Language Processing

Current models of language processing subdivide functions such as reading, speaking, and auditory comprehension into many different, semiindependent components, which are sometimes called modules or processors. These components of the language processing system perform highly specialized operations. For instance, the process of mapping the acoustic waveform onto phonemes and other phonological units involves a large number of highly specific operations that relate specific features of the acoustic signal to linguistically relevant units of sound. We may think of these operations as all being part of an "acoustic-phonetic'' processor or module, or we may consider each of these operations as a distinct cognitive function. An analogy in the area of visual perception might be the claim that one function of the system is the identification of the three-dimensional shape of an object, which involves the identification of lines, surfaces, angles, and other geometric elements of shape; we may think of each of these more elementary perceptual operations separately or consider them as a whole with respect to their contribution to shape recognition. Different aspects of language involve different operations: The operations that have been postulated to be involved in constructing the syntactic structure of a sentence from words are different from those involved in recognizing linguistically relevant sounds. The visual system provides an analogy for this multiplication of different types of processors in that it has separate mechanisms for the perception of shape, color, texture, movement, and other visually perceptible elements. In the language system, as in the visual system, these different processing components, each composed of a variety of elementary operations, are semiindependent of the others in that each yields a particular type of representation. Each representation is finally integrated with others to achieve the overall goal of the processing system.

Information processing models of language can be expressed as flow diagrams (often called functional architectures) that indicate the sequence of operations of the different components that perform a language-related task. These models become extremely detailed and complex when all the operations and components used in a task are specified. For present purposes, it is adequate to identify the major components of the language processing system as those processors that activate units at the lexical, word-formation, sentential, and discourse levels of the language code in the usual tasks of language use—speech, auditory comprehension, reading, and writing. This approach to defining language processing components groups together different operations that all activate a similar type of linguistic representation in a given task into a single processor.

The major components of the language processing system that can be identified at this level of detail for simple words are listed in Table I, and those for the word-formation and sentence levels are listed in Table II. Figure 1 presents a model indicating the sequence of activation of components of the lexical processing system, and Fig. 2 presents a similar model of the processing system for word formation and sentences. These tables and figures are based on the results of experimental psychological research in both normal subjects and patient populations.

Component Input Operation Output

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