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    Language and Cognition

    Language can be defined as “a socially agreed-upon, rule-governed system of arbitrary symbols that can be combined in different ways to communicate ideas and feelings about both the present time and place and other times and places, real or imagined.”¹

    In order for a communication method to be considered a language it must meet all of the following three requirements

    • Semanticity: the extent to which a language can use symbols to transmit meaningful messages.
    • Displacement: the ability to convey a message that is not tied to the current time and place.
    • Generativity: the ability to combine words or symbols of a language “using rules of composition and syntax to communicate an almost infinite variety of ideas using a relatively small vocabulary.”¹

    Psycholinguistics are part of a branch of cognitive psychology devoted to the study of acquisition, comprehension and production of language and focus their studies on verbal behavior and cognition.

    There are four cognitive levels levels of language analysis. They are as follows:¹

    1. Recognize the sounds (phonemes) in utterance.
    2. Identify the words in the massage and associate them with their meanings. The listener must access their morphological and semantic knowledge to complete this.
    3. Analyze syntax of the message. This is a complex process that can involve the use of countless cues, including word order, affixes, content words and semantics.
    4. Interpret it in its context. This requires an ability to dip into knowledge about the world (pragmatics) with the syntax and semantics of the utterance.

    Psychologists who specialize in studying language and cognition may study the cognitive processes that take place when understanding and producing language. Another popular area of study is the relationship between language and development. It is important to understand how children develop language skills to identify and combat any potential barriers to comprehension.



    1. Carlson, Neil R., William Buskist, and G. Neil. Martin. Psychology: The Science of Behaviour. Harlow: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

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