What is Psycholinguistics?


Psycholinguistics is the branch of psychology that studies how humans acquire, use and understand language. It is also a branch of linguistics. It primarily concerns itself with the neurobiological processes of language. Contemporary research uses data from a variety of scientific disciplines to analyze how peoples’ brains use languages. The purpose of this field is to advance the understanding of the human brain.

Related Resource: 30 Best Bachelor’s in Psychology Degrees Online: Small Colleges.


The field of psycholinguistics was first defined by Jacob Robert Kantor in “An Objective Psychology of Grammar” in 1936. A number of subdisciplines have developed since. Neurolinguistics involves the study of neural connections in the brain involved in the comprehension, production, and acquisition of language. It also studies how the brain uses these mechanisms in daily life.

Other subdisciplines involve phonetics and phonology. These focus on how the brain processes and understand sounds and morphology. It studies the relationship between word structures. Additional subdisciplines involve the study of:

  • semantics
  • syntax
  • pragmatics

Many of the studies involved in sound, word and sentence structure have shown that these concepts also play a role in language processing.

Development of Neurolinguistics

The development of neuroimaging has provided critical advances in the subdiscipline of neurolinguistics. According to Thought Co. through neuroimaging, scientists can look at brain activity that is responsible for language processing.

In neurolinguistics, scientists take the theories proposed by psycholinguists and evaluate them based on brain activity. From these observations, neurolinguists can make predictions about the organization and structure of language based on brain physiology.

Developmental Psycholinguistics

This branch of psycholinguistics studies how children learn language. Studies  involve experimental or quantitative methods. Language acquisition, including the rules of grammar and how children learn how to communicate is one of the largest areas of study. Noam Chomsky is one of the major contributors to this subfield. He theorizes that humans are pre-wired to learn language. When learning how to speak, children naturally look for patterns and sets of rules when saying their first words and stringing words together. Chomsky also believes that human brains have switches. These switches enable people to think different according to the language that is used as different languages have different word orders.

Why Study It?

Studying psycholinguistics provides researchers with the processes that underlie linguistic information. Depending on whether the information comes from a linguistic or psychological perspective, the reasons for a particular study may differ. But the ultimate reason for such research, as noted by the University of Sheffield in England is to ultimately improve the human condition. Better methods of teaching language can be developed through psycholinguistics research. This is especially valuable for individuals with impaired ability or for those who suffer brain injuries. The social environment is also crucial in determining how individuals learn language.

Psycholinguistics provides a valuable tool not only for scientific research but also for daily life.  Advancements will allow teachers to better educate children in schools. Therapists will be able to help those whose language ability is impaired.

Related Resources:

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris