A History of Psycholinguistics: The Pre-Chomskyan Era

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9780198712213: A History of Psycholinguistics: The Pre-Chomskyan Era
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How do we manage to speak and understand language? How do children acquire these skills and how does the brain support them?These psycholinguistic issues have been studied for more than two centuries.
Though many Psycholinguists tend to consider their history as beginning with the Chomskyan "cognitive revolution" of the late 1950s/1960s, the history of empirical psycholinguistics actually goes back to the end of the 18th century. This is the first book to comprehensively treat this "pre-Chomskyan" history. It tells the fascinating history of the doctors, pedagogues, linguists and psychologists who created this discipline, looking at how they made their important discoveries about the language regions in the brain, about the high-speed accessing of words in speaking and listening, on the child's invention of syntax, on the disruption of language in aphasic patients and so much more. The book is both a history of ideas as well of the men and women whose intelligence, brilliant insights, fads, fallacies, cooperations, and rivalries created this discipline.
Psycholinguistics has four historical roots, which, by the end of the 19th century, had merged. By then, the discipline, usually called the psychology of language, was established. The first root was comparative linguistics, which raised the issue of the psychological origins of language. The second root was the study of language in the brain, with Franz Gall as the pioneer and the Broca and Wernicke discoveries as major landmarks. The third root was the diary approach to child development, which emerged from Rousseau's Émile. The fourth root was the experimental laboratory approach to speech and language processing, which originated from Franciscus Donders' mental chronometry. Wilhelm Wundt unified these four approaches in his monumental Die Sprache of 1900. These four perspectives of psycholinguistics continued into the 20th century but in quite divergent frameworks. There was German consciousness and thought psychology, Swiss/French and Prague/Viennese structuralism, Russian and American behaviorism, and almost aggressive holism in aphasiology. As well as reviewing all these perspectives, the book looks at the deep disruption of the field during the Third Reich and its optimistic, multidisciplinary re-emergence during the 1950s with the mathematical theory of communication as a major impetus.
A tour de force from one of the seminal figures in the field, this book will be essential reading for all linguists, psycholinguists, and psychologists with an interest in language.

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Review:

What a gift Willem Levelt has bestowed upon language scientists! He has given us with a treasure chest of fascinating and invaluable scholarship that deepens our understanding of language and our attempts to understand it. Every language scientist should read this book. (Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of The Language Instinct and The Stuff of Thought)

Levelt could have left out the "A" from the title: this is the first time this history has been so comprehensively described. (Paul Eling, July 2013)

Both psycholinguistic researchers and historians of psychology will benefit from the depth of Levelt's scholarship. Psycholinguists will discover a treasure trove of material on early studies of word recognition, child language, neurolinguistics, and other matters of contemporary concern The book covers ideas and controversies, influential as well as forgotten figures, and personal stories of success and tragedy. It is a gift for anyone interested in the science of language and its history, one to which readers will return again and again in the years to come. (David W. Carroll for PsychCritiques, July 2013)

No one else could have written the history of psycholinguistics. For Levelt has gone on a deep archaeological exploration of what he terms the prehistory of his field, bringing to life dozens and dozens of strange and wonderful thinkers and researchers, back to the true beginnings of the field about 250 years ago. This is a gripping book... It is a book to live with, to wander through, to return to again and again. These remarkable fifteen chapters guarantee, indeed, that language remains. (Dan I. Slobin, Departments of Psychology and Linguistics University of California, Berkeley)

Levelt's book is a beautiful illustration of just how rich research in scientific psychology was in the second half of the 19th century and how much has been forgotten... It should also be read by everyone interested in language research. They will not only discover the true origins of their pet theories, but will also have several evenings of pure delight while reading the book. (The Psychologist, July 2013)

A comprehensive and thorough history of psycholinguistics in the pre-Chromskyan period Anyone with an interest in language will enjoy reading this book. (Paul Eling for Tijdschrift voor Neuropsychologie, July 2013)

This lengthy 653-page book is impressive in its scope and thoroughness... Levelt is a fine researcher of original texts. He is extremely methodical in clearly citing references to original documents and is careful to thanks colleagues for pointing out sources to him. Levelt provides a large number of translated citations (except when they are "too obnoxious to translate", p. 122) as well as original texts for every citation, included as footnotes. This allows the reader to form her own opinion about the original logic or theory of the cited author (as long as they are able to read the language). This is also a practical time-saver, as many of the cited texts are somewhat difficult to access. (The Linguistic List, August 2013)

Many interesting discoveries and surprises await the reader with an interest in research, or history, or the history of research. (Marc van Oostendorp, Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics)

This is a book that psycholinguists will want on their shelves or in their Kindles. It is an invaluable resource, both for those who want to look up the answer to a few historical questions and for those wanting a complete historical perspective on this facinating discipline. (Julie E. Boland, Historiographia Linguistica)

Anyone who has two pairs of trousers should sell one of them and buy this book.

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Winner of the Patrick Suppes Prize for the History of Science of the American Philosophical Society 2013

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