Overview of Psycholinguistics at the University of Massachusetts

The Psycholinguistics Training Program at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst is a community of researchers and students in the disciplines of Linguistics, Psychology, and Communication Disorders, including researchers at Smith College. The members of this community study both language acquisition and adult language performance, in the normal population and in populations of special interest such as speakers of African American English (AAE) and deaf individuals. The program is designed to provide students with expertise in psychological, linguistic, and communication-disorders based approaches to psycholinguistics. Its members share the belief that future advances in our understanding of language processing will most likely come from researchers who have such cross-disciplinary training

Predoctoral trainees are drawn from the Departments of Psychology, Linguistics, and Communication Disorders at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. They fulfill all the normal requirements of their home department in addition to choosing from a variety of opportunities designed to provide cross-disciplinary training, and receive the Ph. D. degree in their home department. The program is designed to train psycholinguists, linguists, and specialists in communication disorders to do basic research in language acquisition and language behavior. Such research is proving valuable in understanding a variety of disorders of language acquisition and behavior (e.g., in aphasia and in deafness). The program provides students with excellent opportunities to explore the applicability of their basic research to disorders of language and to language in populations of unusual interest.

We do not view psycholinguistics as a new discipline like neuroscience (or, perhaps, cognitive science). We think that questions of how language is acquired and used are best approached from many distinct perspectives, using many different methodologies and theoretical orientations. We want to train linguists who can take a job in a linguistics department and still do first-rate independent experimental research on language processing and acquisition; psychologists who can bring to a psychological setting a level of expertise in linguistic theory and communication disorders that we believe is missing from most programs; and communication disorders specialists who can do clinical practice and clinical research on language disorders that is deeply informed by contemporary linguistics and psychology. We want our graduates to be recognized as well- and broadly-trained psychologists or linguistics or communication disorders specialists who have added intellectual strengths made possible by our training program in psycholinguistics. We note, in passing, that this does not mean that our students are narrowly committed to traditional careers. Among our most recent trainees, one was a linguist who took a postdoctoral position in a psychology department, another was a linguist who took a postdoctoral position in a speech pathology department, and a third was a postdoctoral trainee from linguistics received clinical training in communication disorders and took a position teaching communication disorders.

Facilities and laboratories. The Psychology Department occupies a modern, six-story building, Tobin Hall, with excellent research facilities in its (approximately) 75,000 square feet of space. The Linguistics Department is housed in South College, some 200 yards away. It also has an experimental phonetics laboratory in Bartlett Hall, a building adjacent to the Psychology Department, and shares with the other departments a laboratory Center for the Study of Language Acquisition in Herter Hall (adjacent to Bartlett Hall). The Communication Disorders Department is a 10 minute walk across campus. The Smith College Psychology Department is a 20 minute drive away, in Northampton, and the participants from Smith College regularly spend a day or two a week on the UMass campus.

The Psycholinguistics Training Program has several distinct laboratories. One important facility is the eyetracking laboratory, which is open to use by all members of the program. This laboratory contains two SRI/Fourward DPI Eyetrackers (one Gen III, one Gen V), one Eyelink head-mounted eyetracker, and several PC's interfaced to the eyetrackers or available for data analysis purposes. This equipment permits state-of-the-art measurement of eye movements during reading as well as dynamic control of visual displays, contingent upon eye position. Clifton and Frazier's language processing laboratory contains five PCs capable of conducting a variety of experiments using visual or auditory presentation of stimuli. The microcomputers have also been programmed to do waveform editing and analysis of sampled waveforms and to synthesize speech, and a Linux machine permits the use of ESPS/Waves+. The Psychology Department also has an Optotrack laboratory, a three-dimensional motion-analysis system which experimental phoneticians use to analyze motion of the lips and jaw during speaking. The developmental psychology laboratories contain a suite of rooms in which to do experiments and analyze data on language acquisition, and workstations used for modeling of language acquisition processes. In addition, the Psychology Department has a Child Study Center (approximately 900 sq feet) in Springfield, giving researchers access to children who live in a large city. This facility is available to all members of the Psycholinguistics Training Program, and is extensively used for projects on language acquisition.. Further, the Psychology Department has a large anechoic chamber, currently used primary for research on sound localization in adults, but available to members of the Psycholinguistics Training Program.

The Linguistics Department has an experimental phonetics laboratory of some 1000 sq ft. This laboratory has two Sun workstations networked to several PCs. The laboratory runs the state-of-the-art digital speech analysis program ESPS/Waves+ as well as the advanced speech synthesis program KKLSYN88/Sensyn. It has three sound-treated rooms for recording speech and for conducting listening experiments. In addition, the Linguistics Department has implemented the CHILDES database of children's language samples. The Psychology Department at Smith College has extensive computer facilities, also equipped for CHILDES analysis, and including a video-analysis laboratory with computer-controlled VTRs for the coding of language transcripts, all under the direction of Jill and Peter de Villiers.

The Communication Disorders Department supports much of the analysis of child language samples in Seymour's Child Language laboratory. This lab is approximately 420 sq ft and is located in the main building housing the Department of Communication Disorders near Dr. Seymour's main office. The laboratory is divided into several cubicle work stations, containing several Macintosh computers. There are two audio/video cubicles, each containing a VCR and Monitor equipped with earphones. A separate desk area has a dubbing set-up comprising two video recorders. In addition, a cooperative arrangment exists between Drs. Seymour and the deVilliers with respect to use of facilitites and U-Mass and Smith College. The deVilliers' laboratory has state of the art equipment for language transcription, data entry, time coding, retrieval and analysis. This lab supports and supplements the Com Dis lab's space and equipment capacity.

Computers. The University Office of Instructional Technology (OIT) maintains an excellent user-oriented computing service. All major programming languages, statistical software and many plotting packages are supported. Each department is connected via fiberoptic cable to the main computers. The Department of Psychology maintains its own LAN which permits research file sharing. Students in Psychology have access to a PC and Mac lab as well as laser printers, scanners, a slide maker, a video capture facility, a color printer, etc; most students have computers in their offices. The Linguistics Department provides several PCs and Macs to its graduate students, with appropriate supporting facilities (e.g., laser printers), and has provided all its faculty with office computers.

Other facilities. Each department in the training program provides its faculty with individual office space, and provides shared office space to all students. The Psychology Department provides carrel space in Tobin Hall to Linguistics and Communication Disorders students working in the Psychology Laboratories.

Research support services include electronic, metal, and wood-working shops in the Psychology Department. The University Library has an adequate collection, including all important psycholinguistics, linguistics, and psychology journals. It has an extensive set of facilities for searching electronic databases. The libraries of the other four colleges of the Five-College Consortium (Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and Hampshire College) are also open to our graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, and faculty. These libraries are particularly useful for obtaining older materials. The University's telecommunication facilities allow direct access to both the University and Five-College catalogs via the fiberoptic network.

In 1966, the University of Massachusetts established a Center for the Study of Language Acquisition. The Center focuses on the fundamental questions of how languages (first or second) are acquired, and provides laboratory space and computing equipment in a small suite, 440 Herter Hall. It is intended as a place for interdepartmental projects in language acquisition, involving workers from the departments involved in the Psycholinguistics Training Program as well as researchers in the language departments. It has been used for meetings and has received extensive use by students who are analyzing data. At present, it provides computer access to the CHILDES database, computer facilities for data analysis and manuscript preparation, video facilities for analyzing taped interactions involving children, and facilities for preparing experimental materials (games, pictures, etc.). When fully developed, it will provide secretarial assistance, a library, meeting rooms, offices, and spaces for visitors, and computing facilities including scanners and other graphical aids. Roeper serves as the managing director and J. de Villiers and Seymour serve as advising co-directors. The Center hosts regular research meetings involving students (currently, 14) from Linguistics, Psychology, Communication Disorders, and Spanish. The meetings involve such topics as "point of view in acquisition," "theory of mind," and "aspectual features in African-American English." Languages currently being studied include English (standard American and African-American), Spanish, Arabic, Dutch, and German. The Center has also established relations with two nursery schools to facilitate experimentation. It also sponsors conferences and lectures, including joint workshop conferences with regional universities including the University of Connecticut, and co-sponsored (with the Psycholinguistic Training Grant) a conference on New Perspectives in Language Acquisition (described elsewhere in this proposal). The Center also supports outreach connections to the Laureate Company and the Psychological Corporation.

Psycholinguistics Training Program
John Kingston, Program Director
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003 USA
(413) 545-6833
page last updated October 19, 1999


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