The course will cover four broad areas of research:
(1) Sentence and text comprehension. In real life, words never come alone -- they are in the company of other words, of other linguistic signals (e.g., intonation), and of a wide range of other relevant factors (such as the current scene, what has been said before and by whom). As we comprehend language, we need to somehow combine all these sources of information to make sense of what is said. How do people do this? Amongst other things, we'll have a look at the methodology used to keep track of sentence comprehension as it unfolds, we'll review a wide range of recent research on sentence-level syntactic, semantic and referential processing, and we'll examine theoretical and computational perspectives on how the system might incrementally deal with words as they come in.
(2) Sentence production.Sentence production requires the transformation of a preverbal communicative intention into articulation. This transformation is achieved by a series of processing stages. Modern psycholinguistic models of language production assume at least the following levels: conceptualization, i.e. the preparation of a representation of the communicative intention; lexicalization and grammatical encoding, i.e. the selection of the appropriate words from the mental lexicon and the generation of a syntactic structure; phonological encoding, i.e. the generation of a phonological representation of the to-be-produced sentence; and articulation. Central questions in the area of sentence production are: (a) How are the different processing stages coordinated in time? (b) Which properties of the communicative intention affect the choice of appropriate words and of the syntactic structure for the to-be-produced sentence? (c) How much of a sentence is planned before a speaker initiates articulation? Is there something as an advance planning unit of a fixed structurally defined size? Do the planning units at the different processing stages differ in size?
(3) Language in action.Primarily later in the course, we take a step back from the established domains of comprehension and production, and have a look at how the systems involved interact with other systems that make our species the flexible species that we are. After all, language is there for a purpose, which is to help people deal (and live) with others and the world around them. Amongst other things, we'll have a look at how the processing systems involved in comprehension and production systems interlock in conversation, how they relate to attention, action, our goals, values and emotions, how language processing interacts with processing of the sensory environment (e.g., how linguistic processing and the properties of the visual environment jointly determine visual orienting), how they relate to our body (embodied sentence comprehension), and in what ways our language processing machinery might scaffold our thinking.
(4) Second language processing. The findings, models and theories discussed so far in the course predominantly apply to first language (L1) speakers. However, most of us speak other languages as well, though mostly not as proficiently as our mother tongue. The last part of the course will look at sentence processing from a second language (L2) perspective as well as at how L2 speakers learn from correct input in ‘everyday life’.