Nijmegen Lectures 2013

28 January 2013 10:00 - 30 January 2013 17:00
Nijmegen Lectures
On the Pre-Chomskyan History of Psycholinguistics
by Willem J.M. Levelt
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen

Lecture 1: Overview and timeline

The lecture will introduce the four historical roots of empirical psycholinguistics, all going back to the end of the 18th century. The (comparative-) linguistic root will be exemplified with the psychology of language invented by Heymann Steinthal. The developmental root, largely based on diary studies, will be reviewed with highlights from Rousseau, Taine, Darwin, and Preyer in the 19th century to Clara and William Stern, the Institutes of Child Welfare, and Roman Jakobson during the first half of the 20th century. The overview lecture will finish by introducing Wilhelm Wundt, the father of psycholinguistics, who unified the discipline in his great work Die Sprache of 1900.


Lecture 2: Brain and language

The great brain anatomist Franz Joseph Gall put the study of language in the brain on the scientific map. His controversial theories created two camps in French neurology. The equipotentialist adversaries around Flourens were in the majority, but others around Bouillaud continued the localizationist approach of Gall. I will discuss how Paul Broca slowly moved from the former to the latter camp and how Marc and Gustave Dax were ahead of him in localizing the faculty of articulated speech in the left anterior lobe. Next will be Carl Wernicke's groundbreaking work on anchoring the language user's psychological network architecture onto the brain's neural architecture, and the flood of "diagram making" it triggered. Early in the 20th century iconoclast Pierre Marie launched a ferocious attack on the "standard view" that had resulted, opening the door for the new "holists", such as Henry Head and, to a lesser (and more sophisticated) degree, Kurt Goldstein. I will discuss the new work on agrammatism by Arnold Pick, Max Isserlin and Karl Kleist and finally present Roman Jakobson's theoretical account of phonological decay in aphasia.



Randi Martin (Rice University, Texas)

Peter Indefrey (Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf)

Sophie Scott (University College London)

Lecture 3: Nineteenth century laboratory and speech error studies of language processing

Beginning with Kempelen's 1791 work on the vocal tract and the origins of language, I will discuss the sophisticated beginnings of experimental psycholinguistics, the mental chronometry introduced by Donders and De Jaager in Utrecht and its first grand-scale application by James McKeen Cattell in Wundt's Leipzig laboratory. Next I will turn to Erdmann and Dodge's as well as Huey's studies of eye scanning patterns in reading and then discuss the first work examining on-line, incremental word and sentence perception by Exner and Bagley. Rudolf Meringer's classic work on spontaneous speech errors, their analysis and theoretical explanation will be my last major topic, but I will finish with a few remarks on Kaeding's 19th century CELEX.


Lecture 4: Twentieth century studies of adult language usage: Experimental, functional and statistical

A group of young Turks around Oswald Külpe in Würzburg introduced a method of studying imageless content of consciousness (e.g., sentence schemata) through ""experimental systematic introspection"". One of them, Karl Bühler, was heavily castigated by Wundt for his ""pseudo-experiments"". Still, some ""Würzburgers"" ended up advancing psycholinguistics. I will discuss Marbe and Thumb's ""law"" of association, Otto Selz's procedural theory of thought and sentence formulation and Karl Bühler's magnum opus, Sprachtheorie. I will then turn to the United States, where Watson's behaviorism had led to a ""Great War of Words"" (Esper) eradicating the traditional mental notions in psycholinguistics and replacing them by an ""objective"" jargon called ""behaviorese"". Some laboratory research continued, however, especially in reading, and work by Preston and by Stroop will be discussed. Finally, I turn to George Kinsley Zipf's statistical approach to the forces of lexical choice in speakers and listeners, his ""law"" and his ""least effort"" explanation thereof.



Herbert H. Clark (Stanford University, California)

Marc Brysbaert (University of Ghent)

Elena Lieven (University of Manchester)

Lecture 5: Psycholinguistics during the Third Reich

Leo Weisgerber was more than a decade ahead of Whorf in formulating a theory of linguistic relativity. Both Weisgerber and Schmidt-Rohr saw the German language as a tool for establishing a German Weltanschauung, and both became active in the Nazi propaganda machine. These views easily merged with theories of racial superiority and with wide-spread anti-semitism, not uncommon among contributors to psycholinguistics. I will contrast the last pre-Hitler congress of the German Psychological Society in Hamburg (1931) to the first one under the Nazi-regime, in Leipzig (1933), and describe the tragic fates of dismissed Jewish and dissident psycholinguists, such as the Sterns, Goldstein and Selz. I will then sketch the next wave of dismissals and exiles, such as the fates of Jakobson and the Bühlers directly after the Austrian Anschluss of 1938. From the perspective of Karl Kleist I will describe the unsolvable conflict in taking care of aphasic and mentally disordered patients under Hitler's sterilization law (1933) and euthanasia decree (1939). I will finally turn to Fritz Kainz of Vienna, loyal to the regime and author of the six-volume Psychologie der Sprache (1941-1969), who closd the door on German psycholinguistics.


Lecture 6: Launched by communication technology and veterans research: The birth of modern psycholinguistics

World War II created two ingredients for the post-war resurrection and flourishing of psycholinguistics. First, the urgent need to take care of brain-injured soldiers and civilians led, already during the war, to major research endeavors on both sides of the Atlantic. I will discuss Alexander Luria's work in Moscow, Claus Conrad's in Marburg, Cairns, Russells' the work of Quadfasel, Goodglass and Geschwind in the Boston VA Hospital. I will further discuss discus Wilder Penfield's pioneering work at McGill on electrical brain stimulation. The second ingredient was the Anglo-Saxon defense research in the mathematics and technology of signal transmission and communication. Shannon and Weaver's The mathematical theory of communication (1948) became the bible of a new interdisciplinary approach to speech and language communication, and Alan Turing's theory of communication added the artificial intelligence perspective on these processes. George Miller became the leader of the new psycholinguistics with his information-theoretic experiments and his classic text Language and Communication. In the UK Colin Cherry's On human communication played a similar role. I will in particular discuss his and young Donald Broadbent's work on selective listening to simultaneously spoken messages. By the end of the 1950s the happy marriage of S-R theory and Markov models as an account of sequential linguistic behavior lost its appeal, with Karl Lashley as one of the whistleblowers.



Theo Mulder (The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, KNAW, Amsterdam)

Antal van den Bosch (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Wolfgang Klein (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen)


Dan Acheson

Paula Fikkert

Svetlana Gerakaki

Elma Hilbrink

Asifa Majid

Roel Willems


Radboud University Nijmegen, Aula, Comeniuslaan 2, Nijmegen

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Wundtlaan 1, Nijmegen

Nijmegen Lectures 2013





Nanjo.Bogdanowicz [at]

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