Field Psycholinguistics

What is field-based psycholinguistics?

  • Psycholinguistic questions and methods applied to less-commonly-studied languages involving travel and often field settings
  • Fieldwork settings may be well-known to linguists but are less common in psycholinguistics
  • This emerging sub-field will require careful thought on the nature of language variation, crossculturally-relevant methods, portable equipment, and ethical considerations of working with people who speak under-represented languages.
Why do psycholinguistics in the field?
  • Theories of language production and comprehension are assumed to be universal, but languages vary vastly in their structures
  • We need to test a variety of languages to ensure that our theories truly capture universal human tendencies
  • Crosslinguistic investigation has revealed important differences between languages. This has played out very clearly in studies on grammatical "weight." The fact that English speakers tend to utter heavier constituents later was initially attributed to processing and memory limitations. The shorter more accessible noun phrase was uttered first, and the heavier less accessible noun phrase was uttered later. But, crosslinguistic investigation revealed that in some languages, like Japanese, heavier noun phrases come before lighter ones. The observation was then attributed to the headedness of the language. Speakers prefer to utter lighter constituents closer to the head of the phrase (Dryer 1980, Hawkins 1994, Yamashita & Chang 2001). In head-initial languages, like English, the preference is for the lighter constituent to immediately follow the head, HEAD-NP(light)-NP(heavy). In head-final languages, like Japanese, the preference is for the light constituent to immediately precede the head, NP(heavy)-NP(light)-HEAD.
Methods and logistics
  • Cross-cultural
  • Open source
  • Portable
  • Speakers of underrepresented languages may or may not be: literate in the language in question, familiar with computers and/or testing/experimental paradigms
Ethical considerations
  • Working with speakers of an understudied, underrepresented, or endangered language, there are special ethical considerations
  • Informed consent
  • Giving back to the community, by giving a lecture about your research, teaching a class, donating
  • Make your data available to the community of speakers
  • Archive your data. It may constitute an important corpus for an understudied or endangered language.
Where can I get more information? Here are some of my stimuli available for use:
  • Items for a picture description task with one, two or seven of the same human or animal character depicting an intransitive action: One, Two, Seven Picture Items (in a zipped folder) . If you use these stimuli, please cite: "Butler, L. K. (2011) The morphosyntax and processing of number marking in Yucatec Maya. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Arizona." Email me for more info.