The sound system of the internalized word store: psychological and linguistic models



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The subdiscipline of cognitive psychology known as psycholinguistics has as its goal ascertaining the formal nature of language, through empirical investigation of postulates derived from linguistics concerning the internalized language system. The model sought from such investigations is a description of language competence, speakers' knowledge of language, as distinct from language performance or verbal behavior. The general form in which a model of language competence is currently represented is some variant of generative system, developed by Noam Chomsky and other psycholinguists. This type of system presents a computational program for language operations, and also describes a structural map of the units composing language and entering into these operations. Entries in a generative computational program for language are linguistic rules. If a linguistic rule is verified as viable for a language, it is considered part of the formal structure of the language. The issue to be explored in this work is whether units and processes which compose a formal model of language can also be assumed to obtain in a psychological model. The makeup of speakers' language knowledge must be investigated empirically, since speakers cannot give direct evidence of knowing language rules. If a facet of language is chosen for study whose formal nature is well described, it presents a good arena in which to test the congruence between this formal description and a psychological model derived from speakers' operations with language in an experimental setting. For English, one such well known facet concerns the internalized dictionary or word store, specifically the sound units in which words are entered into a speaker's lexicon. Current linguistic theory provides not only a detailed and well-verified description of these sound units and the rules by which they operate, but also an account of the close correspondence between this hypothecated level of internalized knowledge and the writing system or orthography of English. The present work is a series of studies concerning the sound system of the internalized lexicon. It is approached from the avenue of spelling processes, since the formal linguistic model now current provides specific postulates concerning the ways in which speakers go about spelling words and how such spellings are derived from internalized knowledge of sounds. The nature of this knowledge is approached by presenting subjects with words to spell, and analyzing both their errors and correct spellings in an effort to determine whether the form of stored sound-unit knowledge, as reflected by spellings, resembles the structures postulated by the formal model or whether a psychological model of this knowledge is constructed differently from the linguistic one.