Nijmegen Lectures 2017

23 February 2017 10:00 - 25 February 2017 16:00
Nijmegen Lectures
Language production: Lessons from Freud, rats, and connectionism
by Gary S. Dell

In “Speaking: From Intention to Articulation”, Levelt wrote that “Production is the stepchild of psycholinguistics.” Nearly 30 years later, this is no longer true. Production research is now both extensive and well integrated into the psycholinguistic family. This integration is aided by the fact that we are beginning to understand how production sits within the cognitive system, how it interacts with our abilities to perceive, attend, learn, and remember. In this spirit, the 2017 Nijmegen lecture discusses aspects of Dell’s work on production that are specifically inspired by the psychology of learning and memory.

Gary Dell obtained his PhD in 1980 from the University of Toronto. He taught at Dartmouth College and the University of Rochester before joining the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is Professor of Psychology, Linguistics, and Professor of Psychology at the Beckman Institute. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences in 2015. His research focuses on language production and aphasia.


Lecture 1: What Freud got right about speech errors

Each lecture builds on a theme from the history of psychology, starting around 1900 with Sigmund Freud (“What Freud got right about speech errors”). As everyone knows, Freud proposed that speech errors are an outlet for repressed thoughts. There is little direct evidence for this claim. What is not well known, though, is that Freud said several other things about how information is retrieved during speaking that presage modern spreading activation theories of memory retrieval. Gary Dell uses quotes from Freud to present his interactive two-step model of how single words are retrieved from the lexicon when we speak, and how these processes break down in aphasia.


Eva Belke, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Ardi Roelofs, Radboud University Nijmegen



Dell, G.S., Schwartz, M.F., Nozari, N., Faseyitan, O., & Coslett, H.B. (2013). Voxel-based lesion-parameter mapping: Identifying the neural correlates of a computational model of word production. Cognition, 128, 380-396. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.05.007

Schwartz, M.F., Dell, G.S., Martin, N., Gahl, S., & Sobel, P. (2006). A case-series test of the interactive two-step model of lexical access: Evidence from picture naming. Journal of Memory and Language, 54, 228-264. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2005.10.001

Lecture 2: Implicit learning, phonotactics, and . . . rats

The next lecture (“Implicit learning, phonotactic constraints, and …rats”) sticks to the subject of speech errors, but concerns a different aspect of language production. Each language has its own “phonotactics” − rules or constraints that govern the language’s possible syllables. We implicitly know that “hing” is a possible English syllable, but “ngih” is not. Phonotactic knowledge guides language production, as revealed in speech errors. Even though a slip is an error, it nonetheless tends to be phonotactically legal. When people produce sets of syllables that follow artificial phonotactic constraints (e.g. a “rule” that the consonant “f” is not allowed at the end of a syllable) they implicitly learn those artificial constraints. The learning is revealed in their speech errors (e.g. their slips would rarely put an “f” at the end of a syllable). What does this have to do with rats? Around the middle of the 20th century much of experimental psychology was concerned how animals such as rats implicitly learn contingencies in conditioning tasks. Gary Dell will describe some classic rat-learning findings, and use these to introduce his phonotactic learning experiments (with humans, of course). What can and cannot be learned tells us a great deal about how the production system is organized and how it adapts to experience.


Padraic Monaghan, Lancaster University

Caroline Rowland, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen

Julia Uddén, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen



Kittredge, A.K., & Dell, G.S. (2016). Learning to speak by listening: Transfer of phonotactics from perception to production. Journal of Memory and Language, 89, 8-22. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2015.08.001

Warker, J.A. (2013). Investigating the Retention and Time Course of Phonotactic Constraint Learning From Production Experience. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39, 96-109. doi:10.1037/a0028648

Warker, J.A, Dell, G.S. (2006). Speech errors reflect newly learned phonotactic constraints. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 32, 387-398. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.32.2.387

Background reading may be found in:

Meyer, A.S., & Huettig, F. (Eds.). (2016). Speaking and Listening: Relationships Between Language Production and Comprehension [Special Issue]. Journal of Memory and Language, 89

Lecture 3: Psycholinguistics, sentence production, and the P-Chain

In the last lecture (“Psycholinguistics, sentence production, and the P-chain”), we finally arrive at the true challenge of production. How are we able to construct appropriate and grammatical sentences that we have never said or heard before? Gary Dell discusses this problem by considering structural priming data. Structural priming in production is the tendency to repeat the structure of a recently experienced sentence. Bock and Griffin (2000) proposed that structural priming is a form of implicit learning; that is, each utterance you process changes you ever so slightly, and it is this change that causes priming. Dell reviews Chang’s (e.g. Chang, Dell, & Bock, 2006) dual-path connectionist model of sentence production which realized the implicit-learning theory of structural priming and, perhaps more importantly, showed how priming and language acquisition can be the result of the same learning process. The two previous lectures will have presented simple connectionist models. The dual-path model, unfortunately, is not simple; Dell will keep the presentation of it intuitive. The dual-path model, he argues, embodies an emerging computational framework in psycholinguistics, a framework that unifies comprehension, production, and acquisition by explaining how each of these domains influence one another. This framework is the P-chain: Processing involves Prediction. Prediction is Production. Prediction leads to Prediction error. Prediction error creates Priming. Priming is imPlicit learning. imPlicit learning is the mechanism for the acquisition of Processing, Prediction, and Production. Not only does the P-chain emphasize the importance of learning and memory in psycholinguistics, but it also shows the centrality of production in creating learning.


Holly Branigan, The University of Edinburgh

Falk Huettig, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen



Dell, G.S., & Chang, F. (2014). The P-chain: Relating sentence production and its disorders to comprehension and acquisition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369, 1634. doi:10.1098/rstb.2012.0394.

Dell, G.S., & Ferreira, V.S. (2016). Thirty years of structural priming: An introduction to the special issue. Journal of Memory and Language, 91, 1-4. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2016.05.005.

Mahowald, K., James, A., Futrell, R., & Gibson, E. (2016). A meta-analysis of syntactic priming in language production. Journal of Memory and Language, 91, 5-27. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2016.03.009.

Further background reading may be found in:

Dell, G. S & Ferreira, V. S. (Eds.). (2016). New Approaches to Structural Priming [Special Issue]. Journal of Memory and Language, 91, 1-218.


Antje S. Meyer
Ardi Roelofs
Kirsten Weber
Stefan Frank


Radboud University Nijmegen, Aula, Comeniuslaan 2, Nijmegen
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Wundtlaan 1, Nijmegen

Nijmegen lectures 2017


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