9.1 Evidence for Speech Production

The evidence used by psycholinguistics in understanding speech production can be varied and interesting. These include speech errors, reaction time experiments, neuroimaging, computational modelling, and analysis of patients with language disorders. Until recently, the most prominent set of evidence for understanding how we speak came from speech errors. These are spontaneous mistakes we sometimes make in casual speech. Ordinary speech is far from perfect and we often notice how we slip up. These slips of the tongue can be transcribed and analyzed for broad patterns. The most common method is to collect a large corpus of speech errors by recording all the errors one comes across in daily life.

Perhaps the most famous example of this type of analysis are what are termed ‘Freudian slips.’ Freud (1901–1975) proposed that slips of the tongue were a way to understand repressed thoughts. According to his theories about the subconscious, certain thoughts may be too uncomfortable to be processed by the conscious mind and can be repressed. However, sometimes these unconscious thoughts may surface in dreams and slips of the tongue. Even before Freud, Meringer and Mayer (1895) analysed slips of the tongue (although not in terms of psychoanalysis).

Speech errors can be categorized into a number of subsets in terms of the linguistic units or mechanisms involved. Linguistic units involved in speech errors could be phonemes, syllables, morphemes, words or phrases. The mechanisms of the errors can involve the deletion, substitution, insertion, or blending of these units in some way. Fromkin (1971; 1973) argued that the fact that these errors involve some definable linguistic unit established their mental existence at some level in speech production. We will consider these in more detail in discussing the various stages of speech production.

Speech Error Types and Examples
Error Type Error Target
Anticipation leading list Reading list
Perseveration black bloxes black boxes
Exchange rat pack pack rat
Substitution spencil stencil
Deletion sippery slippery
Insertion sakool school


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Psychology of Language Copyright © 2021 by Dinesh Ramoo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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