Using language is central to our social and cultural lives. Psychologists and psycholinguists have extensively studied the processes involved in speaking and listening, reading and writing. Most of this work has been done in laboratory contexts, where participants - usually psychology students - carry out rather unusual tasks, such as reading aloud meaningless letter strings. Here at the Psychology of Language Department we also carry out such lab research, but one of our main goals is to understand how speaking, listening, reading and writing take place in real-life contexts, for instance in informal conversations. We are also trying to understand how people with varied educational and cultural backgrounds (ranging from highly literate academics to illiterate adults) differ in their use of language. Insights about language use in everyday contexts can have important practical implications, for instance for the improvement of language testing and training programmes.
These are just some of the broad questions were are currently working on:
At the heart of our research is the guiding theoretical principle that there is a small set of basic cognitive components that, in different combinations, cover all of the ways language is used in every day and laboratory contexts. Our task is to identify these basic cognitive components and to generate theories that explain how they are combined when people use language.
To carry out this work, we use an eclectic mix of methods, including psycholinguistic experiments, individual differences studies, neurobiological methods, and computational modelling. One of our missions at the department is to develop new methods and analysis tools and make them available to the research community.