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Review of  Psycholinguistics

Reviewer: Phaedra Royle
Book Title: Psycholinguistics
Book Author: John Field
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 14.2820

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Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 13:44:11 -0400
From: Phaedra Royle
Subject: Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students.

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

Phaedra Royle, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill

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.


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.

Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Université de
Montréal. 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.