Introduction to Language Development


Shelia M. Kennison

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  • Copyright

    About the Author

    Shelia M. Kennison is a professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University. She has taught a variety of courses in psychology, including language development, statistics, and research design. She earned her MS and PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and her bachelor's degree in linguistics and psychology from Harvard University. Her research on language comprehension has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, and Psi Chi. She has published research articles in numerous journals, including Cognition, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, Journal of Memory and Language, and Discourse Processes. Her research includes studies of language processing in English as well as other languages, including Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese, and Finnish.


    Today, there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages in the world. The characteristics of these languages vary widely. However, by the age of 4, most children are producing and comprehending their language's most complex sentence structures. My motivation for writing this textbook comes from my personal fascination with human language and language development. Among the many fascinating facts is that an infant born today could master any language in the world, regardless of the language's characteristics, if the infant were raised in an environment where the language was used regularly. Infants born to parents who speak Swahili will come to speak and understand Swahili. Infants born to parents who speak Finnish will come to speak and understand Finnish. Infants born to parents who speak both Urdu and Hindi will come to speak both Urdu and Hindi. My parents happened to speak American English, a variety unique to the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, so that it is what I learned.

    In this book, you will learn about the research related to language development and about the theoretical perspectives that attempt to explain how language development occurs. You will review the core empirical findings that inform us about how infants develop physically, cognitively, and socially on the road to becoming competent users of their language(s). You will also learn about the research methodologies that are routinely used to study language development. The book contains 12 chapters, each providing an in-depth perspective on a central topic in language development. In Chapter 1, you will learn about the nature of language and current methodologies for studying language development. In Chapter 2, you will explore the biological basis of language, including how different parts of the brain are involved in language behavior and how genes are involved in some language disorders. Chapter 3 describes the development of language occurring up to the first twenty-four months of life. Chapter 4 focuses on children's grammatical development. Chapter 5 provides readers with an introduction into research on the organization of knowledge of words and word meanings. In Chapter 6, you will learn about the social aspects of language and about how children learn to become competent communicators. In Chapter 7, you will learn about bilingualism. Chapter 8 examines the role of culture in language processing and development. Chapters 9 and 10 will describe what is known about language production and language comprehension, respectively. Chapter 11 describes language in the school years and contains discussions of how children learn to read as well as discussions of how language-related delays and disorders are diagnosed and treated. Last, Chapter 12 focuses on language as it changes across the life span.

    Each chapter of the book contains pedagogical features that are designed to enhance the learning experience. At the end of each chapter, there are key terms, review questions, recommended reading, recommended films, and suggested class projects. In addition, each chapter contains special features that appear as text boxes. The text boxes have three recurring themes: (1) the diversity of human languages, (2) extraordinary individuals, and (3) research discoveries.

    The book has been developed for undergraduate and graduate courses in language development and/or the psychology of language. Such courses are offered in numerous departments, such as psychology, education, human development, and communication sciences and disorders, as well as English, linguistics, and modern languages. An effort has been made to include a broad coverage of the relevant topics in order for the book to meet the needs of students in these multiple disciplines.

    For additional ancillary resources, please visit the companion website at


    I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to those who helped make this book a reality. When one writes a book, it may appear that it is done by one person, but it is certainly a group effort. I thank my SAGE editors, Chris Cardone and Reid Hester, as well as Eve Oettinger and Sarita Sarak, who helped me at each stage in the process as the book was being developed, reviewed, and revised. I would also like to thank Rachel Messer, MS, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, who read and commented on multiple versions of each chapter and who has taught the Language Development course with me over the years. I also would like to thank those educators at Nuttall Middle School and Midland Trail High School in Fayette County, West Virginia, who played an important part in inspiring me to pursue my interests in science and language. I sincerely thank Jo Davison, Claude McGraw, Randall Patterson, Joel Davis, Alma Burr, Helen Nuckols, Suzanne Skaggs, Scott Wilson, and James Workman. I also would like to thank my academic mentors Peter C. Gordon and Charles Clifton, Jr. Last, I thank my husband, Larry Liggett, who has made it possible for me to devote myself to this endeavor over the past 3 years.

    The authors and SAGE would like to acknowledge the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Caitlin Cole, University of Minnesota: Twin Cities

    Herbert L. Colston, University of Wisconsin-Parkside

    Justin Coran, University of Florida

    Wind Cowles, University of Florida

    Priscilla Davis, University of Alabama at Birmingham

    Amy L. Franklin, University of Texas at San Antonio

    Joseph Galasso, California State University, Northridge

    Susan A. Gelman, University of Michigan

    Tilbe Goksun, University of Pennsylvania

    Carla Hudson Kam, University of British Columbia

    Usha Laksmanan, Southern Illinois University

    Mary Lou Gutierrez, Walden University

    Max Louwerse, University of Memphis

    David Ludden, Lindsey Wilson College

    Mandy Maguire, University of Texas at Dallas

    Daniel S. McConnell, University of Central Florida

    Meghan Moran, San Diego State University

    Judith Olson, Bemidji State University

    Seyda Ozcaliskan, Georgia State University

    Cathy Quenin, Nazareth College of Rochester

    Joan Sereno, University of Kansas

    Lauren Shapiro Crane, Wittenberg University

    L. Kathryn Sharp, East Tennessee State University

    Erik C. Tracy, Ohio State University

    Lydia E. Volaitis, Northeastern University

    Larry D. Williams, North Carolina Central University

  • Glossary


    is a disorder in which one has an inability to write.


    refers to a type of speech error in which a phoneme appears to be produced in a different location within the utterance than intended; the phoneme takes on the phonetic character­istics of the location to which it moved.

    Acquired dyslexia

    refers to dyslexia that arises following a brain injury.

    Active sentence

    is a sentence in which the subject of the sentence serves the semantic role of agent.


    are a type of speech error in which an unintended word or morpheme occurs in an utterance.

    African American Vernacular English

    (AAVE) is a dialect of American English that is spoken by African American communities throughout the United States.

    Age of acquisition

    refers to the age at which one learns a language or the age at which one learns a particular word in a language.

    Age of acquisition

    effect is the fact that words learned earlier in life are responded to faster and remembered better than words that are learned later in life.


    refers to having negative attitudes or prejudice against older adults.

    Agenesis of the corpus callosum

    (ACQ is a congenital disorder characterized by the absence of the corpus callosum in the brain. The condition has also been called the natural split brain.


    is the semantic role of a noun that serves as the performer or doer of the action denoted by a verb.


    can occur following brain damage to Broca's area and is characterized by one produc­ing speech that lacks syntactic function words and morphological word endings.


    is a language disorder in which one has an inability to read.

    Alphabetic writing systems

    are ones in which symbols represent individual phonemes.

    Alzheimer's disease

    is a type of dementia in which individuals have trouble with memory, cognition, and language; it is most often observed in older adults but can also affect younger adults.

    American Sign Language

    (ASL) is a language used by deaf individuals primarily in the United States, involving the use of gestures and facial expressions.

    Anaphoric pronoun

    is a pronoun that refers back in a sentence or discourse to a preceding noun or pronoun.

    Anecdotal evidence is the type of evidence contained in personal stories, experiences, and observa­tions; it is not considered a strong form of evidence.

    Anomic aphasia

    is a type of expressive aphasia in which one experiences word-finding difficulty when speaking but has relatively good comprehension.


    are nouns or proper names that precede pronouns or other referential expressions; antecedents and referents refer to the same discourse entity


    are a type of speech error in which a word or morpheme is produced earlier in an utterance than originally intended.


    is a language deficit caused by an injury to the brain, which can include brain diseases, stroke, or trauma-based injury.


    is a speech disorder involving the inability to plan speech; individuals with apraxia have dif­ficulty producing speech sounds, syllables, and words.

    Arcuate fasciculus

    is an area of the brain that connects Wernicke's area to the premotor area and is involved in controlling movements.

    Artificial intelligence

    is a subfield within cognitive science that is devoted to implementing human­like intelligence in machines.

    Asperger's syndrome

    is a condition classified as on the autism spectrum in which one is relatively high functioning but has difficulty with social relationships and understanding and conforming to social norms.

    Attention deficit disorder

    (ADD) is a disorder associated with inattention.

    Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

    (ADHD) is a disorder associated with both inattention and overactivity, such as fidgeting, talking a great deal, and having difficulty sitting still for long periods.


    is a methodological issue that is common in longitudinal studies. Participants drop out of the study over time. The longer the study, the greater the chances of attrition are.

    Auditory brainstem response

    (ABR) is one of the techniques used to test infants’ hearing before they leave the hospital after birth. Small electrodes are placed on the infant's head, and the electrical activ­ity is recorded as the infant listens to sounds.


    is a developmental disorder in which one displays social and language deficits.


    is a form of language production produced by infants starting at around 4 months. It is characterized by the random production of speech sounds.

    Babbling drift

    refers to the fact that infants’ babbling is composed increasingly of the sounds from the language(s) of the home.

    A baby biography

    is an early methodology for studying child development; someone, usually a par­ent, observes the child's behavior and records important milestones in a diary.

    Balanced bilinguals

    are bilinguals who are equally skilled and fluent in both of the languages that they know.

    Basic level category

    is the intermediate level of categorization for concepts that have three levels (e.g., animal—bird—robin; plant—fruit—apple).

    Behavioral modification

    refers to the use of operant conditioning principles (e.g., reinforcement and punishment) to shape behavior; speech therapy techniques may involve reinforcing target speech sounds.

    Bilingual education

    refers to education that provides, at least, a portion of the education in a bilingual's first language in order to facilitate learning.

    Bilinguals are

    those who are fluent in more than one language.

    Bimodal bilinguals

    are those who know two languages: one that is spoken and one that is signed.


    are a type of speech error in which words are combined, often resulting in a nonword.

    Bottom-up processing

    is processing that only uses information from the stimulus itself to interpret the stimulus.

    Bound morphemes

    are morphemes that cannot appear as a word on their own; in order to be used, they must be added to another morpheme. Examples of bound morphemes include prefixes and suffixes.

    Broca's aphasia

    is a type of aphasia characterized by difficulty producing speech and also reduction in the use of syntactic words (e.g., helping verbs, prepositions, and pronouns).

    Canonical babbling

    is the first stage of babbling, typically occurring between 4 and 6 months and involving the repetition of a single syllable at a time (e.g., babababa or gagagaga).


    is one of the five principles of counting; the number of the last object in a series repre­sents the total number of items.

    Cataphoric pronoun

    is a pronoun that refers forward in a sentence or discourse to a following noun or pronoun.

    Categorical perception

    refers to the ability to distinguish different speech sounds.

    Caudate nucleus

    is part of the basal ganglia, which has been involved in motor disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease.


    are individuals who are 100 years of age or older.

    Chatterbox syndrome

    is a rare condition in which one has severe cognitive deficits as well as near normal language ability.

    Childhood amnesia

    refers to the fact that individuals typically have few memories of events that occurred before the age of 5 years.


    is a manner of speaking in which one uses roundabout ways of explaining meaning (i.e., using more words and phrases than are needed).

    Cleft palate

    occurs when one is born with a hole in the roof of the mouth, which is also the floor of the nose; the hole involves missing or misplaced bone and muscle.

    Closed class words

    are those for which new words cannot be created, such as prepositions, pronouns, determiners (e.g., the, an, a, those, these), and bound morphemes.


    is a rare speech problem in which speakers are difficult to understand because they speak quickly and may use erratic speech rhythms; they may also produce utterances that are ungrammatical and/or contain words that are nonsensical.


    occurs when bilinguals produce utterances that contain words from both of the lan­guages that they know; the listeners are typically also bilingual and know the same two languages.


    refer to words in one of a bilingual's two languages that sound and look similar to a word in the bilingual's other language; the two words have similar meanings.

    Cohort model

    is a model of word recognition developed in the early 1980s; the model emphasized the fact that words sharing phonemes are activated in parallel during word recognition and that as the input is processed, the number of words activated decreases until the target word is identified.

    Collective monologues

    occur when children communicate with one another but do so without talk­ing about the same topic; toddlers will often talk to each other with each speaking about her own topic yet taking turns as in a conversation.

    Color term

    is a word that refers to a color (e.g., blue, red, and green).

    Communicative competence

    refers to achieving the ability to use a language appropriately in a vari­ety of social settings.


    refers to the condition of having more than one disease or disorder.

    Complement clause

    is a type of subordinate clause, as those introduced by the word that (e.g., Barbara exclaimed that the soup was cold.).

    Conduction aphasia

    is a type of aphasia characterized by poor word repetition; good comprehension; and fluent, nonsensical speech. It occurs following damage to the arcuate fasciculus.


    are one of two types of phonemes. Consonants are produced with an interruption of airflow, such as a closure of the lips.

    Continuity hypothesis

    is the view that the mechanism that is used for syntactic parsing is the same for children and for adults.


    is an exchange of utterances between two or more people.


    is pleasant-sounding vocalizations, usually involving one elongated vowel (e.g., oooooo or aaahhh).

    Coordinated clauses

    are clauses that are connected using the conjunctions and, but, and or (e.g.,Darla ordered the burger; Stan ordered the salad.).


    is a word that links a subject and a predicate, such as is and was.

    Corpus callosum

    is the bundle of fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain.


    is a statement expressing a state that is counter-to-fact or hypothetical (e.g., If I were the president of the United States, I would create more national holidays.).

    Critical period hypothesis

    is the view that there is a period in development in which language is learned, and after that window of development passes, language learning is more difficult.

    Cross modal task

    is a methodology developed to investigate language comprehension; participants process spoken language while also having to respond to visually presented stimuli.

    Crossed aphasia

    refers to cases in which aphasia results following damage to the right hemisphere.

    Cross-sectional design

    is a design in which multiple groups of individuals representing different ages are compared during the same time period (e.g., a study in which first, second, and third graders are compared on measures of mathematical ability).

    Crystallized intelligence

    refers to the type of intelligence that tends to increase with age, specifically stored knowledge of word meanings and facts.

    Curse of knowledge

    is the tendency to attribute one's own state of understanding to another's state of mind or even one's own previous state of mind.

    Deep dyslexia

    is a type of developmental dyslexia that is characterized by semantic errors involving individual words in reading, such as seeing the word ape but experiencing the word as monkey.


    refer to a type of speech error in which a phoneme or word is missing from an utterance


    is used to refer to such cognitive problems that manifest and resolve themselves over a shorter period.


    refers to the loss of general cognitive ability that can arise from a variety of circumstances.

    Derivational morphemes

    are bound morphemes (e.g., suffixes or prefixes) that change the part of speech of the word to which they are added.

    Developmental dyslexia

    is a type of dyslexia that appears when children begin learning to read.


    is a variant of a language, spoken by individuals in the same geographic region and/or social group.

    Diary method

    is a technique for studying speech errors; one observes speech errors in everyday life and records instances in a diary.

    Digit span task

    is a method for measuring working memory; one listens to a series of numbers (or digits) and is asked to recall the numbers.

    Direct method

    is a method for teaching second languages that involves students learning the second language without the use of the first language. Grammar of L2 is learned inductively through exposure to L2 sentences.

    Dominant language

    is the language that is most often used by a bilingual or trilingual and also the language used with the greatest proficiency.

    Double dissociation

    is observed when one is studying two processes, A and B, and one can find a factor that influences A but not B, and a second factor that influences B but not A.

    Down syndrome

    is a developmental disorder caused when an extra copy of chromosome 21 becomes part of the embryo. The disorder results in distinctive physical features, organ defects, severe intel­lectual impairment, and delays in language development.

    Dual-route model

    is Coltheart's model of word recognition that describes two paths to word identifi­cation; one path involves whole word recognition, and the other path involves using spelling-to-sound rules.


    is difficulty producing speech because of weakened or paralyzed muscles in the speech tract.


    is a type of disability in which one specifically has trouble with mathematical processes; the disability may occur developmentally or be the result of a brain injury.

    Dyseidetic dyslexia

    is a type of developmental dyslexia in which one cannot identify words as wholes but can recognize words using the spelling-to-sound rules.


    refers to a condition in which one has difficulty with writing.


    is a disorder in which reading is impaired. Dyslexia may occur developmentally or arise fol­lowing brain injury.

    Dysphonetic dyslexia

    is a type of developmental dyslexia in which one cannot identify words using the spelling-to-sound rules but can recognize words as wholes.

    Early left anterior negativity

    (ELAN) is a type of waveform pattern observed during event-related brain potentials (ERP) studies on the left hemisphere anterior area of the scalp occurring relatively early in processing.


    is a form of speech used with older adults; though it is often perceived as demeaning and disrespectful. The characteristics of elderspeak are similar to infant-directed speech.

    Electrical brain stimulation

    (EBS) is a methodology developed to study brain processing; electrical stimulation is applied to brain tissue in order to observe the effect.

    End-of-clause wrap-up effect

    refers to the fact that readers tend to spend more time processing words occurring at the ends of clauses and sentences as compared with the same words that are preceded by the same information but do not occur at the end of the clause or sentence.


    are a type of speech error in which two phonemes or words appear in each other's loca­tion in an utterance.

    Expressive aphasia

    is a broad class of aphasias in which people have trouble producing speech.

    Expressive language

    refers to speech or other forms of language production.

    False belief test

    is a test developed to investigate children's theory of mind.

    False cognates

    are words in one of a bilingual's two languages that sound and look similar to words in the bilingual's other language, but the words have different meanings.

    Fast mapping

    refers to children's ability to learn new words after one exposure.

    Feral children

    are children who spend a significant portion of their early lives without nurturing and/ or physical care by adults.

    First language

    (L1) refers to one's mother tongue, which is the language of one's childhood home and the first language acquired in life.

    Fis phenomenon

    refers to children's common mispronunciation of words, such as when a child says fis when trying to say fish.

    Fluid intelligence

    is a type of intelligence that tends to decline as one is aging; fluid intelligence involves the ability to think logically, reason, and solve problems.

    Focal color

    is the shade of a color that represents the prototypical shade.


    is a protein regulated by the FOXP2 gene located on chromosome 7 that has been found to be involved in human language and also in animal communication.

    Fragile X

    is a genetic condition that results in congenital intellectual impairment. It is the leading cause of intellectual impairment in children.

    Fraternal twins

    are twins who result from two eggs fertilized by two different sperm. Although the twins develop simultaneously in the same womb, they are not more genetically similar than regular siblings.

    Free morphemes

    are morphemes that can stand alone as words.

    Free morpheme constraint

    refers to the fact that bilingual speakers do not produce multimorphemic words in which some morphemes are in one language and the other morphemes are in another language.


    is connective tissue that connects the tongue to the mouth.

    Freudian slip

    is a speech error that is perceived to reveal some unspoken thought or intention of the speaker


    are consonants that are produced when airflow is partially stopped between any two places of articulation (e.g., lips, teeth, or palate).

    Frontier words

    are words whose meanings are only partially known.

    Function words

    are words that serve a syntactic role in sentences, such as helping verbs (e.g., was, had, could, and should), prepositions (e.g., in, on, and under), and pronouns (e.g., he and she).

    Fusion hypothesis

    is the view that young bilingual children do not initially differentiate their two languages but do so at some point later in childhood.


    refers to the different dialects used by men and women, involving differences in word choice, amount of polite speech, and sentence structures.


    is one who specializes in the field of gerontology.


    is the specialty dedicated to the study of older adults and the conditions affecting older adults.

    Global aphasia

    occurs following extensive damage to the perisylvian area, which includes Broca's and Wernicke's areas and the area in between; individuals lose their ability to speak and comprehend language.


    refers to the rules of a language that must be learned in order for a speaker to produce and to comprehend the acceptable sentences of the language. Grammar includes phonological, morphological, semantic, and syntactic rules.

    Grammar-translation method

    is a method for teaching a second language; it utilizes the first language to explicitly teach students the grammatical rules of L2.


    refers to the smallest unit of writing in a language. In English, a grapheme corresponds to a letter of the alphabet.

    Grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences

    refer to letter-to-sound regularities in languages written using an alphabetic writing system.

    Gricean maxims

    describe norms of conversation, which may be universal.

    Habituation paradigm

    is a technique that was developed to investigate infant cognition. Infants are presented with a stimulus repeatedly and also novel stimuli. Infants tend to respond less and less to stimuli as they are processed repeatedly. Differences in responding to stimuli are interpreted as reflecting familiarity or memory for the stimuli.

    Head-turn technique

    is a methodology that was developed to investigate infant cognition; infants are conditioned to turn their heads when they discriminate one phoneme from another.


    words share the same root but have different pronunciations for the different meanings.


    is a word that is used to express more meaning than a single word, such as saying banana to express please, give me the banana.


    refers to a word that is spelled the same but has a different meaning.


    are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same.

    Huntington's disease

    is a rare, genetically based terminal disorder that involves the gradual loss of the ability to control movements as well as cognitive decline


    is larger than typical priming effects, which are observed in older adults.

    Identical twins

    are twins who share the same DNA because they are formed by the same egg and sperm.


    is a word that children use when they are first learning to speak. The word is made up by the child but is used consistently to refer to the same object or event.

    Immersion programs

    are language learning environments in which a second language is taught without reliance on a shared first language. Students are forced to use only the second language in the language learning environment.

    Index of Productive Syntax

    (IPSyn) is a method for measuring the syntactic complexity of children's spontaneous utterances.

    Indirect meaning

    refers to meaning that is not directly reflected in the grammatical structure of the statement.

    Indo-European language

    is a language that belongs to the Indo-European language family.

    Infant-directed speech

    (or motherese) is the way of speaking that adults use with infants. It is char­acterized by variable pitch, elongation of some sounds or words, and repetition of words.

    Inflectional morphemes

    are bound morphemes (e.g., suffix or prefix) that do not change the part of speech of the word to which they are added.


    refers to a phrase that specifies an object that is used to carry out an action.

    Intellectual disability

    is the contemporary term to refer to intellectual impairment (low IQ).

    Intransitive verb

    is a verb that cannot be used with a direct object (e.g., Sue hoped.).

    Irregular word

    refers to a word that does not follow the morphological rules in a language, such as English plural nouns that are not formed with the addition of the suffix -s and English past tense verbs that are not formed with the addition of the suffix -ed.

    Irreversible passives

    are passive sentences in which the words that are in the position of subject and object cannot be exchanged and still result in an interpretable sentence.

    Isolating languages

    are languages in which most words are composed of a single morpheme. Such languages typically have relatively fixed word order.


    is a type of slang that develops within professional groups (e.g., medical jargon, legalese, military speak).

    Joint attention

    occurs when one interacts with another person, and together, they focus on some object or other person.

    Labial consonants

    are consonants that are produced when the airflow is interrupted at the lips.

    Language acquisition device

    (LAD) refers to Noam Chomsky's concept of the organ in the brain that is responsible for the rapid acquisition of language by children.

    Language competence

    is a term created by Noam Chomsky to refer to the knowledge of language in its abstract form, separate from the psychological mechanisms that are involved in language produc­tion and comprehension (i.e., language performance).

    Language family

    is a group of languages that share a common ancestor language; such languages share some characteristics and root words.

    Language isolates

    are languages that are highly dissimilar from other languages of the world and do not appear to be descendants of any known languages.

    Language performance

    is a term created by Noam Chomsky to refer to the use of language, which involves psychological processes as well as knowledge of language (i.e., language competence).

    Language transfer

    refers to the situation in which one's use of a second language is influenced by some aspect of one's first language.

    Late closure

    is a syntactic parsing strategy that is applied in cases in which a phrase has two possible attachments that are comparable in complexity; late closure predicts that the phrase will be attached to the most recently processed part of the sentence.

    Late talker

    refers to a child who produces first words and other language milestones later than the typical child.


    is the phonological level of representation of a word, which is separate from the meaning representation of a word.

    Lexical ambiguity

    refers to a word that has more than one meaning (e.g., bank as in riverbank or money bank).

    Lexical bias effect

    refers to the fact that speech errors result in real words more often than they result in a nonword.

    Lexical decision task

    is a task used in language research in which participants view a series of letter strings and are asked to judge whether each string is or is not a real word.

    Lexical differentiation

    refers to the extent to which a language has words to specify a particular meaning. A language with a great number of words for a concept would be described as having greater lexical differentiation than a language with fewer words for a concept.


    is the term that is used to refer to one's knowledge of words and word meaning.

    Linguistic determinism

    refers to the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which claims that the language one speaks determines all aspects of thought, including perception.

    Linguistic relativity

    refers to the weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which claims that the language that one speaks can influence one's cognitive processing (e.g., memory and/or decision­making processes).


    is the scientific study of language and languages.


    is a speech problem in which one pronounces Isl as the th in thin and pronounces hi as the th in that.

    Localization hypothesis

    is the view that specific parts of the brain can be associated with specific functions.

    Logogen model

    is one of the earliest models of word recognition.

    Logographic writing systems

    are writing systems in which symbols represent entire words.

    Longitudinal design

    is a type of research design in which one group of participants are tested mul­tiple times—sometimes over a period of years.


    is an error in speaking that is characterized by using a similar-sounding word instead of the word that is intended (e.g., saying prostrate instead of prostate).

    Manner of articulation

    refers to the extent to which the airflow is interrupted during the production of a consonant.

    Math disability

    is a type of learning disability that specifically affects mathematical processing.

    Matthew effect

    refers to the notion that children who read poorly will make less progress in reading than children who start out reading well (as in the poor get poorer and the rich get richer).

    McGurk effect

    demonstrates that auditory perception in humans is influenced by visual processing; one who hears the syllable /ga/ but sees the speaker pronouncing the syllable /ba/ will perceive the syllable /da/.

    Mean length utterance

    (MLU) is a unit of measurement used to study language development. The utterances of a child in a conversation are coded in terms of number of morphemes per utterance. From this, the average number of morphemes per utterance is computed.

    Mental number line

    refers to how individuals imagine the number line with negative numbers, zero, and positive numbers ordered relatively to one another.

    Mental retardation

    (MR) is an old-fashioned term to refer to intellectual impairment (low IQ).

    Metalinguistic awareness

    is awareness of one's own language use, such as the extent to which one's intentions have been understood by a listener.


    are a type of figurative language use in which two dissimilar concepts are compared (e.g., The exam was a massacre.).

    Mind blindness

    is Baron-Cohen's term to refer to autism; he claims that individuals with autism have profound deficits in understanding the perspectives or minds of others.

    Minimal attachment

    is a syntactic parsing strategy that is applied in cases in which a phrase has two possible attachments and those attachments differ in complexity; minimal attachment predicts that the syntactically least complex attachment will be favored.

    Mirror neurons

    are specialized cells in the brain that become activated when one performs an action or observes an action performed.

    Misinformation effect

    is the finding that when answering questions about one's memory for events, one generally performs less accurately when the questions contain incorrect details.

    Mixed transcortical aphasia

    is caused by damage to the regions surrounding, but not including, Broca's area, Wernicke's area, and the arcuate fasciculus and characterized by poor language produc­tion and comprehension but the ability to repeat words and phrases.


    is the view that the mind is composed of specialized, somewhat independent subsystems or modules.

    A monolingual

    is a person who knows only one language.

    A morpheme

    is the smallest unit of meaning in language; morphemes may be whole words, prefixes, or suffixes.

    Morphological complexity effect

    refers to the fact that the time taken to recognize a word increases as the number of morphemes in the word increases.

    Morphological rules

    are the rules in a language that govern the formation of new words through the combination of morphemes.


    (also called baby talk or infant-directed speech) is the way of speaking that adults use with infants. It is characterized by variable pitch, elongation of some sounds or words, and repetition of words.

    Multiple sclerosis

    is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the covering of the nerves in the central nervous system and also the coverings to the axons of cells in the brain. Symptoms include both physical and cognitive impairments.

    Mutual exclusivity principle

    refers to a bias in word learning that children have; if an object has already been associated with one label (i.e., a word), the child will not associate it with a second lable (i.e., if a toy is called a blick, it cannot also be called something else).


    is the view that knowledge of language is innate, accounting for children's rapid acquisition of language.

    Naturalistic observation

    refers to a research methodology in which a researcher observes a naturally occurring behavior in the setting in which it typically occurs.

    Negative language transfer

    is a type of language transfer in which one makes errors in a second language because of rules from one's first language.

    Negative sentences

    are sentences that contain the word not or other negative words, such as never (e.g., Sue did not go to theparty.).


    is an utterance that represents a made-up word or nonexistent word.


    are individuals who are between 90 and 99 years of age.

    Nonfocal colors

    are examples of colors but not the shade of the colors that are thought of as the prototypical shade.

    Occipital lobe

    is the area of the brain that is responsible for visual processing; it is located at the back of the head.


    are individuals who are between 80 and 89 years of age.


    are a type of speech error in which a word or morpheme is missing from the utterance.


    occurs when a word's pronunciation is similar to the meaning of the word, such as zip, buzz, or drip.


    is the part of the syllable that contains the initial consonant or consonant cluster.

    Open class words

    are those for which new words can be created, such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

    Operant conditioning

    refers to a form of learning popularized by B. F. Skinner in which the frequency of a naturally occurring behavior (or operant) can be increased or decreased through reinforcement or punishment, respectively.

    Original word game

    is the term used to describe the interactions between children and caregivers in which the child points to an object and asks what it is called.

    Orthographic neighborhood effect

    refers to the fact that the time taken to process a written word is influenced by the number of similarly spelled words there are in the language. Words with similar spellings are called neighbors.


    is a condition that affects older adults, mostly women; bones are weakened due to cal­cium loss that occurs because of the aging process or dietary issues.

    Otitis media

    is a condition involving the buildup of fluid in the ear, sometimes caused by repeated ear infections and associated with language problems in children.

    Otoacoustic emissions test

    (OAE) is a common hearing test administered to infants before they leave the hospital after birth. A small earphone and microphone are placed in the infant's ear canal. Sounds are played. When an infant hears normally, an echo is produced. If an infant is hearing impaired, then no echo will be observed.


    is a type of error produced by children learning words; a word is used more broadly than adults would use the word (e.g., cow is used to refer to all four-legged animals).

    Overregularization errors

    are errors that most children typically make during the period of time in which they are learning new language rules; they apply the rule to words that are irregular, which results in an ungrammatically.

    Parkinson's disease

    is a disorder of the central nervous system caused by the degeneration of cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. The disease causes tremors, involuntary shaking, difficulty controlling movements, and cognitive problems.

    Pars opercularis

    is a region within Broca's area associated with phonological processing and syntac­tic processing.

    Pars orbitalis

    is a region within Broca's area associated with semantic processing.

    Pars triangularis

    is a region within Broca's area associated with semantic processing and syntactic processing.

    Passive sentences

    are sentences in which the subject serves in the semantic role of patient (e.g., The cookie was eaten.).


    is a type of thematic role, which specifies which noun in the sentence is affected by the action.

    Perceptual normalization

    is the process of adjusting to others’ speech patterns.


    are a type of speech error in which a phoneme that occurs in an utterance appears again later in the utterance in an incorrect location.


    is the smallest unit of sound in a language.

    Phoneme-monitoring task

    is a task that was developed to investigate language processing; a par­ticipant listens to a sentence while attempting to identify a target phoneme specified by the experimenter.

    Phonics method

    is a method for teaching reading that emphasizes the learning of spelling-to-sound rules and other aspects of the phonological aspects of words.

    Phonological awareness

    is the understanding that children acquire regarding the sounds and the sound structure of their language.

    Phonological bias technique

    is a methodology developed to study speech errors in the laboratory Participants are presented with word pairs having similar phonological composition. The last word pair of the series is varied in an attempt to induce a speech error

    Phonological bootstrapping hypothesis

    refers to the view that children's language learning is aided by their analysis of the characteristics of the speech that they hear

    Phonological dyslexia

    is a type of acquired dyslexia characterized by difficulty in applying the spelling-to-graphemes rules to identify words.

    Phonological rules

    are the rules of language that govern the basic sounds of words and sentences.

    Phrase marker

    is a tree diagram that is commonly used to represent the syntactic structure of a sentence.

    Phrase structure rules

    describe the word order norms in a language in terms of what types of phrases are contained within sentences and what types of words are contained in phrases.

    Picture-naming task

    is a task that is used in language research in which participants are shown a series of pictures and asked to say the word that describes the picture. Response times are often recorded.

    Pig Latin

    is a word game in English commonly used by children.


    is a phonologically transparent writing system that is used with children learning to read Chinese; those learning Chinese can use pinyin to read and write words based on their sound before they go on to learn the complex, idiographic Chinese symbols.

    Place of articulation

    is a feature of consonants, describing where in the vocal tract the airflow is impeded or completely disrupted. For example, the place of articulation for /m/ is the lips.

    Planum temporale

    is a triangular region within Wernicke's area that likely plays some role in language learning.


    refers to a form of manner and accompanying language use that displays respect for the listener as well as a desire not to offend.

    A polyglot

    is an individual who knows many languages.

    Positive language transfer

    is a type of language transfer in which one's second language usage is facilitated because the rules of the first and second languages are similar.

    Pragmatic rules

    are those rules in a language that govern the social conventions of language use.

    Preferential looking paradigm

    is a technique that is developed to investigate infant cognition. Infants are presented with speech in the context of two visual displays (i.e., TV screens). Differences in look­ing time at the two visual displays are analyzed.

    Primary progressive aphasia

    is a form of dementia caused by degenerative disease; patients have increasing difficulty finding words, reading, writing, and understanding speech.

    Primary progressive multiple sclerosis

    is a type of multiple sclerosis that does not involve periods of remission; rather, the individual experiences progressively more debilitating symptoms from the onset.


    refers to the facilitation of processing that may occur for a stimulus when it is preceded by a related stimulus.

    Principle of arbitrariness

    refers to the property of human language related to the fact that the spoken and written forms of most words are not related to the meaning of the words.

    Principle of displacement

    refers to the property of human language related to the fact that the speaker can refer to events in the past or future and not exclusively events from the present

    Principle of productivity

    refers to the fact that in human languages, speakers can create new forms (e.g., words and sentences) that have never been produced before.

    Private speech

    refers to speech directed toward oneself.

    Productive language ability

    is one's ability to produce speech. In the case of one who knows signed language, productive language ability may also refer to one's signing ability.


    are referential words (e.g., he, she, it, they) that refer to the same discourse entity that has been referred to by the use of a noun or proper name.

    Prosodic bootstrapping hypothesis

    is the view that infants use the prosody or melody of the speech stream to extract information about language that aids them in learning language.


    are among the first words that children use; however, they are words that only the child uses. To be considered a protoword, it must be one that the child uses consistently to refer to objects or actions and it must not be one that adults in the environment introduced to the child.


    is the study of language use, including language processing and language acquisition.


    is a term from operant conditioning that refers to any acts that are designed to decrease the frequency of a particular behavior.

    Pure aphasia

    is a type of aphasia where an individual experiences a deficit in only one area of lan­guage use, such as reading, writing, or speaking.

    Pure word deafness

    is characterized by the inability to comprehend spoken language despite ade­quate hearing and also retaining the ability to speak, read, and write.


    is a design in which different groups of participants are compared, but random assignment is not used to place participants in groups.

    Reading span test

    is a test to assess individual differences in working memory capacity.

    Receptive aphasia

    is a type of aphasia that is characterized by difficulties understanding language (i.e., listening and reading), such as Wernicke's aphasia.

    Receptive language ability

    refers to comprehension ability.


    is a form of language that is used in a particular social setting.

    Regular word

    refers to a word that follows the morphological rules in a language, such as English plural nouns that are formed with the adding of the suffix -s and English past tense verbs with the adding of the suffix -ed.


    are any actions that aim to increase the frequency of a behavior, such as the applica­tion of a reward.

    Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis

    is a type of multiple sclerosis that begins with symptoms that persist for a period of time and then disappear within months or years of remission.


    occurs during speech when a speech error is made and the speaker corrects the error in the following utterance.


    is a type of utterance in which one asks another for something.

    Reversible passives

    are passive sentences in which the words that are in the position of subject and object could be exchanged and result in an interpretable sentence.


    is a type of speech problem in which the speaker consistently replaces the /r/ sound with /w/ sounds.

    Right ear advantage

    (REA) for language refers to the fact that language stimuli are perceived better when listened to by the right ear than by the left ear.


    is the part of the syllable that does not contain the initial consonant or consonant cluster.

    Romance languages

    are those languages that descended from Latin (e.g., Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian).

    Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

    is the view proposed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf that the language one speaks influences what one can think about and how one thinks.


    occurs when an individual with one or more developmental disorders also has an excep­tionally developed skill or ability, such as amazing memory, musical ability, or artistic talent.

    School psychologists

    are psychologists who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of skills that are used in academic settings.

    Second language (L2)

    is a language that is acquired in addition to one's first language (LI).

    Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis

    is a type of multiple sclerosis that begins with a bout of symptoms that appear to go into remission; however, the symptoms then recur with progressively worse symptoms. Future remissions and recurrence involve still progressively worsening symptoms.

    Semantic associate

    is a word that is related in meaning to another word.

    Semantic bootstrapping

    refers to the view that children learn syntactic rules of language through the acquisition of word meanings.

    Semantic complexity

    refers to the complexity of a word or phrase in terms of meaning (i.e., how many meanings or changes in meaning are involved).

    Semantic memory

    is the type of memory used to store the meanings of words and world knowledge, such as facts learned in school.

    Semantic network

    is a metaphor used to describe how concepts are stored in memory—with related concepts located closer together than unrelated concepts. When one concept is activated during process­ing, the activation can spread to related concepts through pathways between concepts in the network.

    Semantic priming effect

    refers to the fact that processing is facilitated on a stimulus if the preceding stimulus is related to the second in terms of meaning (e.g., shoe is processed faster following sock than following rock).

    Semantic priming paradigm

    is a technique that was developed to investigate semantic processing; processing is measured for words preceded by semantically related or unrelated words (e.g., shoe-sock versus bird-sock).

    Semantic rules

    are the rules of a language that govern how meaning is derived from combinations of words within sentences and the interpretation of sentences within longer discourses.

    Semantic verification task

    is used to investigate the organization of semantic memory; participants are presented with statements and asked to press a key on a keyboard as soon as they can determine whether the statement is true or false.


    is an old-fashioned term used to refer to dementia.

    Septuagenarians are

    individuals between the ages of 70 and 79 years.

    Sequential bilingualism

    occurs when one learns a second language later in life than one learns a first language.


    are individuals between the ages of 60 and 69 years.


    are speech errors in which a phoneme or morpheme shows up in the wrong location in an utterance, such as later in the utterance than intended.


    are a form of figurative language in which two dissimilar things are compared using the word like (e.g., the sunset was like a symphony).

    Simultaneous bilingualism

    occurs when one learns a second language at the same time one is learn­ing a first language.

    Single dissociation

    is observed when one is studying two processes and a factor influences one pro­cess but not the other.


    refers to informal language use within a culture, most typically involving newly innovated words and expressions.

    Slip of the ear

    refers to when one mishears spoken language.

    Slip of the tongue

    refers to a speech error.

    Slips of the hand

    are signing errors that are made by a user of a signed language, such as American Sign Language (ASL).

    Social smile

    is a communicative smile displayed by infants around the 6th week to caregivers.

    Southern American English

    (SAE) is a dialect of American English spoken in the southern regions of the country. It differs in both phonological and morphological features from standard American English.

    Specific language impairment

    (SLI) is a genetically based disorder affecting language; affected individu­als have IQ in the normal range but have persistent difficulties with grammatical aspects of language.

    Speech acts

    fulfill a specific intention of a speaker, such as issuing a greeting or making a request.


    is a speech error. The term gets its name from the Reverend Spooner, who frequently made speech errors when he spoke.

    Spreading activation

    is the metaphor that is used to describe why a concept in a semantic network is easier to process when a related concept has been processed recently.

    Standard dialect

    is the dialect that is considered to be the ideal. It is the dialect used for most official written documents and for spoken programs, such as national news broadcasts.

    Stop consonants

    are types of consonants that involve the complete interruption of airflow through the vocal tract, such as at the lips, in the throat, or by the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth. The following phonemes in English are stop consonants: /b/, /p/,/d/, /t/, /g/, and /k/.

    Strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

    is the same as linguistic determinism, which claims that the language one speaks determines all aspects of thought, including perception.


    is a rare speech problem in which individuals have difficulty producing speech in a con­sistently fluent manner.

    Subject variable

    refers to a variable in a study that is associated with individual participants and can­not be changed or randomly assigned, such as participants’ age, gender, smoking status, etc.

    Subordinate categories

    are the lowest level of categorization for concepts that have three levels (e.g., animal-bird-robin and plant-fruit-apple).


    are a type of speech error in which a word or morpheme is produced in an utterance in place of the intended word or morpheme (e.g., The coffee is too cold, I mean, too hot.).


    refers to silent speech that is sometimes produced when we hear speech in our minds, such as when we read silently.

    Superordinate categories

    are the highest level of categorization for concepts that have three levels (e.g., animal-bird-robin and plant-fruit-apple).

    Surface dyslexia

    is a type of acquired dyslexia characterized by difficulty in recognizing words as wholes; consequently, individuals have trouble recognizing irregularly spelled words.

    Syllabic writing systems

    are those in which symbols represent individual syllables.

    Syntactic ambiguity

    refers to a word or phrase that can serve more than one syntactic role in a sentence.

    Syntactic bootstrapping

    refers to the view that children's knowledge of grammar can help them learn new words.

    Syntactic category ambiguity

    refers to words that can function as more than one part of speech (i.e., noun, verb, adjective, preposition, determiner), such as kick, dance, and burn; each of these words can be used as either a noun or a verb.

    Syntactic complexity

    refers to the complexity of a word or phrase in terms of syntactic structure (i.e., how many syntactic constituents are involved, how many nodes or branches must be con­structed for the structure).

    Syntactic parsing

    refers to the processing of words in a sentence in terms of their syntactic structure.

    Syntactic reanalysis

    occurs when comprehenders process sentences containing a temporary syn­tactic ambiguity and the first analysis of the ambiguity turns out to be incorrect; the following sentence context disambiguates the ambiguity as being different from the comprehender's initial interpretation.

    Syntactic rules

    are the rules of language that govern basic word order, such as the positioning of the subject, verb, and object in a sentence.

    Synthetic languages

    tend to have more than one morpheme per word on average. Some synthetic languages have a large number of morphemes per word, and word order is much more flexible than in English.


    refers to extremely rapid speech.

    Taxonomy bias

    is displayed by children learning words; they tend to assume that a word refers to a type of an object or whole category rather than a specific example of the category.

    Testing confound

    is a methodological problem that can occur in studies in which participants are tested multiple times, such as longitudinal studies. The participants’ performance during subsequent testing sessions may be influenced by earlier testing sessions.

    Thematic roles

    are the semantic functions that phrases in a sentence satisfy, such as agent, patient, and instrument.

    Theory of mind

    refers to the understanding that develops in children typically between 3 and 4 years resulting in their having an understanding that others may have different thoughts and perspectives than their own.

    Tip-of-the-tongue state

    (TOT state) occurs when one has difficulty producing a word during speaking despite the fact that the person knows the word and, sometimes, can identify the first sound of the word, number of syllables, and stress pattern.

    Tongue twister effect

    refers to the fact that readers take longer to read silently sentences that contain words sharing the same phoneme.


    is an old-fashioned way of describing individuals with lisps or other speech impedi­ments; however, the expression stems from a particular condition in which the tongue is abnormally connected to the floor of the mouth.

    Top-down processing

    is processing that uses information from memory in addition to information from a stimulus itself to interpret the stimulus.

    Transcortical motor aphasia

    occurs following brain damage outside of Broca's area, specifically regions connected to Wernicke's area, and is characterized by impaired speech but good comprehension.

    Transcortical sensory aphasia

    occurs in patients with damage posterior to Wernicke's area; it is char­acterized by poor comprehension but fluent, grammatical speech and good word repetition.

    Transitive verb

    is a verb that occurs with a direct object (e.g., John broke the glass.).

    Translation equivalents

    refer to the words from different languages that share the same meaning (e.g., apple and manzana).


    is one who is fluent in three languages.


    21 is the term used to refer to Down syndrome, as the disorder involves one having three copies of chromosome 21.

    True experiment

    is an experiment in which at least one variable is manipulated, and members of the sample are randomly assigned to conditions.

    Truncated passives

    are passive sentences that do not specify the agent of the action in a by-phrase (e.g., The cookies were eaten).


    is a characteristic of conversations; one person speaks, then the other person speaks, and so on.

    Typicality effect

    refers to the fact that one can confirm typical members of a category faster than atypical members (e.g., A robin is a bird. vs. A penguin is a bird.).


    is a common error that children make when learning new words. They use the word on a more limited basis than adults would, specifically using the word to refer to fewer members of a category than adults would.

    Universal grammar

    (UG) refers to Chomsky's concept of the knowledge that is innate and allows children to learn any human language to which they receive adequate exposure; the knowledge must contain information about what makes a possible human language.

    Variegated babbling

    is the second stage of babbling occurring around 11 months of age; infants pro­duce sequences of speech sounds involving different consonants and vowels, such as bagadabaga or mabadagama.

    Vegetative sounds

    are nonlanguage sounds made by infants early in life, such as sounds related to sucking, sneezing, and breathing.

    Visual world paradigm

    is used to investigate language comprehension; participants’ eye movements are recorded as they interact with objects as they listen to spoken instructions over headphones.

    Voice-onset time

    refers to the duration between the start of the production of a phoneme and the start of voicing.


    occurs during speaking when the vocal cords are vibrating.


    refers to one of two types of phonemes. Vowels are produced without any interruption of air­flow along the vocal tract.

    Wada testing

    involves using an anesthetic to paralyze temporarily one hemisphere of the brain at a time in order to investigate the processing carried out by the hemisphere that is not paralyzed.

    Weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

    states that the language one speaks can influence one's cognitive processing (e.g., memory and/or decision-making processes).

    Wernicke's aphasia

    is a language deficit resulting from damage to the area of the brain known as Wernicke's area; one can produce speech relatively fluently, but the speech lacks content words and may contain nonsense words that result with morphemes that are combined incorrectly.

    Whole language method

    is a method for teaching reading that emphasizes the whole reading experi­ence and the use of reading strategies to extract meaning. Instruction involves students reading in groups, reading aloud, and encouraging students to develop a love of reading.

    Whole object bias

    refers to the fact that when one hears a new noun in the context of the object to which it refers, one typically infers that the noun refers to the entire object rather than some part or aspect of the object.

    Whorfian hypothesis

    is the view proposed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf that the language that one speaks influences what one can think about and how one thinks.


    refers to words that are used in the formation of questions in English, such as what, which, where, when, and how.

    Williams syndrome

    is a rare, genetically based disorder characterized by elfin facial features and low IQ but highly developed (or near normal) language ability

    Word frequency effect

    refers to the fact that words that are used more frequently can be processed faster and remembered more easily than words that occur less frequently

    Word length effect

    refers to the fact that the time taken to read a word is generally longer for words with a greater number of letters.

    Word-naming task

    is a task in which a research participant is shown a list of words, one at a time, and asked to pronounce the word as quickly as possible. Response time is typically recorded.

    Word spurt

    is a period during a child's life (typically between 18 and 24 months) when vocabulary expands at a rapid rate.

    Word superiority effect

    refers to the fact that participants can recognize a whole word faster than they can recognize any single letter within the word.

    Writing disability

    is a type of learning disability in which one has problems specifically with writing—either the physical movements involved in writing or the cognitive processes involved in writing, or both.


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