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In recent decades, psychologists have become increasingly interested in our ability to speak. This paper sketches the present theoretical perspective on this most complex skill of homo sapiens. The generation of fluent speech is based on the interaction of various processing components. These mechanisms are highly specialized, dedicated to performing specific subroutines, such as retrieving appropriate words, generating morpho-syntactic structure, computing the phonological target shape of syllables, words, phrases and whole utterances, and creating and executing articulatory programmes. As in any complex skill, there is a self-monitoring mechanism that checks the output. These component processes are targets of increasingly sophisticated experimental research, of which this paper presents a few salient examples.
During the second half of the 19th century, the psychology of language was invented as a discipline for the sole purpose of explaining the evolution of spoken language. These efforts culminated in Wilhelm Wundt's monumental Die Sprache of 1900, which outlined the psychological mechanisms involved in producing utterances and considered how these mechanisms could have evolved. Wundt assumes that articulatory movements were originally rather arbitrary concomitants of larger, meaningful expressive bodily gestures. The sounds such articulations happened to produce slowly acquired the meaning of the gesture as a whole, ultimately making the gesture superfluous. Over a century later, gestural theories of language origins still abound. I argue that such theories are unlikely and wasteful, given the biological, neurological and genetic evidence.
How can one conceive of the neuronal implementation of the processing model we proposed in our target article? In his commentary (Pulvermüller 1999, reprinted here in this issue), Pulvermüller makes various proposals concerning the underlying neural mechanisms and their potential localizations in the brain. These proposals demonstrate the compatibility of our processing model and current neuroscience. We add further evidence on details of localization based on a recent meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of word production (Indefrey & Levelt 2000). We also express some minor disagreements with respect to Pulvermüller's interpretation of the “lemma” notion, and concerning his neural modeling of phonological code retrieval. Branigan & Pickering discuss important aspects of syntactic encoding, which was not the topic of the target article. We discuss their well-taken proposal that multiple syntactic frames for a single verb lemma are represented as independent nodes, which can be shared with other verbs, such as accounting for syntactic priming in speech production. We also discuss how, in principle, the alternative multiple-frame-multiple-lemma account can be tested empirically. The available evidence does not seem to support that account.
It is a major move from the claim that the core linguistic problem in Broca's aphasia is the inability to deal with traces, to the claim that this is the syntactic operation only and that it is exclusively supported by Broca's region. Three arguments plead against this move. First, many Broca patients have no damage to Broca's area. Second, it is not only passive, but also active jabberwocky sentences that activate the frontal operculum in a judgment task. Third, the same area is involved in a phrase-building production task that does not require tense processing.
A comparison of Merge, a model of comprehension, and WEAVER, a model of production, raises five issues: (1) merging models of comprehension and production necessarily creates feedback; (2) neither model is a comprehensive account of word processing; (3) the models are incomplete in different ways; (4) the models differ in their handling of competition; (5) as opposed to WEAVER, Merge is a model of metalinguistic behavior.
The commentaries provide a multitude of perspectives on the
theory of lexical access presented in our target article. We respond,
on the one hand, to criticisms that concern the embeddings of our
model in the larger theoretical frameworks of human performance
and of a speaker's multiword sentence and discourse generation.
These embeddings, we argue, are either already there or naturally
forgeable. On the other hand, we reply to a host of theory-internal
issues concerning the abstract properties of our feedforward spreading
activation model, which functions without the usual cascading,
feedback, and inhibitory connections. These issues also concern
the concrete stratification in terms of lexical concepts, syntactic
lemmas, and morphophonology. Our response stresses the parsimony
of our modeling in the light of its substantial empirical coverage.
We elaborate its usefulness for neuroimaging and aphasiology and
suggest further cross-linguistic extensions of the model.
Preparing words in speech production is normally a fast and
accurate process. We generate them two or three per second in fluent
conversation; and overtly naming a clear picture of an object can
easily be initiated within 600 msec after picture onset. The
underlying process, however, is exceedingly complex. The theory
reviewed in this target article analyzes this process as staged and
feedforward. After a first stage of conceptual preparation, word
generation proceeds through lexical selection, morphological and
phonological encoding, phonetic encoding, and articulation itself. In
addition, the speaker exerts some degree of output control, by
monitoring of self-produced internal and overt speech. The core
of the theory, ranging from lexical selection to the initiation of
phonetic encoding, is captured in a computational model, called
weaver++. Both the theory and the computational
model have been developed in interaction with reaction time
experiments, particularly in picture naming or related word production
paradigms, with the aim of accounting for the real-time processing in
normal word production. A comprehensive review of theory, model, and
experiments is presented. The model can handle some of the main
observations in the domain of speech errors (the major empirical
domain for most other theories of lexical access), and the theory
opens new ways of approaching the cerebral organization of speech
production by way of high-temporal-resolution imaging.
This commentary discusses whether abstract metrical frames
are stored. For stress-assigning languages (e.g., Dutch and English),
which have a dominant stress pattern, metrical frames are stored only
for words that deviate from the default stress pattern. The majority
of the words in these languages are produced without retrieving any
independent syllabic or metrical frame.
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