Language production

Language production is the production of spoken or written language. In psycholinguistics, it describes all of the stages between having a concept to express and translating that concept into linguistic form. These stages have been described in two types of processing models: the lexical access models and the serial models.[1][2] Through these models, psycholinguists can look into how speech is produced in different ways, such as when the speaker is bilingual. Psycholinguists learn more about these models and different kinds of speech by using language production research methods that include collecting speech errors and elicited production tasks.[3]

Stages involvedEdit

Language production consists of several interdependent processes which transform a nonlinguistic message into a spoken, signed, or written linguistic signal. Though the following steps proceed in this approximate order, there is plenty of interaction and communication between them. The process of message planning is an active area of psycholinguistic research, but researchers have found that it is an ongoing process throughout language production. Research suggests that messages are planned in roughly the same order that they are in an utterance.[4] But, there is also evidence that suggests the verbs that give case may be planned earlier than objects, even when the object is said first.[5] After identifying a message, or part of a message, to be linguistically encoded, a speaker must select the individual words—also known as lexical items—to represent that message. This process is called lexical selection. The words are selected based on their meaning, which in linguistics is called semantic information. Lexical selection activates the word's lemma, which contains both semantic and grammatical information about the word.[6]

This grammatical information is then used in the next step of language production, grammatical encoding.[7] Critical grammatical information includes characteristics such as the word's syntactic category (noun, verb, etc.), what objects it takes, and grammatical gender if it is present in the language. Using some of these characteristics as well as information about the thematic roles of each word in the intended message, each word is then assigned the grammatical and thematic role it will have in the sentence.[8] Function morphemes, like the plural /s/ or the past tense /ɪd/, are added in this stage as well. After an utterance, or part of one, has been formed, it then goes through phonological encoding. In this stage of language production, the mental representation of the words to be spoken is transformed into a sequence of speech sounds to be pronounced. The speech sounds are assembled in the order they are to be produced.[9]

The basic loop occurring in the creation of language consists of the following stages:

  • Intended message
  • Encode message into linguistic form
  • Encode linguistic form into speech motor system
  • Sound goes from speaker's mouth to hearer's ear auditory system
  • Speech is decoded into linguistic form
  • Linguistic form is decoded into meaning

According to the lexical access model (see section below), in terms of lexical access, two different stages of cognition are employed; thus, this concept is known as the two-stage theory of lexical access. The first stage, lexical selection provides information about lexical items required to construct the functional level representation. These items are retrieved according to their specific semantic and syntactic properties, but phonological forms are not yet made available at this stage. The second stage, retrieval of wordforms, provides information required for building the positional level representation.[10]


Serial modelEdit

A serial model of language production divides the process into several stages.[1] For example, there may be one stage for determining pronunciation and a stage for determining lexical content. The serial model does not allow overlap of these stages, so they may only be completed one at a time.

Connectionist modelEdit

Several researchers have proposed a connectionist model, one notable example being Dell.[11] According to his connectionist model, there are four layers of processing and understanding: semantic, syntactic, morphological, and phonological. These work in parallel and in series, with activation at each level. Interference and misactivation can occur at any of these stages. Production begins with concepts, and continues down from there. One might start with the concept of a cat: a four-legged, furry, domesticated mammal with whiskers, etc. This conceptual set would attempt to find the corresponding word {cat}. This selected word would then select morphological and phonological data /k / at/. The distinction of this model is that, during this process, other elements would also be primed ({rat} might be somewhat primed, for example), as they are physically similar, and so can cause conceptual interference. Errors might also occur at the phoneme level, as many words are phonetically similar, e.g. mat. Substitutions of similar consonant sounds are more likely to occur, e.g. between plosive stop consonants such as d, p and b. Lower primed words are less likely to be chosen, but interference is thought to occur in cases of early selection, where the level of activation of the target and interference words is at the same level.[11]

Lexical access modelEdit

This model states that the sentence is made by a sequence of processes generating differing levels of representations.[12] For instance, the functional level representation is made on the a preverbal representation, which is essentially what the speaker seeks to express. This level is responsible for encoding the meanings of lexical items and the way that grammar forms relationships between them. Next, the positional level representation is built, which functions to encode the phonological forms of words and the order they are found in sentence structures. Lexical access, according to this model, is a process that encompasses two serially ordered and independent stages.[10]

Additional aspectsEdit


Fluency can be defined in part by prosody, which is shown graphically by a smooth intonation contour, and by a number of other elements: control of speech rate, relative timing of stressed and unstressed syllables, changes in amplitude, changes in fundamental frequency. In other words, fluency can be described as whether someone speaks smoothly and easily.[13] This term is used in speech-language pathology when describing disorders with stuttering or other disfluencies.[14]


Whether or not a speaker is fluent in one or more languages, the process for producing language remains the same.[15] However, bilinguals speaking two languages within a conversation may have access to both languages at the same time.[16] Three of the most commonly discussed models for multilingual language access are the Bilingual Interactive Activation Plus model, the Revised Hierarchical Model, and the Language Mode model:

  • Bilingual Interactive Activation Plus, updated from a model made by Dijkstra and Van Heuven, uses solely bottom-up processing to facilitate bilingual language access. This model suggests that the lexicon for bilingual speakers combines the languages, and access occurs across both languages at the same time.[17]
  • Revised Hierarchical Model, developed by Kroll and Stewart, is a model suggesting that bilingual brains store meanings in a common place, word-forms are separated by language.[18]
  • Language Mode Model, made by Grosjean, uses two assumptions to map bilingual language production in a modular way. These assumptions are that a base language is activated in conversation, and that the speaker's other language is activated to relative degrees depending on context.[16] De Bot describes it as overly simple for the complexity of the process and suggests it has room for expansion.[19]

Speakers fluent in multiple languages may inhibit access to one of their languages, but this suppression can only be done once the speaker is at a certain level of proficiency in that language.[19] A speaker can decide to inhibit a language based on non-linguistic cues in their conversation, such as a speaker of both English and French inhibiting their French when conversing with people who only speak English. When especially proficient multilingual speakers communicate, they can participate in code-switching. Code-switching has been shown to indicate bilingual proficiency in a speaker, though it had previously been seen as a sign of poor language ability.[20]

Research methodsEdit

There are three main types of research into language production: speech error collection, picture-naming, and elicited production. Speech error collection focuses on using the analysis of speech errors made in naturally produced speech. On the other hand, elicited production focuses on elicited speech and is conducted in a lab. Also conducted in a lab, picture-naming focuses on reaction-time data from picture-naming latencies. Although originally disparate, these three methodologies are generally looking at the same underlying processes of speech production.[21]

Speech errorsEdit

Speech errors have been found to be common in naturally produced speech.[3] Analysis of speech errors has found that not all are random, but rather systematic and fall into several categories. These speech errors can demonstrate parts of the language processing system, and what happens when that system doesn't work as it should. Language production occurs quickly with speakers saying a little more than 2 words per second; so though errors occur only once out of 1,000 words, they occur relatively often throughout a speaker's day at once every 7 minutes.[22] Some examples of these speech errors that would be collected by psycholinguists are:[3]

  • Anticipation: The word adds a sound from a word planned for later in the utterance.
target: paddle tennis
produced: taddle tennis
  • Preservation: The word retains characteristics of a word said previously in an utterance.
target: red wagon
produced: red ragon
  • Blending: More than one word is being considered in the lexicon and the two intended items "blend" into a single item.
target: shout/yell
produced: shell
  • Addition: Additional of linguistics material added to the word.
target: impossible
produced: implossible
  • Substitution: A whole word of related meaning is replacing another.
target: at low speed it's too heavy
produced: at low speed it's too light
Makes no delusions to the past.
The pineapple of perfection.
I have interceded another letter from the fellow.
  • Spoonerism: The switching of the letters from two words in the utterance.
target: slips of the tongue
produced: tips of the slung


Picture-naming tasks ask participants to look at pictures and name them in a certain way. By looking at the time course for the responses in these tasks, psycholinguists can learn more about the planning involved in specific phrases.[24] These types of tasks can be helpful for investigating cross-linguistic language production and planning processes.

Elicited ProductionEdit

Elicited production tasks ask participants to respond to questions or prompts in a particular way. One of the more common types of elicited production tasks is the sentence completion task.[25] These tasks give the participants the beginning of a target sentence, which the participants are then asked to complete. Analyzing these completions can allow psycholinguistics to investigate errors that might be difficult to elicit otherwise.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Dell, Gary; Burger, Lisa; Svec, William (1997). "Language Production and Serial Order: A Functional Analysis and A Model" (PDF). Psychological Review. 104 (1): 123–147. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.104.1.123. PMID 9009882.
  2. ^ Levelt, Willem J. M. (2001-11-06). "Spoken word production: A theory of lexical access". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 98 (23): 13464–13471. doi:10.1073/pnas.231459498. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 60894. PMID 11698690.
  3. ^ a b c Fromkin, Victoria A. (1971). "The Non-Anomalous Nature of Anomalous Utterances". Language. 47 (1): 27–52. doi:10.2307/412187. ISSN 0097-8507. JSTOR 412187.
  4. ^ Brown-Schmidt, Sarah; Tanenhaus, Michael (2006). "Watching the eyes when talking about size: an investigation of message formulation and utterance planning". Journal of Memory and Language. 54 (4): 592–609. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2005.12.008.
  5. ^ Momma, Shota; Slevc, Robert; Phillips, Colin (2016). "The Timing of Verb Selection in Japanese Sentence Production". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 42 (5): 813–824. doi:10.1037/xlm0000195. PMID 26569434 – via APA PsycNet.
  6. ^ Dell, Gary; O'Seaghdha, Padraig (1992). "Stages of lexical access in language production". Cognition. 42 (1–3): 287–314. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(92)90046-k. PMID 1582160. S2CID 37962027.
  7. ^ Levelt, Willem (1999). "A theory of lexical access in speech production". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 22 (1): 3–6. doi:10.1017/s0140525x99001776. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0013-3E7A-A. PMID 11301520.
  8. ^ Bock, Kathryn; Levelt, Willem (2002). Atlmann, Gerry (ed.). Psycholinguistics: Critical Concepts in Psychology. 5. New York: Routledge. pp. 405–407. ISBN 978-0-415-26701-4.
  9. ^ Schiller, Niels; Bles, Mart; Jansma, Bernadette (2003). "Tracking the time course of phonological encoding in speech production: an event-related brain potential study". Cognitive Brain Research. 17 (3): 819–831. doi:10.1016/s0926-6410(03)00204-0. PMID 14561465.
  10. ^ a b Psycholinguistics : critical concepts in psychology. Altmann, Gerry T. M. London: Routledge. 2002. ISBN 978-0415229906. OCLC 48014482.CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ a b Dell, Gary S. (1986). "A spreading-activation theory of retrieval in sentence production". Psychological Review. 93 (3): 283–321. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.93.3.283. ISSN 1939-1471. PMID 3749399.
  12. ^ Bock, Kathryn; Levelt, Willem (1994). "29". In Gernsbacher, Morton Ann; Traxler, Matthew (eds.). Language Production: Grammatical Encoding. Handbook of Psycholinguistics. Academic Press, Inc. pp. 945–983.
  13. ^ Housen, A.; Kuiken, F. (2009-12-01). "Complexity, Accuracy, and Fluency in Second Language Acquisition". Applied Linguistics. 30 (4): 461–473. doi:10.1093/applin/amp048. ISSN 0142-6001.
  14. ^ Ward, David, 1956 December 9- (2006). Stuttering and cluttering : frameworks for understanding and treatment. Hove [England]: Psychology Press. ISBN 1-84169-334-0. OCLC 65617513.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Fernández, Eva M.; Cairns, Helen Smith (2011). Fundamentals of Psycholinguistics. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 138–140. ISBN 9781405191470.
  16. ^ a b Grosjean, F (1999). "The bilingual's language modes" (PDF). One Mind, Two Languages: Bilingual Language Processing. 7 (11): 1–22. S2CID 9325654. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-08-24.
  17. ^ Dijkstra, Ton; Van Heuven, Walter (2002). "The architecture of the bilingual word recognition system: From identification to decision" (PDF). Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. 5 (3): 175–197. doi:10.1017/S1366728902003012. hdl:2066/62675.
  18. ^ Kroll, Judith F.; Stewark, Erika (1994). "Category interference in translation and picture naming: Evidence for asymmetric connections between bilingual memory representations". Journal of Memory and Language. 33 (2): 149–174. doi:10.1006/jmla.1994.1008.
  19. ^ a b de Bot, K (2004). "The multilingual lexicon: Modeling selection and control". The International Journal of Multilingualism. 1: 17–32. doi:10.1080/14790710408668176.
  20. ^ Poplack, Shana (1980). "Sometimes I'll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en español" (PDF). Linguistics. 18 (7–8): 581–618. doi:10.1515/ling.1980.18.7-8.581. hdl:10315/2506. S2CID 201699959.
  21. ^ Levelt, Willem J. M.; Roelofs, A.; Meyer, AS. (Feb 1999). "A theory of lexical access in speech production". Behav Brain Sci. 22 (1): 1–38, discussion 38–75. CiteSeerX doi:10.1017/s0140525x99001776. PMID 11301520.
  22. ^ "Slips of the Tongue | Psychology Today". Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  23. ^ "Definition of MALAPROPISM". Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  24. ^ Brown-Schmidt, Sarah; Konopka, Agnieszka E. (November 2008). "Little houses and casas pequeñas: Message formulation and syntactic form in unscripted speech with speakers of English and Spanish". Cognition. 109 (2): 274–280. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.07.011. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0012-C6EC-5. PMC 2665878. PMID 18842259.
  25. ^ Humphreys, Karin R.; Bock, Kathryn (2005-08-01). "Notional number agreement in English". Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 12 (4): 689–695. doi:10.3758/BF03196759. ISSN 1531-5320. PMID 16447383. S2CID 30400728.

Further readingEdit