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Review of  The Handbook of Psycholinguistics

Reviewer: Maria Teresa Martinez-Garcia
Book Title: The Handbook of Psycholinguistics
Book Author: Eva M Fernández Helen Smith Cairns
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 30.2770

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The book “The Handbook of Psycholinguistics”, edited by professors Eva M. Fernández and Helen Smith Cairns, present a comprehensive and user-friendly collection of chapters on critical topics in language production, comprehension, and acquisition. This book includes book chapter contributions from scholars well-established in the field, as well as new scholars starting their work in the field of psycholinguistics. The book is structured in three main subsections (production, comprehension, and acquisition), each of which covers a wide range of topics on psycholinguistics (including topics on phonetics, sentence processing, and lexical processing, among others). Each chapter provides a detailed summary of the literature in the field, including a detailed explanation of the latest findings, a description of research questions that are still unanswered and an outline of future lines of research. Interestingly, each section of the book is introduced by an “overview” chapter, which provides a short, critical summary of the key points to be discussed in the rest of the section.

The first part of the book (Chapters 1 to 7) focuses on the latest findings on production studies. It covers topics ranging from syntactic encoding (chapter written by professor Julie Franck) to signal reduction and linguistic encoding (by Professors T. Florian Jaeger and Esteban Buz). This section also includes studies focusing on signed utterances (by Professor Ronnie B. Wilbur) and the specifics of conversational interaction (by Professor Jennifer S. Pardo). Finally, it contrasts the production of bilingual and multilingual speakers (by Professors Daniela Paolieri, Luis Morales, and Teresa Bajo), while exploring the possible link between production and comprehension (by Professors Chiara Gambi and Martin J. Pickering). In this first section, the reader will learn more about the enormous progress made in the last 50 years in uncovering the architecture of the production system and its interaction with other systems. The reader will know more about the importance of the level of representation, how planning units are at least phrasal and their size depends mostly on the goals of the speaker, and the importance of flexibility, predictability, and familiarity to understand how language is produced (e.g., to understand the amount of vowel reduction or omission of overt pronouns). Moreover, detailed studies on the production of bilinguals show grammatical gender interactions in bilinguals and how immersion and language experience are the more likely sources of the well-known as “bilingual advantage”.

The second part of the book (Chapters 8 to 19) specifically focuses on comprehension studies. Topics in this section of the book focus on speech perception, both monolingual (by Professor David B. Pisoni) and cross-language and second language (by Professor Ocke-Schwen Bohn). The section continues with work done on lexical access and morphological processing (by Professors Petar Milin, Eva Smolka, and Laurie Beth Feldman). Orthography, word recognition, and reading (by Professors David Braze and Tao Gong), the bilingual lexicon (by Professors Judith F. Kroll and Fengyang Ma), sentence processing in monolinguals and bilinguals (by Professors Matthew J. Traxler, Liv J. Hoversten, and Trevor A. Brothers), anaphoras and agreement (by Professors Janet L. Nicol and Andrew Barss) and the processing of prosody (by Professor Elizabeth Pratt) and semantic-pragmatic (by Professor Petra B. Schumacher) are further explored within this section of the book. Moreover, the role of age in comprehension is further explored by Professors Jet M. J. Vonk, Eve Hiby, and Loraine K. Obler. The section ends with a review of the latest neurolinguistic studies of sentence comprehension (by Professors Michael A. Skeide and Angela D. Friederici). This second section of the book provides the reader with some invaluable information, not found in other, similar books. This is one of the only handbooks that discusses impaired populations (specifically participants who use cochlear implants) and their perception and comprehension of speech. Moreover, this section of the book provides the information required to evaluate L1-L2 phonological mapping, indicating how speech perception seems to remain malleable over the life span, as well as valuable methodological information (e.g., lexical decision and priming tasks). Moreover, in this section the reader will learn more bilingual activation and how it seems to be independent of proficiency and L1-L2 similarities, as well as more information about the brain regions associated with lexical, syntactic, and semantic information, and their temporal relationships.

Finally, the third part of the book, acquisition, can be found in Chapters 20 to 30. In this section of the book, the reader can find studies on speech perception in infants (by Professor Catherine T. Best), language production (by Professors Cecile McKee, Dana McDaniel, and Merrill Garret, as well as by Professors Dani Levine, Kristina Strother-Garcia, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff) and language comprehension (by Professors Krista Byers-Heinlein and Casey Lew-Williams). The section continues with a review of the latest findings on the acquisition of morphology (by Professor Kamil Ud Deen) and of syntax (by Professors Nina Hyams and Robyn Orfitelli). This section of the book further explores the neurobiological aspects related to language acquisition (by Professors Sarah Roseberry Lytle and Patricia K. Kuhl) and the role of age in the acquisition of a second language, by comparing simultaneous and early successive learners (by Professor Jürgen M. Meisel) or child and adult second language learners (by Professors Gita Martohardjono and Elaine C. Klein). Finally, the book ends with a review of the role of input in signed language acquisition (by Professor Judy Kegl). This section of the book covers in great detail the key questions in language acquisition, that is, what type of linguistic concepts can be found in child’s learning mechanisms, the role of linguistic experience and the procedures employed by different populations to develop their language(s). The book also discusses how factors such as age, context, quality/quantity/type of input, variability in the signal, etc. have a direct impact not only in the ultimate acquisition of pronunciation, but also of vocabulary learning in different populations (children, simultaneous and successive bilinguals, among others). Finally, some of the latest information on the abilities of neonatos are discussed, as it has been shown that they start shaping their phonetic inventory while still in the womb (indicating that learning is spontaneous and already abstract at this early stage in the acquisition process).

Each one of these chapters follow a similar structure (while all the chapters provide the same type of information regarding each topic, there is some freedom in the way in which the authors outline their work). All the chapters specifically focus on introducing the topic to the speakers (including detailed descriptions of the different models tested), outline the current research questions addressed in the literature, and discuss some of the work that still needs to be done to fully understand this specific aspect of psycholinguistics. Thus, each chapter provides all the necessary information to learn more about the current state of the field, specifically for each topic. More information regarding the different authors included in the handbook is also provided (consisting of their affiliation, field of expertise and current line of research), which can give a sense to the reader of how well-versed each author may be in the topics discussed on the corresponding chapter.


This book is very rich both theoretically and experimentally. Each chapter provides a detailed overview of one of the latest lines of research in the field of psycholinguistics, which is presented, outlined and discussed by the authors. It is important to highlight how each one of the topics presented is explained from different points of view (e.g., pointing out both pros and cons of the different theories and models discussed). Moreover, each chapter provides a more detailed perspective on how each phenomenon is understood and discussed by different scholars (e.g., by comparing the different models and theories proposed up to this moment). That is, this book is not limited to understanding how one group (e.g., monolingual speakers) comprehends, produces, and acquires a language but compares different language backgrounds, different age groups, and different methodological approaches to get a broader understanding on how language works. Not only is the variability found in the samples from which the conclusions are drawn, but also the variability of theories, models, methods and linguistic phenomena is employed and discussed. All this variability provides a broader, more comprehensive perspective on our understanding on how the language works among different populations.

Another important addition of this book is the importance given to both existing theoretical discussion and to future research questions, two points addressed in every chapter. The fact that this book includes not only the existing theory but many and diverse types of ideas for future studies clearly promotes critical and creative thinking and it could be particularly beneficial for younger scholars who are starting to get interested in the field of psycholinguistics. Personally, I feel that this type of book promotes not only replication studies, that is, studies that could address the topics already discussed in the literature (Rákosi, 2017), but it also provides a detailed account of new ways in which future researchers can take the lead to further understand how language is processed and stored in the brain. For example, someone interested in speech perception may be familiar with the different models regarding the limitations in second language (L2) speech perception and how the native language (L1) and age of acquisition may function as a filter (among other factors). However, this same researcher may not be aware of the latest findings indicating, for example, how the effect of “age” on speech perception and production does not seem as strong (or limitating) as originally thought. This handbook thus provides the reader with a detailed account of the latest findings in the field. Learning about these new findings and the need for more work to be done with regard to the effect of age (to continue with the same example) may open new doors for future research. After reading the latest theoretical approaches to each one of the individual topics discussed in the book, the reader can decide what aspects still need to be further explored in the literature, and they can get ideas on how to address them themselves.

Of special interest is the existence of within-book references, that is, the authors quote the work of their colleagues included in the same handbook. This can be considered a particularly useful addition to the chapters, because of two main reasons. On the one hand, it avoids excessive repetition within the book itself. For example, a given topic (such as speech processing) can be studied from different perspectives (that is, as part of the Production, Comprehension, and Acquisition Sections). Some of the models that can be described in the Production section can also (at least, in most of the cases) make predictions on speech comprehension and acquisition. By quoting the work discussed in other chapters within the handbook, the authors can focus on the specific points that are relevant to understand the importance of each model in the specific subfield they are discussing, instead of having to repeat all the details that may be more relevant for other sections/chapters of the book. On the other hand, these within-book references will allow the readers to make sure they do not miss any of the chapters dealing with the work in which they are interested. While each one of the main parts of the book includes an overview of the work that will be discussed in the section, the chapters themselves do not include individual abstracts. Thus, readers have to decide, primarily based on the title, whether a given chapter is going to address the issues in which they are interested or not. By including these within-book references, the readers can know about the other chapters that address similar topics and that may be of their interest.

This lack of overlapping review makes this book a cohesive compendium of the different models, methodologies, samples of participants and languages which have been covered and studied in the vast field of psycholinguistics, without “too much” repetition. It is true that some of the studies are reviewed in different chapters. However, the authors clearly had different purposes when doing so, and they focus on different aspects of the same paper in each case, thus making the readers feel that, while reading each one of the descriptions of a given paper, they can fully grasp all the nuances of that specific paper. Moreover, each one of the chapters focuses on a specific phenomenon, thus, making it interesting, challenging, and appropriate for a broad range of readers and experts in the field. While broadening their knowledge of their own field, this book would allow these researchers to get better acquainted with what has been done in other fields and what it is still to be done in the field of psycholinguistics. This is of particular interest for those researchers facing the challenge to teach (for example) an introductory class in Linguistics, in which they need to discuss more than just their own field of research.

Apart from providing a detailed account of some of the latest findings in the field, this book represents a useful manual for young scholars and even the general public who want to open their perspectives on psycholinguistics. It not only provides a general overview of the field, but it discusses potential open research questions and it provides a detailed literature review on each of the models, methodologies, samples of participants and languages that have already been studied. This detailed literature review may be a suitable resource for those new researchers that need to find the references necessary to motivate and undertake their own research. This handbook is a more than appropriate way to get introduced to the basics of this discipline, as it provides the reader with the necessary tools to understand the past, present, and future of the vast field of psycholinguistics.


Rákosi, C. (2017). Replication of psycholinguistic experiments and the resolution of inconsistencies. Journal of psycholinguistic research, 46(5), 1249-1271.
Maria Teresa Martinez-Garcia completed her PhD in Linguistics at the University of Kansas in August 2016. Her dissertation presented a psycholinguistic approach to understanding bilingual activation, by exploring how differences in stress placement between English-Spanish identical cognates affect how adult learners of Spanish use stress as a cue for word recognition. She continues her research on bilingualism and second language speech perception and production while working as an assistant professor in the Spanish and Linguistic departments at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Her main research interests include bilingualism, second language acquisition, and speech perception and production.

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