Language Processing in Cognitive Psychology


Language is made up of words and is used to talk about everything. Language is essential as it gives as the ability to speak everyday about people, environment, objects, and places, about relations, property, states of being, and other things (Clarke, 1995). We require language to communicate about technology, science, philosophy, about events and ideas, and art. Lexicon presents a stock of words speakers can draw on in a language.

In acquisition of language, words usually come first. When children begin to have words, they begin to make generalizations about kinds of words, such as; for persons, places, and things, for instance, compared with words for action and state. Words are necessary for children to instantiate syntactic categories, be it at word level, that is, noun, verb, or adjective or at phrase level, that is, noun phrase or verb phrase.

Children must also have words to satisfy grammatical relations, such as; ‘subject-of’ or ‘direct-object-of’ (Clarke, 1995). Words are essential for sound structure, word structure, and syntax. The lexicon is both central to both language and language acquisition. In this paper, I will: define language and lexicon; evaluate the key features of language; and analyze the role of language in cognitive psychology.

Key Feature of Language in Cognitive Psychology

Memory is the key feature of language in cognitive psychology. When individuals are communicating, they need to process what the other is saying by holding it in their minds for a short duration (Bloomer, 2005). They also require retaining a recollection of what has been communicated in the conversation to that point. This section discusses memory as a key feature of language since it plays a significant role in cognition.

There are two kinds of memory, that is, the working memory and the long term memory. All current operations are executed by the working memory whereas long term memory provides a permanent storage of language knowledge. Usually, the capacity of working knowledge is limited and may only be able to process a few pieces of similar information at a time. The information in the working memory can only be conserved through rehearsals and transfer to the long term memory (Obler, 1999).

The limit in capacity of the working memory has been influential, particularly; in theoretical frameworks of how readers and listeners process the input they receive. Normally, the working memory is stretched by some tasks which may include language tasks beyond its capacity. For example, an individual might find it hard to do typing at the same time holding a conversation (Nelson, 1998).

There are some processes which exert minimal demands on the working memory, especially those that are automatic, or performed without conscious attention. It is therefore necessary for people to be interested in making most of their daily operations, especially those that involve language to be automatic or routine. For instance, when learning a new language, you can realize that you can only assemble grammatical sentences that are correct through a slow and painful process.

If progress is made in using the language, gradually the different steps of learning become combined into procedures which will require minimum attention. Continuous use of the language may get one to a point when language becomes automatic and the user can no longer recall original grammar rules he had started with. In sum, working memory assists in holding and recycling language in phonological form as a way of preserving content before it is transferred to the long term memory. This is important in language processing (Obler, 1999).

The Role of Language Processing in Cognitive Psychology

Language processing in cognitive psychology involves application of knowledge by individuals when speaking, listening, reading or writing. Language processing enables listeners and readers to build complex meanings from the string of words they hear or write respectively. When an individual reads a text, language processing is done both at letter level and at word level (Obler, 1999). There are two different processes that enable individuals to extract meaning from the text he is reading or the conversation he is listening: bottom up, processes that are based upon what readers are reading on the page of the text or what the listeners are getting in their ears (Bloomer, 2005).

Bottom up is the name provided since the processes move from smaller units to bigger units, for instance, from letters to words to grammatical patterns to meaning; top down, processes where readers or listeners bring in knowledge from outside the text. There four types of top down knowledge; knowledge of word which enables individuals to overlook texts that are misspelled or unusual mispronunciations, knowledge of syntax through which individuals can impose a pattern on what they can read, understanding the context on which the words occur which enables individuals to extract the meaning of unknown words, and finally, world knowledge which might enrich an individuals understanding (Obler, 1999).

Theories of the listening process acknowledge that the sounds in a given language are of different patterns. In listening to sounds, language is processed in syllables because they are constant in form. Writers and speakers can use schemas to use a kind of short hand to extract some inferred meaning. Readers and listeners can get literal or inferred meaning from a piece of language. They use them to develop mental representations of what they have read or listened to (Bloomer, 2005).


Language and cognition are directly intertwined, that is, the development of language has a direct influence on cognitive development as much as cognitive development directly influences language development. Therefore, language is an important tool for communication that children acquire and through which they express their thoughts (Bloomer, 2005). However, language does not affect the basic functioning of the cognition. Individuals disposition to learn depend inextricably on their problems of creative meaning.

In particular, deaf children experience acute challenges of mediating meaning and learning due to difficulties of locating the inner speech in quadrants 2 and 3, regardless of the external language modality used to develop this inner speech (Obler, 1999). This circumstance can have devastating implications on cognition that affect both language and cognitive learning (Nelson, 1998).

Language plays a significant role in the conception of intelligence, that is, cognition. Vygotskian theory states that “learning is a transactional process with the child and a more knowledgeable “other” constructing knowledge together in an interactive partnership” (Bloomer, 2005). According to these theoretical framework, mastering semiotic processes, including language, develops the existence of forms of mental functioning into advanced psychological processes in individuals. Looking at this perspective, it is imperative, therefore, that individual’s interaction with other individuals who are knowledgeable, within the framework of sign mediated, goal directed activity, results to cognitive strategies that are higher (Nelson, 1998).


Bloomer, A., Griffith, P., & Merrison, A. (2005). Introdducing Language Use. New York: Routledge.

Clarke, E. (1995). The Lexicon in Asquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Obler, L., & Gjerlow, K. (1999). Language and the Brain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nelson, K. (1998). Language in Cognitive Development. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.