Field Psycholinguistics

What is field-based psycholinguistics?

  • Psycholinguistic questions and methods as applied to less-commonly-studied languages
  • Often, this involves a fieldwork setting, well-known to linguists, but non-traditional in psycholinguistics
  • This emerging field will require careful thought into the nature of language variation, cross-cultural methods, portable equipment, and ethical considerations of working with people who speak under-represented languages.
Why do psycholinguistics in the field?
  • Theories of language production and comprehension are assumed to be universal, but languages can vary vastly in their structures
  • Naturally, we need to test a variety of languages to ensure the goodness of this assumption
  • Cross-linguistic investigation has revealed important differences between languages. This has played out very clearly in studies on grammatical "weight." The fact that English speakers tend to utter heavier constituents later was initially attributed to processing and memory limitations. The shorter more accessible noun phrase was uttered first, and the heavier less accessible noun phrase was uttered later. But, cross-linguistic investigation revealed that in some languages, like Japanese, heavier noun phrases come before lighter ones. It was then shown that this can be attributed to the headedness of the language. Speakers prefer to utter lighter constituents closer to the head of the phrase (Dryer 1980, Hawkins 1994, Yamashita & Chang 2001). In head-initial languages, like English, the preference is for the lighter constituent to immediately follow the head, HEAD-NP(light)-NP(heavy). In head-final languages, like Japanese, the preference is for the light constituent to immediately precede the head, NP(heavy)-NP(light)-HEAD.
Methods and logistics
  • Cross-cultural
  • Open source
  • Transportable
  • Speakers of underrepresented languages may or may not be: literate in the language in question, familiar with computers, attuned to the testing paradigm
Ethical considerations
  • Working with speakers of an understudied, underrepresented, or endangered language, there are special ethical considerations
  • Informed consent
  • Giving back to the community, by giving a lecture about your research, teaching a class, donating
  • Make your data available to the community of speakers
  • Archive your data. It may constitute an important corpus for an understudied or endangered language.
Where can I get more information?