Psychology of Language Perception

A language that is understood by the representatives of different communities regardless of their background, native language and culture can be called universal. To understand language, humans have to identify the sounds or letters used, retrieve the meaning of words combined from these letters or sounds, build the syntactic structure, and combine the information into an interpretation. Perception of language can be visual and audial, with the former being much clearer. There can be a problem of coarticulation with audial perception – when sounds overlap, making the perception more difficult. To understand speech, humans apply categorical perception – perception of speech as discrete categories. Moreover, another mechanic named top-down contextual information is applied – information already known about the words is used to support the interpretation process.

After identifying the word, it is necessary to recognize it and retrieve its meaning; recognition takes humans around 200 milliseconds to accomplish while understanding its meaning depends on the lexicon organization and context. Recognition is based on such factors as a word’s lexical frequency, morphology, and the number of words with similar orthographic spelling.

Language acquisition is a long and continuous process that starts at a very early age. By six months, children can recognize their names; in the next six months, they learn the names of familiar objects and can produce their first words. Next year, children can understand some requests and questions, point at the named objects, and use up to three hundred words. Kids can answer who, what, and where questions by the third year and use about a thousand words. There are different views of language acquisition, mainly forming around nature vs. nurture debates. However, some theories combine both approaches – the interactionist approach, for instance. It states that the process of acquiring a language is the result of both experience and biological inclination for language learning; the latter is essential in the early stages, the former – in the later stages.


McBride, D.M., & Cutting, J.C. (2019). Cognitive psychology: Theory, process, and methodology (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

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PsychologyWriting. "Psychology of Language Perception." September 13, 2022.