontreal.ca>
Subject: Psycholinguistics
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/27/27-1539.html

AUTHOR: Lise Menn
AUTHOR: Nina F. Dronkers
TITLE: Psycholinguistics
SUBTITLE: Introduction and Applications
SERIES TITLE: Second Edition
PUBLISHER: Plural Publishing, Inc.
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Phaedra Royle, Université de Montréal

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

Summary

This book is the second incarnation of Psycholinguistics: Introduction and applications (Menn, 2011), and is authored by Lise Menn with contributions by Nina Dronkers, who has substantially updated a chapter on Brain and language. The book has ten chapters covering Basic linguistic concepts, Brain and Language, Speech Errors, Experimental research in typical and atypical populations, Reading and language acquisition, as well as Psycholinguistics in Testing, Teaching, and Therapy. The book also contains an afterwards on Other Important Areas for Applying Psycholinguistics, a Glossary and an Index. The text is accompanied by a companion website with a Web-based Student Workbook as well as an Instructor's Manual (the previous incarnation was accompanied by a CD-rom for similar purposes). This site provides sound files illustrating the International Phonetic Alphabet, and other (colour) visual and auditory elements supplementing the text, student quizzes and exercises, as well as a teacher’s manual. An interesting aspect of the student workbook is that is contains challenging exercises for those students who wish to go beyond course content.

The chapter on Brains and Language is the one with most major transformations since the last edition; it has been expanded by thirteen pages, adding sections on the following topics: Brain areas for Specialized functions, Structural Connectivity, and Right Brain Implication in Language Processing.

Evaluation

The book is developed as an undergraduate manual for various student populations (speech language pathology, linguistics, psychology or education). The introductory chapter is probably superfluous for linguistics students as it covers the basics of phonetics and phonology, morphology, syntax and pragmatics. It is also mainly useful for English-speaking students, as the main language described in the book is English. However my knowledge of SLP undergrads’ abilities to assimilate theoretical linguistic knowledge leads me to believe that more than a few weeks would need to be spent on phonology and morphology alone in order to understand these concepts fully. Thus I would only use the preliminary chapter as a refresher for non-linguistics students in order to make sure they are up to speed on topics introduced in more in-depth courses.

The approach used by Menn in this manual is to clearly present in layman’s terms (or more scientific when necessary to avoid ambiguity, e.g., she uses the term ‘lemma’ not ‘word’) basic issues pertaining to psycholinguistic processes, grounding her work in experimentally sound data. The data is not necessarily referred to directly, except for examples in the chapters where discussion of experimental data is presented, and the text is kept light, but a large amount of supplementary materials (including links to articles online, scientific videos available on YouTube or other sites, and so on) are available and clearly mentioned in the textbook or on the companion website. Many concrete examples are presented in the manual and on the companion website, and exercises are also included: these help ground the concepts presented in real language use, based on typical and language-disordered populations.

The book covers lots of ground and could be used for a global course in psycholinguistics, or by picking and choosing some chapters for a course focusing more specifically on some topics addressed in the manual. Alternatively, it could be used as a refresher, for the specialized teacher, speech-language pathologist (SLP), and so on. The writing style and glossary make the book accessible to a general public interested in psycholinguistics. From a teacher’s point of view, this book is very versatile, as many topics can be covered, or alternatively, a few can be developed in depth. The teacher’s manual online offers ideas on how to develop class discussions on specific topics and what some answers to wider ranging questions might be, thus priming or engaging the teacher in developing a thoughtful learning experience.

I especially appreciate the clarity with which language production is described over the course of two chapters (Normal Speech Errors and How They Happen: I. From Speech to Words, and II. Saying Words and Sounds in The Right Order). The following chapter on experimental psycholinguistics presents (mostly) seminal research on word naming, sentence production and so on, giving us a good idea of how research was originally run and how it has changed in the field, and allows readers to understand how research in psycholinguistics might proceed. A whole chapter in the book is allotted to bilingualism. Considering that teachers and SLPs are confronted daily with the issue of child second-language learners, even in the United-States, this is a very helpful chapter. However, not much is said about working with patients who might have lost their ability to use English (or have other bilingual/multilingual specific pathologies, see e.g., Fabbro 2001); this seems like a notable oversight.

Regarding the newly expanded chapter on Brain and Language, I was happy to find a thoughtful and up-to-date discussion of brain specialization for language that avoids the usual Broca-Wernicke dichotomy and presents important data on the implication of less traditional areas for language processing (for example the different areas of the Temporal gyrus and underlying fibre tracts, see e.g., Mesulman, 2015). However, I was astonished that most of the content focused on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data of impaired brain function, with few normal aspects being highlighted nor other methods for brain imaging presented, especially given the difficulties evaluating sentence/discourse processing using fMRI. The authors highlight the importance of dynamic integration of information and prediction in language comprehension, but fMRI techniques are not well suited for this type of investigation as they provide (mostly) static images of the brain following stimulus presentation. In fact, there is a legion of ongoing research on dynamic language processing that is often, but not exclusively, focused on typical language processing, and that uses ERPs (Event related potentials, scalp-based measures of positive and negative deflections in brain-based electrical changes linked to specific cognitive events) to study language processing with extremely high time resolution (every millisecond or so, depending on the system used) during language processing. Linking up to concepts developed in section 2.9 of the book (top-down and bottom-up processing), ERPs are an excellent tool for the study of on-line real-time integration and prediction of information. In particular, the N400, a negative-going ERP component is highly susceptible to semantic and syntactic constraints established in the sentence but also in discourse (see Kutas and Federmeyer, 2011 for a recent review of semantic N400s, Tanner and Van Hell, 2014 for an example of morpho-syntactic processing, and Kuperberg et al, 2006 for thematic-role processing using this indicator). I think this type of scientific data, although challenging to present, should be explored in this type of book.

References

Fabbro, F. (2001). The Bilingual Brain: Cerebral Representation of Languages. Brain and Language, 79(2), 211-222.

Kuperberg, G. R., Caplan, D., Sitnikova, T., Eddy, M., & Holcomb, P. J. (2006). Neural correlates of processing syntactic, semantic, and thematic relationships in sentences. Language and Cognitive Processes, 21(5), 489-530. doi:10.1080/01690960500094279

Kutas, M., & Federmeier, K. D. (2011). Thirty Years and Counting: Finding Meaning in the N400 Component of the Event-Related Brain Potential (ERP). Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 621-647. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.131123

Menn, L. (2011). Psycholinguistics: Introduction and applications. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc.

Mesulam, M. Revisiting Wernicke’s Area, Abstracts of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language, Chicago, IL. October 16th, 2015 : 5. Downloaded at http://www.neurolang.org/programs/SNL2015_Abstracts.pdf

Tanner, D., & Van Hell, J. G. (2014). ERPs reveal individual differences in morphosyntactic processing. Neuropsychologia, 56, 281-301. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.02.002


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Université de Montréal and pursued postdoctoral studies at the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, language disorders, language acquisition, lexicon, morpho-phonology and morpho-syntactic processing in French populations with and without learning challenges (SLI, Cochlear implants, Bilingualism, Ageing). She is a professor at the School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology at the Université de Montréal, and is a member of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music.

Page Updated: 06-Jul-2017