AMERICAN PSYCHOLINGUISTS WITH A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE

A review of Psycholinguists: An Introduction to Research and Theory by Hans Hormann (Tr. by H.H. Stern). Berlin: Springer-Verlag New York-Heidelberg-Berlin, 1971, pp.377.

(Note: the author, Dr. Hans Hormann, is a professor of Psychology and director of the Psychological Institute and the university of the Ruhr at Bochum in the Federal Republic of Germany. The translator, Dr. H.H. Stern is the director of the Modern language Center of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education In Toronto, Canada. The reviewer, Dr. Leon James, is professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii)

A textbook, like any complex social enterprise, can be viewed from many different perspectives. In this brief review I would like to consider Hormann's text in terms of (a) the conception it offers of what a psychology of language is or might be, and (b) the assumptions it implicitly makes concerning the method of teaching an academic discipline.

What would the collected works of Shakespeare read-feel if translated back into English from a German edition of the original? Perish the thought! In scientific writings, however, the idea is not so preposterous, the double-back translation of this book is a real tour de force. By far the major portion of the book consists of a summary presentation of a century of research and theory contributed by American psychologists. The fact that this English translation of Hormann's book into German reads like a text comparable in style and scope the Osgood's classic, Method and Theory in Experimental Psychology is a great credit to both Hans Hormann, the author, and H.H. Stern, the translator. In combination, they have produced a clear and readable statement of the modern foundations of psycholinguistics that is intended for the advanced undergraduate and the graduate student.

According to the translator's preface, this book provides to the English speaking world a European perspective to its own literature inasmuch as Behaviorism hasn't had the same hold there so that Hormann could attempt to "make German readers, who are basically skeptical towards Behaviorism, aware of the existence of ingenious and thought-provoking empirical studies in the Behaviorist tradition" (VII). In my judgment, Hormann's book achieves that objective by being thorough in its coverage of the significant literature while t the same time placing it in a philosophical context that is much broader than American Behaviorism.

A second relevant perspective that concerns me in this review relates to Hormann's implicit assumption that psycholinguistics can be taught like other established disciplines by means of the standard version of an introductory textbook. I believe that assumption is premature. The fact that most psycholinguists in the United States would draw up a comparable bibliography that claims to represent the field is merely an expression of a high degree of standardization or academic in-breeding that prevails in American graduate programs in psychology and subfields thereof; that fact represents an instructional agreement by prior arrangement rather than a synthesis based on the inherent features of the content of that literature. The very success with which this book on psycholinguistics accomplishes its instructional objective is at the same time a potential disadvantage to the development of the study of the psychology of language. The widespread use of these, and other texts like it which are sure to appear on the scene will tend to stabilize prematurely the range of methods and theories in a field that still needs exploration from within and infusion from other disciplines. When a discipline has graduated to the introductory textbook level, the fate is sealed for the large, basic questions to be posed in it. The basic questions are then realigned to fit the precedent forming experiments in the body of relevant literature. The system is closed an only theoretical developments of a revolutionary force (e.g. paradigm switches) can reopen the suicidal circle. The field of psycholinguistics is today in the grips of such a paradigm switch. These are bad times for writing an introductory text.

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