chapter  2
42 Pages

Theoretical and Historical Roots of Psychollngulstlc Research

WithR. W. Rieber, Harold Vetter

In the summer of 1951, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) sponsored an interdisciplinary seminar on language behavior at Cornell University that brought together three psychologists and three linguists. 2 Unlike many well-intentioned mutual efforts of this kind, the Cornell 'conference produced a number of noteworthy results. In addition to their discovery of methodological kinship, the conferees found themselves in possession of a solid foundation of shared interests in language phenomena and their systematic exploration. Two of the more influential consequences of the conference were not immediately apparent. The first of these was the establishment of the following autumn of a Committee on Linguistics and Psychology by the SSRC, which included psychologists John Carroll, James Jenkins, George Miller, and Charles Osgood, and linguists Joseph Greenberg, Floyd Lounsbury, and Thomas Sebeok. The second important consequence of the Cornell summer seminar was the grassfire rapidity with which the term psycholinguistics entered the lexicon of psychologists and linguists alike. 3

At least part of the reason for the almost instant popularity of psycho linguistics as a term was the lack of a suitable tag or label for the variety of issues and problems encompassed by the research interests and efforts of linguists and psychologists. Roger Brown (1958) objected to the "absurd but intrusive false etymology" of the term, which tends to support the implication that a "psycho-linguist" is a mentally deranged polyglot. But his more serious concern that the term might limit the field to the traditional objectives of linguistics has fortunately been allayed by subsequent developments in psycholinguistic research. In fact, a broad range of inquiry is presently conducted under the rubric psycho linguistic, which fits under the more generous umbrella of the "psychology of language" (see Chapter 1, this volume).