In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Language

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies and Edited Volumes
  • Journals and Conference Proceedings
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Psychoanalysis
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Discourse
  • Linguistics
  • Neurolinguistics
  • Social and Personality Psychology
  • Sociology and Sociolinguistics

Psychology Language
Cindy K. Chung, James Pennebaker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0078


Although language is the primary medium by which we communicate with others and reveal our thoughts and feelings, remarkably few psychologists have studied the psychology of language. Until recently, the complexity of language was simply too overwhelming to tackle. Since the advent of computer-based technologies, however, an increasing number of researchers have begun exploring the links between natural language use and real-world behaviors. The psychological study of language has roots in philosophy, with considerable influence and overlap with the fields of anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and communications. Since the 1990s, work in language psychology has been associated with a host of newer disciplines involving natural language processing, such as cognitive science, artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, and even subfields of engineering. The different approaches to the study of language adopted by these various fields are often complementary, with each approach informing the others. Oftentimes, language scholars from different disciplines fail to appreciate each other’s perspectives. Linguists, for example, are primarily interested in the structure and function of language. Computational linguists are usually interested in developing models to best classify two or more groups of language processes. Psychologists who study language are actually interested in the psychological states of the people who are generating the language samples. Accordingly, the readings in this bibliography come from a wide variety of fields but with an emphasis on what might be useful to psychologists in their research on language.

General Overviews

The references in this section cover broad issues, history, and research in the psychology of language. They are written for a broad audience and serve as general overviews. These works effectively convey how words, the most commonly accepted unit of language, reference (Brown 1968) and communicate (Miller 1991) much more than their literal meanings, no matter how small the word (Pennebaker 2011). Leary 1990 discusses how metaphors have been used in the study of psychology. Pinker 1994 and Tomasello 2008 describe language in an evolutionary framework, which emphasizes the importance of the uniquely human capacity for spoken and written language.

  • Brown, Roger. 1968. Words and things: An introduction to language. New York: Free Press.

    A popular book on the analysis of language to understand the relations between language and thought or, more specifically, linguistic reference and meaning. Written by a psychologist with training in psychology and linguistics. Covers several topics in psycholinguistics.

  • Leary, David. 1990. Metaphors in the history of psychology. Cambridge Studies in the History of Psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    In the eleven chapters by guest authors and two by Leary, the role of metaphor in studying, explaining, and practicing psychology is described. The book covers many areas of psychology, such as neuropsychology, emotions, creativity, cognitions, knowledge, metatheory, behaviors, and discourse. For senior undergraduates, psychologists, and philosophers.

  • Miller, George A. 1991. The science of words. Scientific American Library 35. New York: Scientific American Library.

    A popular book that illustrates how fascinating words are in the ways that they are spoken or written, in their carrying meaning, and in their function within any communication. Miller draws on studies in neuroscience, linguistic anthropology, and cognitive psychology.

  • Pennebaker, James W. 2011. The secret life of pronouns: What our words say about us. New York: Bloomsbury.

    A popular book on the ways in which the small words (e.g., articles, prepositions, pronouns) people use in everyday language can reflect their personality and psychological states. Reviews empirical research on quantitative approaches to studying language, with applied examples.

  • Pinker, Steven J. 1994. The language instinct. New York: William Morrow.

    A popular book that proposes language as an instinct or evolutionary adaptation, which serves as a response to Noam Chomsky’s claim of a universal grammar. Written for a wide audience. Linguists tend not to assign this as serious reading in academics.

  • Tomasello, Michael. 2008. Origins of human communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    A popular book that describes a theory of the evolution of language with examples from sociobiology, for example, comparing nonhuman primate gesturing to that of human children. Tomasello argues that the emergence and evolution of language can be understood as cooperative social behavior.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.