Psycholinguistics is the study of how language is acquired, represented, and used by the human mind; it draws on knowledge about both language and cognitive processes. A central topic of debate in psycholinguistics concerns the balance between storage and processing. This debate is especially evident in research concerning morphology, which is the study of word structure, and several theoretical issues have arisen concerning the question of how (or whether) morphology is represented and what function morphology serves in the processing of complex words. Five theoretical approaches have emerged that differ substantially in the emphasis placed on the role of morphemic representations during the processing of morphologically complex words. The first approach minimizes processing by positing that all words, even morphologically complex ones, are stored and recognized as whole units, without the use of morphemic representations. The second approach posits that words are represented and processed in terms of morphemic units. The third approach is a mixture of the first two approaches and posits that a whole-access route and decomposition route operate in parallel. A fourth approach posits that both whole word representations and morphemic representations are used, and that these two types of information interact. A fifth approach proposes that morphology is not explicitly represented, but rather, emerges from the co-activation of orthographic/phonological representations and semantic representations. These competing approaches have been evaluated using a wide variety of empirical methods examining, for example, morphological priming, the role of constituent and word frequency, and the role of morphemic position. For the most part, the evidence points to the involvement of morphological representations during the processing of complex words. However, the specific way in which these representations are used is not yet fully known.
Christina L. Gagné
Speakers can transfer meanings to each other because they represent them in a perceptible form. Phonology and syntactic structure are two levels of linguistic form. Morphemes are situated in-between them. Like phonemes they have a phonological component, and like syntactic structures they carry relational information. A distinction can be made between inflectional and lexical morphology. Both are devices in the service of communicative efficiency, by highlighting grammatical and semantic relations, respectively. Morphological structure has also been studied in psycholinguistics, especially by researchers who are interested in the process of visual word recognition. They found that a word is recognized more easily when it belongs to a large morphological family, which suggests that the mental lexicon is structured along morphological lines. The semantic transparency of a word’s morphological structure plays an important role. Several findings also suggest that morphology plays an important role at a pre-lexical processing level as well. It seems that morphologically complex words are subjected to a process of blind morphological decomposition before lexical access is attempted.
Benjamin V. Tucker
Speech production is an important aspect of linguistic competence. An attempt to understand linguistic morphology without speech production would be incomplete. A central research question develops from this perspective: what is the role of morphology in speech production. Speech production researchers collect many different types of data and much of that data has informed how linguists and psycholinguists characterize the role of linguistic morphology in speech production. Models of speech production play an important role in the investigation of linguistic morphology. These models provide a framework, which allows researchers to explore the role of morphology in speech production. However, models of speech production generally focus on different aspects of the production process. These models are split between phonetic models (which attempt to understand how the brain creates motor commands for uttering and articulating speech) and psycholinguistic models (which attempt to understand the cognitive processes and representation of the production process). Models that merge these two model types, phonetic and psycholinguistic models, have the potential to allow researchers the possibility to make specific predictions about the effects of morphology on speech production. Many studies have explored models of speech production, but the investigation of the role of morphology and how morphological properties may be represented in merged speech production models is limited.