, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 29-47
Date: 01 Jul 2010

Sources of History for “A Psychology of Verbal Communication”

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Abstract

There is a standard version of the history of modern mainstream psycholinguistics that emphasizes an extraordinary explosion of research in mid twentieth century under the guidance and leadership of George A. Miller and Noam Chomsky. The narrative is cast as a dramatic shift away from behavioristic principles and toward mentalistic principles based largely on transformational linguistics. A closer view of the literature diminishes the historical importance of behaviorism, shows a prevailing “written language bias” (Linell in The written language bias in linguistics: Its nature, origins and transformations, Routledge, London, 2005, p. 4) in psycholinguistic research, and elevates some theoretical and empirical thinking of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries on language and language use to a far more important role than has heretofore been acknowledged. In keeping with the theoretical and methodological perspective of the present article, it is particularly appropriate that the German philologist Philipp Wegener be “given his due in the annals of linguistic sciences” (Koerner 1991, p. VI*). In his (1885/1991) Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen des Sprachlebens (Investigations regarding the fundamental questions of the life of language; our translation), he began his philological research with the investigation of actual speaking in everyday settings rather than with analyses of purely formal structure. Moreover, he emphasized understanding language and localized this function in the listener. Compatible with Wegener’s own investigations is another aspect of speaking that has been most seriously neglected throughout the history of research on the psychology of verbal communication. For him, as well as for Esper (In C. Murchison [Ed.], A handbook of social psychology, Clark University Press, Worchester, MA, 1935), the basic and primary genre of dialogical discourse was not ongoing conversation, but the occasional use of speech in association with other activities. Both Bühler (Sprachtheorie, Fischer, Stuttgart, 1934/1982) and Wittgenstein (Philosophische Untersuchungen/Philosophical investigations, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1958) have also emphasized the importance of the genre of occasional speaking. The article concludes with a discussion of historical shifts in the relationship between psychology and linguistics.