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What Does a Psycholinguist Do?

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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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A psycholinguist studies the way humans learn, understand, and use language. Psycholinguists also examine the effects that the use of language has on human social dynamics; a speaker's choice of words and the manner in which he speaks, for example, can lead listeners to infer what personality traits the speaker might possess. The field of psycholinguistics spans several related topic areas, including cognitive psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and psychological disorders. In addition, a psycholinguist might find himself specializing in specific areas of study, such as semantics, phonology, and speech therapy.

In general, a psycholinguist dissects every aspect of human language and attempts to produce practical applications for his findings. An expert trained in the field studies both written and spoken language, the progression of words in a statement, and the manner in which an idea is expressed. He then applies existing psychological theories to his observation in an effort to gain a fuller understanding of how people adapt language for their purposes. The entire field can be broken down into specific areas of interest, each with its own uses in working towards scientific and social progress.

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One discipline a psycholinguist can specialize in is phonology, the study of the sounds made by humans in order to produce speech. Psycholinguists conduct thorough research on how humans interpret the sounds they hear, as well as produce sounds when conveying a thought. Phonology often incorporates biological research into its studies, particularly on the auditory centers of the brain, the mouth and other body parts associated with speaking, and the physical processes that lead to speech. Through research in phonology, a psycholinguist can develop better ways to teach language, as well as improve speech therapy methods.

Morphology, on the other hand, is the discipline in which the psycholinguist studies visual representations of words. The field is not limited to alphabet letters, but characters used as symbols for whole words, such as those in the Chinese language. By studying how humans interpret the symbols they see before them as words, the mechanics of their ability to see these words, and how the written words are given meaning, researchers hope to develop important theories involving reading. Researchers also aim to correct related disorders, such as dyslexia.

Semantics is a discipline that often goes hand-in-hand with pragmatics. A psycholinguist specializing in semantics studies the meaning of words, which is often influenced by pragmatics, or the context in which the words are presented. Psycholinguists study how words are given meaning by their structure, tone, and the situation in which they are used. This field aims to provide a better understanding of human language comprehension, as well as social dynamics.

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