Experimentation Methods

In psycholinguistics, there are two major methodologies in gathering data to prove one’s hypotheses. The first one is researching corpora of language material. This method is not so suited for human sentence processing. Experimentation is a better alternative for this topic because if we want to know how humans do this, we should observe them doing it. 

This last aspect also indicates we should use online instead of offline measures. An online measure tries to really tap into an ongoing process. An offline measure merely registers the outcome of that process. So if we want to observe the process in real time, online measures are the way to go (Sandra, 2009).

There are two general categories of online measures that will be discussed here.

All experiments have the purpose of collecting data on a phenomenon to better understand this phenomenon. A participant will have to perform a language task (e.g. read a sentence, listen to a word). A highly controlled experiment design is set up where the researchers manipulate one or more factors that are expected to have an effect on the mental processes (Sandra, 2009).

There is yet a third option in researching human language use. There are scholars in psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics that investigate the language ability of patients with language impairments (e.g. aphasia) to find evidence for their hypotheses of the workings of language in the brain. Human Sentence Processing does not seem to be a topic that is well-fit for this method, but there has been some research on aphasia and human sentence processing (Shapiro & Levine, 1989; Zurif et al., 1993; Swinney & Zurif, 1995; Balogh et al., 1998). For an introduction on linguistics and aphasia, see (Avrutin, 2001).

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