Study of Language: Module 2

NEUROLINGUISTICS : Neurolinguistics is the study of the relationship between language and the brain. It is a specialized area within psycholinguistics that studies the neural (nerve) mechanisms in the human brain that control the comprehension, production and acquisition of language. The brain has two basic parts – the left hemisphere / Broca’s area which deals with producing speech and the right hemisphere / Wernicke’s Area which deals with comprehension. Neurolinguistics examines the physiological basis of language and language disorders such as aphasia (loss of the ability to understand or produce speech due to brain damage), loss of memory etc.

ORGANS OF SPEECH :  The organs involved in modifying the air stream expelled from the lungs are called the ‘organs of speech.’ The lungs, the muscles of the chest, the windpipe (trachea), the larynx, the vocal cords/folds, the pharynx, the mouth and the nose are the organs of speech. These organs have originally developed to enable other human activities like breathing and eating; later they were adapted to the production of speech. The lungs serve as the basic source of air. The walls of the lungs contract by the action of the chest muscles and air from the lungs is pushed out. This air passes out through the windpipe and the larynx. The larynx is at the top of the windpipe and is commonly called ‘Adam’s apple.’ The lip-like structures in the larynx are called the vocal cords/folds. They are placed horizontally from front to back. They are attached in front and can be separated at the back. The vocal cords can be held close together or be wide apart. The space between the vocal cords is called the glottis.

Voiceless / breathed sounds

In the articulation of certain speech sounds the vocal cords are wide apart and the glottis is open. Then the air passes out through it freely without any friction producing the sound called ‘breath.’ The speech sounds produced in this manner are called voiceless / breathed sounds; example — / p /, / t /, / k /, / ʧ /, / θ /,/ f /, / s /,  / ʃ / and / h /.

Voiced sounds

During the production of certain sounds the vocal cords are loosely held together; as the air from the lungs is pushed out, they vibrate producing the sound called voice. The sounds thus produced with the vibration of the vocal cords are called voiced sounds. The vowels and diphthongs and the consonants  / b /, / d /, / g /,  / ʤ /,  / ð /,  / v /,  / z /, / ʒ /, / m /, / n /,  / ŋ /, / l /,  / r /,  / w / and  / j /  are voiced sounds.

Pharynx —  is a cavity between the larynx and the mouth; it is one of the resonance cavities. The air from the lungs passes through the larynx into the pharynx and then out, through the oral or the nasal passage.

The oral cavity / mouth

The roof of the mouth comprises the teeth-ridge, the hard palate, the soft palate and the uvula. The hard convex part immediately behind the upper front teeth is called the teeth-ridge / the alveolar ridge / the alveolus. The hard concave area behind the teeth-ridge is called the hard palate. The roof of the mouth then becomes soft and fleshy; this soft portion is called the soft palate / the velum. It separates the oral and nasal cavity. At the extreme end of the soft palate is the fleshy finger-like structure called the uvula. When it is lowered, the nasal sounds are produced. When it is raised, the air passes out through the oral cavity and the oral sounds are produced.

The tongue

The tongue is an important speech organ. It does not have any physical divisions like the roof of the mouth. Nevertheless, it can be divided into three main parts corresponding to the divisions of the roof of the mouth. The part of the tongue that lies opposite the teeth-ridge when the tongue is in a position of rest, is called the blade of the tongue. The extreme tip of the blade is called the tip of the tongue. The part of the tongue which lies opposite the hard palate is called the front of the tongue. The part of the tongue which lies opposite the soft palate is the back of the tongue.

The lips – the position of the lips affects the quality of vowels.


The production of speech sounds is a three-step process.

Articulatory phonetics – is the study of the production of speech sounds by the organs of speech.

Acoustic phonetics – is the study of the physical properties of the sounds produced in speech.

Auditory phonetics – is the study of the perception of speech sounds.

SPEECH  MECHANISM : The energy required for the production of speech sounds is provided by an air-stream mechanism. The air-stream expelled from the lungs (ie the air we breathe out) is modified to form speech sounds. This air-stream which involves lung-air is called pulmonic air-stream. The air stream that is pushed out is called egressive and that which is drawn in is called ingressive. A pulmonic egressive air-stream mechanism is used for the production of speech sounds of most languages in the world. All the sounds of English and of most Indian languages are produced with a pulmonic egressive air-stream mechanism. The air expelled from the lungs undergoes modification. Various organs in our body are involved in modifying it into speech sounds and they are called the organs of speech. Velaric and glottalic are two other sir-stream mechanisms. In the velaric air-stream mechanism the velum (the back of the tongue) sets in motion the air in the mouth. In the case of the glottalic air-stream mechanism the closed glottis acts as the initiator of the air in the pharynx. 

PSYCHOLINGUISTICS :              Psycholinguistics is a branch of study which combines the disciplines of psychology and linguistics. Language is a mental phenomenon; it is mental processes that are articulated in language behaviour. Psycholinguistics studies these mental processes – processes of thought and concept formation and their articulation in language. Cognitive psychology explores how meanings are understood by the human brain, how syntax and memory are linked, how messages are ‘decoded’ and stored. Psycholinguistics also studies the influence of psychological factors such as intelligence, motivation and anxiety on the kind of language that is understood and produced. So psycholinguistics can offer insights and corrective measures for mental disabilities like dyslexia (mistaking one letter for another). Psycholinguistics is concerned with the learning of language at various stages : — the early acquisition of a first language by children and later stages in acquisition of first and other languages. Three primary processes are investigated in psycholinguistics – language comprehension, language production and language acquisition. Language comprehension means understanding what people say and write. Language comprehension is a complex process that occurs easily and effortlessly in human beings. Language production is the production of spoken/written language. Language acquisition is the process by which human beings acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language as well as to produce and use words and sentences to communicate. Psycholinguistics as a separate branch of study emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s as a result of the ideas presented by Noam Chomsky.


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