HARGREAVES, D., & GERNSBACHER, M. A. (1990). Review of S. N. Sridhar’s, “Cognition and Sentence Production.” American Journal of Psychology, 103, 418-424.
Spoken language epitomizes human creativity. Speaking requires formulating messages based on the ideas we want to express and the communicative goals we want to achieve. We formulate a message by choosing a grammatical structure, inserting words into that grammatical skeleton, inflecting the words, and then producing the sounds.
Most psycholinguistic research on sentence production focuses on the processes that occur later in this sequence. For instance, most research deals with how words are chosen, inserted, inflected, and produced (Garrett,1988). The questions of how speakers formulate messages and how they choose grammatical structure are not as thoroughly studied; consequently, they are not nearly as well understood. Perhaps it is not surprising that the most creative aspect of sentence production is also the most elusive. But the questions remain: How is a grammatical structure chosen? How does that structure reflect our ideas and communicative intent? Sridhar’s study addresses these questions using an experimental approach: He manipulates visual arrays, asks subjects to describe those visual arrays, and measures how his manipulations affect his subjects’ choice of grammatical structure.
Cognition and Sentence Production: A Cross-Linguistic Study is a revised and enlarged version of Sridhar’s doctoral dissertation. Although Sridhar is a linguist, he began his work while studying with Charles Osgood, and his work reflects Osgood’s influence. For instance, Sridhar is reformulating Osgood’s (1980) “Naturalness Principle” when he writes: “Many of the properties crucial to the structure and function of language . . . reflect universal properties of human perception and cognition and the function of language as a system of communication” (p.2). Thus, Sridhar, like Osgood, adopts a functional approach. He argues that nonlinguistic cognitive processes and communicative intent are reflected in grammatical structure.