Compared to communication in other species, human speech is a highly differentiated faculty, enabling us to communicate complex information in an efficient way. There are many aspects to the psychological study of language, including its production and understanding (listening, articulation, memorization), and the use of indirect means of communication through writing and reading. In all of these aspects cross-cultural differences can be observed. In this chapter we will deal with the main theme of cross-cultural psycholinguistic research, namely the extent to which underneath different words and rules of grammar there is commonality between languages.
In the first section research on linguistic relativity is presented, addressing the question of to what extent speaking a particular language influences one's thinking. We look at two topics on which much of the discussion about linguistic relativity has been focussed, namely perception and categorization of colors, and orientation in space. We present the case of relativism and counterarguments based on empirical cross-cultural studies. The second section is on universalist approaches, especially the notion of universal grammar. Again, not only the evidence in favor, but also challenges are presented.
On the Internet we present some additional information. There is an entry on language development (Additional Topics, Chapter 8), pointing out some of the complexities a child has to master in order to acquire a language.