Psycholinguistics is typically broken into three main branches: language acquisition, language processing, and neurolinguistics.
Language acquisition attempts to explain how people acquire the ability to understand language. There are various theories about how infants acquire these skills:
- Nativist theory: Our brains are wired to learn the nuances of language. There is also a universal grammar that exists across languages, because our brains seek to create and organize language in the same ways.
- Learning theory: Children learn language in the same way they learn other skills. Praising and rewarding children for their growing knowledge helps them to continue developing language skills.
- Interactionist theory: Children want to connect with the world around them and thus learn to speak because they want to communicate in social ways.
Language processing examines the ways speech is produced and, in turn, language is comprehended. Theories under this umbrella examine the way people learn to select words, organize a system of grammar, and articulate the sounds needed for speech production. Language processing theories also attempt to explain the way people interpret the sounds that they hear and cognitively manipulate that input in ways that make sense.
Neurolinguistics is the study of how language is represented in the brain. It attempts to explain how and where our brains store language and the different neurological processes that occur among written, spoken, and auditory language tasks. Neurolinguistics examines the neural networks in the brain that control the production of speech and how various language disorders (such as aphasia and dyslexia) may be improved with various therapies targeting neurological pathways.