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Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 13:44:11 -0400 From: Phaedra Royle Subject: Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students.
Field, John (2003) Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students, Routledge, Routledge English Language Introductions.
Phaedra Royle, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University.
Psycholinguistics: A Resource Book for Students is an introductory textbook to the domain of psycholinguistics. The main purpose of Psycholinguistics is as a classroom text for undergraduates. The text presents some essential areas of study in psycholinguistics (human communication, language and the brain, lexical access, language in exceptional circumstances, etc.) to the uninitiated reader. The book contains the following additional sections: How to Use this Book, Contents, Contents Cross-referenced, List of figures, List of Tables, Acknowledgements, A Key to English Phonemic Symbols, Materials for Activities, Further Reading, References, and Glossary, in addition to the main body of the text.
Routledge English Language Introductions are presented as 'flexi-texts' "in order to promote different study styles." The book is thus divided into four sections (Introduction, Development, Exploration and Extension) that each cover the main topics of the text, while approaching them from different angles. Each section is divided into 12 topics that are cross -referenced across the book sections. For example, part A9 (Introduction) of the book addresses key issues in listening, part B9 (Development) provides data on categorical perception, part C9 (Exploration) adds further data based on listening in real time and part D9 (Extension) is an abridged version of an article by Ann Cutler and Sally Butterfield entitled 'Rhythmic cues to speech segmentation: Evidence from juncture misperceptions' (1992). The book can thus either be read from beginning to end, in a traditional fashion, or read across topics. Each section of Psycholinguistics also contains activities that can be used by students to bring newly acquired ideas to another level. These activities are presented, in the Introduction section, in the form of questions, asking the reader to relate what they have just read to a previous concept. In the Development and Exploration sections, they are presented as design questions, based on experiments, stimuli, and so on. In addition, the Exploration section presents 'Experimental tasks' and 'Essay, further study' sub-sections, encouraging students to go beyond what they have just learned and to apply their new knowledge to experimental design and to theoretical aspects of psycholinguistics. Finally, the Extension sections contain activities encouraging thoughtful reading and a glossary at the end of each text. Additional material such as 'A note to statistics in psycholinguistics' has also been added, in order to make reading more effective.
This is the first time I have encountered a 'flexi-text' book and I was initially intrigued. I find the formula quite attractive, but I still found a number of drawbacks in the design. One that could easily be repaired it that it is not always clear which topic is being addressed. One way to resolve this issue would be to indicate the topic on each page. For now, only the main section is noted (e.g. D) without reference to the topic (e.g. D4), except on the first page of the subsection. This makes it more difficult to use the book across topics or when flipping back and forth through the text, following cross-references to different sub-sections. I cannot help wondering if this particular structure would be a strong impediment for someone with dyslexia trying to read the book. (It happens. I only have two years teaching experience and I have already had one student with this learning disability).
Another potential problem with this type of structure is that information will either be repeated across different sections, or it will be inconsistent. I found that, in general the book was not repetitive, however, I did notice that there were ways of presenting information that would probably cause confusion in a student with little knowledge of the field. For example, in section A12, learning language in exceptional circumstances, there is a discussion of different types of dyslexia where it is mentioned that "[s]ome dyslexics appear to suffer from a phonological deficit -- they have problems in guessing the spelling of non-words. Others show signs of 'whole word' deficit and cannot recall the spellings of unusual words." (p.43) In the related Development section, B12, when discussion reading acquisition stages, it is stated that " [s]ome dyslexics (*surface dyslexics*) experience problems at this [whole-word] stage ... especially with spellings which permit of two interpretations." (p.89) No effort is made to link the notions a) problems with non-words, b) whole-word access and, c) surface dyslexia. Also, I think the technical term *surface dyslexic* should have been introduced and defined in the Introduction section, in order to avoid confusion from the offset. Finally, because there is so much cross-referencing throughout the book, it could be difficult to follow a discussion on a specific topic. The potential for editing errors is large. An error was noted on p. 43 where a reference was made to the same page (p. 43) instead of the following one, which it should have been. Another problem found was referring to non-existent bullets "... two topics which fall under d above..." (p.3, 'd' does not exist). Typos were also found. This seems to indicate that a bit more effort should have been put into editing this book.
I would also add that I find the book a bit thin. Discussion of basic concepts is very perfunctory. The domain of study of psycholinguistics is wide and interdisciplinary. It seems to me that some additional topics could have been incorporated into the book without making it unmanageable, since it is quite short. Some possible areas where fruitful study has been ongoing would be: morphological structure (frequency of certain structures in a given language, transparency -- phonological or semantic -- of the process, default rules, etc.), language acquisition, semantics (ambiguity, idioms, etc.), cross-linguistic issues other than writing system effects, already in the text (effects of different linguistic structures on processing, morphological richness, etc.), and bilingualism (bilingual versus monolingual activation, homographs, language dominance, etc.). Field notes that he did not address language acquisition in the book because this topic would merit a whole volume in itself, but this argument is valid for any area of psycholinguistics and is thus moot.
Despite these drawbacks, the potential this book offers seems important. One problem I have encountered, when developing syllabi for psycholinguistics classes, is that the textbooks tend to be full of facts and data but don't address how the data speaks to theoretical models of language processing and representation. In addition, books rarely address the issue of experimental design. The only book that I have found that does discuss experimental evidence quite thoroughly is Harley's Psychology of Language (2001). However, I believe that the density of information in Harley's book is too much for a 3-credit undergraduate course in psycholinguistics. Field has thus managed to create a text for students with no prior knowledge in the field, while allowing for the book to go beyond the simple statement of data and experimental results, as well as providing an overview of theoretical implications and models. The book also shows potential as a graduate course primer, to be supplemented with more in-depth articles on aspects of processing not covered in the text.
Another problem I have encountered in teaching psycholinguistics to future clinicians and researchers, in speech and language disorders programs, is that students in these programs typically have largely varied backgrounds in linguistics and psycholinguistics. This book allows for different learning levels, as it covers going over the basic concepts, as well as expanding to experimental design, interpretation of results, and more advanced theoretical discussions of the pros and cons of different models of language processing and representation. The balance struck by Field in this book is refreshing, to say the least.
Ann Cutler and Sally Butterfield (1992) Rhythmic cues to speech segmentation: Evidence from juncture misperceptions. Journal of Memory and Language, 31: 218-38.
Harley, Trevor. (2001) The Psychology of Language: From Data to Theory (2nd Edition). New York: Taylor and Francis.