psycholinguistics, the study of psychological states and mental activity associated with the use of language. An important focus of psycholinguistics is the largely unconscious application of grammatical rules that enable people to produce and comprehend intelligible sentences. Psycholinguists investigate the relationship between language and thought, a perennial subject of debate being whether language is a function of thinking or thought a function of the use of language. However, most problems in psycholinguistics are more concrete, involving the study of linguistic performance and language acquisition, especially in children. The work of Noam Chomsky and other proponents of transformational grammar have had a marked influence on the field. Neurolinguists study the brain activity involved in language use, obtaining much of their data from people whose ability to use language has been impaired due to brain damage.
See D. Foss and D. Hakes, Psycholinguistics (1978); V. C. Tartter, Language Processes (1986); A. Radford, Syntactic Theory and the Acquisition of English Syntax (1990).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.