Language Psychology

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Language Psychology

The  course  is  designed  to  give  an  overview  of  key  issues  in  the psychology  of language,  understood  as  the  study  of  the  human  language  faculty.  It  will  focus on  how meaning is communicated through language, starting with single words and extending down to the sounds and letters that make up words as well as up to how words are combined into sentences. We will examine evidence from adult proficient users, language learning, and language impairments.



The first week will introduce language and focus on how concepts and their labels (words) are represented in the mind and brain, how words are learned, and the speech sounds that make up words.

LECTURE 19: Introduction

This lecture describes how language is related to communication and the basic neurobiology of language.

LECTURE 20: Concepts and Words

This lecture starts with how concepts like “chair” and “dog” are represented in the mind and brain, then focuses on concepts labels (words) – how they interact with the concept and how they are learned.

LECTURE 21: Phonology

This lecture focuses on the speech sounds that make up words: how they are defined, perceptual mechanisms for recognizing and distinguishing them, and the articulatory mechanisms for producing them.



The second week is about how words are combined and used to convey more complex meanings, as well as social aspects of language use.

LECTURE 21: Sentence Processing

This lecture is about how sentence structure conveys meaning (syntax) and how children learn to do this. We will also discuss how patterns of impaired language production following brain damage reveal the mechanisms behind narrative language production.

LECTURE 22: Language Change

This lecture discusses how languages change or evolve over time. These patterns provide important insights into language learning and situate language in the bigger picture of human behaviour.

LECTURE 23: Profanity and Social Psychology of Language

This lecture discusses social psychological aspects of language, such as relationships between dialect, identity, and stereotypes. It will also cover a ubiquitous, unique, and rarely discussed form of language: taboo words or profanities.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of week 7, students should be able to demonstrate knowledge of sentence processing mechanisms and acquisition, and of mechanisms and deficits of spoken language production. Students should also be able to demonstrate a scientific understanding of language change, dialect, and profanity.

By the end of week 8 , students should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the general framework for psychology of language, and a detailed understanding of semantic cognition, the mental lexicon, and phonological structure of words.


Lecture 1: Pinker, S. (1994). The Language Instinct: The new science of language and mind. Penguin UK. Chapter 1 (An Instinct to Acquire an Art; p.15-24) & Chapter 4 (How language works; p. 83-125)

Lectures 2 and 3: Goldstein, E.B (2015) Cognitive psychology. (4th edition). Belmont, C.A.: Thomson Wadsworth (Chapter 11, p.297-332)

Lecture 4: From Harley, T.A. (2014) Psychology of language​ (4th edition). Hove: Psychology Press.  Chapter 5 (Bilingualism; p.153-164)

Lecture 5: From Kandel, E. R., Schwartz, J. H., Jessell, T. M. (1995) Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior. Appleton & Lange. Chapter 34 (Language; p. 633-650)

Lecture 6: From Harley, T.A. (2014) Psychology of language (4th edition). Hove: Psychology Press.  Chapter 14 (How do we use language; p.449-459)

Further background can be found in:

  • Harley, T.A. (2014) Psychology of language (4th edition). Hove: Psychology Press.
  • Traxler, M. J. (2011). Introduction to psycholinguistics. Wiley.