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Language Processing and Speech Mistakes


Language processing and word formation constitute the major dilemma for psycholinguistic and neuro-linguistic research. The word building deserves a special consideration in terms of different models of word organization. Hence, it is necessary to take into account morphological, lexicological, and psychological aspects. Processing mechanisms reveal the internal mechanism occurred in human brains, which is still a great mystery for scholars. For humans, language is just a means of rendering and perceiving ideas but few people hardly understand how this sophisticated mechanism works. It is also of great interest why and how people make speech errors such substitution, blends, shifts, and exchanges that directly related to the language processes development. To cast the light on it, it is necessary to consider the reasons of errors emerged in speech and their connection to word formations processes.

Before getting down to the analysis of mistakes, it is worth to mention how nervous impulses of the brain convert into meaningful units of language. We should understand these processes opening the ways from sensory receptors to brain (Olber amd Gjerlow 1999:16). Hence, it is necessary to comprehend that each speech organ is motivated by specific nerves sending signals from brain and converting impulses into nerves. The main function of brain is to control the right pronunciation of separate sounds in order to avoid confusion in the talking process. In that regard, the emergence of speech error presents the major problem for study.

Speech errors: substitutions and their linguistic and psychological explanation

The greatest part of language mistakes refers to all types of substitution both within the word and beyond it. Most of the mistakes are consisted in errors of anticipation without explicit substitutions. Hence, Fromkin gives the appropriate example: John drop his cup of coffee where the word cup could be confused with the word cuff (Fromkin 1973:218). From psychological point of view, so-called error anticipation could not be considered as a factual mistake, as here the brain reveals the mechanism of reproduction of the previous sounds. In addition, as the speech production involves several steps, namely speech planning, speech encoding and articulation, this very mistake takes place at the last stage. Relying on this, this mistake is not an intended one but caused by some sub conscious processes, which are predetermined by the first two stages (Eysensk 2004:400).

Blending word and language processes

Unlike substations, blend errors still preserve its lexical values and the final phrase could be synonymous to confused one. It is a kind of contest between to words or phrases to say. For example, two utterances I don’t care about it and It does not matter to me bear the same semantic message (Newmeyer 1989:91). The difference lies in different mechanism of encoding where the conventional blends, which is “the result of interaction between distinct encodings of a given message rather than an interaction the distinct elements of a single encoding message” (Newmeyer 1989:91). Arising from this, we could state that this kind of speech error refers to psychological aspects of language thus showing brain ability to decipher the perceived information in a unique way. In addition, the basis of this phenomenon lies in the parallel encoding of a certain message. Still, such mistakes are strictly attached to the chain of logical thinking included into the intended message. In contrast, there are some cases of speech errors with some eternal messages beyond the intended one. Due to the fact that our sub consciousness is the least studied area, it is hard to analyze the speech errors emerged on this basis (Newmeyer 1989:91).

Word and phrases shift

The example of speech shift could be demonstrated based on the following example: “That would be the same idea as adding ten – That would be the same idea as add tenning” (Carlson and Tanenhaus, 1989:59). In this case, we can pursue the syllable shift where the affixation and stem morpheme shifted to the next word. Such morphological construction shows that sometimes spoken words are pronounced without imposing the meaning to the whole message. The fact is that stems in different affixed environment recognize different lexical meanings. Besides, affixes, unlike stems, do not have an independent semantics and, therefore, extracting them from morphemes is not crucial for the entire message. For human perception and acquisition of the message, thus, syllable is the least essential unit, as it does not belong to the encoding units.

Word exchange and as the result of spreading activation

The exchange of words and morphemes is another type of speech errors implying where two words switch places, which usually stand apart in the sentence. The exchange of inflections and suffixes denotes their attachment to different words. Here is the example of word exchange: “I must let the house out of cat” instead of “I must let the cat out of house” (Eysenk 2004:401). Such replacement is predetermined by peculiarities of language processes. In particular, there exists the theory of spreading activation that considers the speech production and speech errors probability. According to this theory, “speech errors occur when an incorrect item has a higher level of activation than the correct item” The word exchange shows which word in the sentence is of primary importance for the reader. Considering the level of speech perception, spreading-activation theory give dominant significance to what is perceived but not to what is intended to be said. Due to the fact that speech processing is carried out simultaneously at all levels, they are in the constant interaction so that the message is the result of cooperation brain and language. As the process of speech production is a fast one, it can be viewed more explicitly if speaking a foreign language. Talking alien language makes the brain activate processing requirements of formulating and producing utterances.


A thorough analysis of speech production leads us to the conclusion that “slip of the tongue” could serve as markers of our psychological state and behavior. People can omit, transform, exchange and substitute, as the evidence show. Such processes are explained by man lexicological theories but the core reason lies in profound psychological processes mentioned above (Stamenov and Gallese 2002:213). Some mistakes are impossible to recognize and some of them are hard to detect due to the peculiarities of articulation. This evidence from adult speech errors serve to be an access to the language processes emerging in human brain with the help of analysis. In addition, as naturally occurring errors are directly connecting with problems of speech perception, they are also connected with hearing and listening processes. Finally, brain areas that are responsible for language processes influence a human ability to reproduce meaningful elements and to understand them. Adult speech errors often take place due to the damage of language mechanism thus aggravating the human communication and distorting the core of language processes.

Reference List

Carlson, G. N, & Tanenhaus, M. K, 1989, Linguistic structure in language processing, Springer, US.

Eysensk, M. 2004, Psychology: An International Perspective, Taylor & Francis, Spain

Fromkin, V. 1973, Speech errors as linguistic errors, Walter de Gruyter, the Nethelands.

Newmeyer, F. J, Language: psychological and biological aspects, Cambridge University Press, UK.

Olber, L. K. & Gjerlow K. Language and the brain, Cambridge University Press, UK.

Stamenov, M. & Gallese, V, 2002, Mirror neurons and the evolution of brain and language, John Benjamins Publishing Company, US.


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