Speaking and Reading


This course will focus on how we produce and understand language. No prior linguistic knowledge or language background is assumed.

The first part of the course (taught by Linda Wheeldon) will focus on the production of spoken language and the second part (taught by Steven Frisson) will focus on understanding written language.

These processes are heavily related and share many components; speaking involves translating meaning into speech and reading involves translating writing into meaning.


When we speak we are conveying our ideas in language. Often the ideas we want to convey are represented very differently from the utterances we use to express them.

Consider describing your favourite painting. Your holistic mental image of the painting’s form and colours differs dramatically from the linear flow of words you use to describe it.

The first part of this course will examine the journey from thought to language. We will consider the relationship between different kinds of thought and language, as well as the effect of language structure on thought processes i.e., to what extent does the language you speak determine the way you think.

We will also examine the process of translating thought into speech. We will look at how we select the correct words and generate the appropriate structures to convey our meaning and how we generate the sound form of the words to be spoken.


When we read a text, we only look at the words for a very short time (if at all). Nevertheless, within a few hundred milliseconds, we do a lot of work!

We need to extract the individual letters of the word, what the word is composed of, what it sounds like, its meaning, and how it fits in the rest of sentence and the larger text. So, while reading seems such an easy thing to do, it is in fact one of the most complex processes people deal with.

We will follow the reading process from the earliest, low-level stage (what happens immediately when we read a word) to the final interpretation stage (what does the text mean?).

Most of the research we’ll discuss comes from actual reading experiments, though we will also discuss some work from different paradigms such as ERP and brain imaging.

Topics include:

  • How do we best teach reading to young children?
  • Does a word’s sound play a role in reading?
  • How do we piece words together into a sentence?
  • How do we access a word’s meaning?
  • How do we process figurative language?
  • Is language embodied?
  • How do we arrive at an overall interpretation of the text?

Although we will focus on normal, adult populations, we will also touch upon reading processes in clinical populations (e.g. people who stutter, people with psychosis).


  • Lectures 10 x 2 hours
  • 1 x 2 hour exam revision
  • Seminars 4 x 2 hours
  • 11 x 1 office hours


  • 50% Coursework: 2x1000 word Research study proposals based on two previous studies one each for Speaking and Reading – handed in as one item
  • 50% Unseen Examination. Exam is in two parts one for Speaking and one for Reading. Students will choose 1 question from 3 in each part of the exam

Please note that the format of papers in the supplementary examinations may differ from the equivalent main examination paper or class test. Re-sit and deferral students should check the details of the assessment format of supplementary examinations with the Module Leader.

Key skills

  • Oral communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Written communication
  • Analysing data
  • Problem solving