Dr. Cowles has done an admirable job composing a coherent introduction to some current issues in the interdisciplinary field of psycholinguistics, but it may not be for everyone. She introduces the field, and does provide a bit of linguistics basics. From there on it becomes clear that the book is most appropriate for those somewhat familiar with cognitive psychology, or at least experimental psychology.
Having taken both linguistics and cognitive psych, I had little trouble moving through the language examples and experimental paradigms. Being a linguist herself also trained as a cognitive scientist and experimental psychologist, Dr. Cowles clearly has deep, expert knowledge, which the reader may sometimes feel she is trying very hard to hold back. She largely succeeds, making the book an excellent primer for someone looking to further explore psycholinguistic theory and experimentation, but nothing is covered with great technical depth. Also, some of the experimental explanations do get a bit confusing, and toward the end she slips up a bit and brings in some terminology she hasn't fully explained. If I had a less adequate background, I might have noticed more of this.
That being said, the book is a fairly quick read even if you need to spend a bit of extra time comprehending a few chapters, and each chapter is split into small sections to hold your attention. I finished nearly all of it in a day, and I am now looking into some of the references. Dr. Cowles mentions several somewhat older papers that are important for each general topic, but only in some areas does she cite more than a few cutting-edge studies -- overall, I think there is a good balance to get you started, given the abbreviated coverage of each point.
I am not enough of an expert to comment confidently on how comprehensive the book is, but I respect the author's choices. Particularly illuminating, to me, was the chapter on methods, explaining with commendable clarity and little jargon the main issues and technology relevant to psycholinguistic research. Also, some insight into neurolinguistics is most welcome given current research trends.
I do have a warning, that the editing is not yet polished. It is possible that the author is not a native speaker of English herself, as there are many times that articles (a, an, the) are missing or used incorrectly. I was hardly slowed down in most cases, but occasionally the reader may have to pause and consider whether a word isn't quite right, or is missing altogether. This is, obviously, of particular concern when complex experiments are being described, and nearly all of the errors would be easy to fix. So, if you are impatient with that sort of thing, beware, but in general it didn't impair my ability to extract knowledge from the text.
In the first chapter, psycholinguistics is introduced, with mention of top-down vs. bottom-up and serial vs. parallel processing issues. In the second, linguistics is presented in an informal manner with few graphical aids, running through phonetics and phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics as normal with a more to-the-point style, avoiding controversies and presenting about as much info as some cognitive psychologists might care to know without a particular passion for language. In the third chapter, offline vs. online measuring techniques are touched upon, with explanations and examples of questionnaire research (e.g. Likert scales), button-press paradigms (e.g. lexical decision tasks, self-paced reading), and vocal response recording and analysis. For unconscious response research, very accessible summaries on the relevant uses and capabilities of eye-tracking, event-related brain potentials (ERPs), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are provided. The chapter also covers a few issues with cognitive-style experimental designs themselves, with comments on confoundings, sample sizes, and other threats to internal and external validity.
In the fourth chapter, the ambiguity of words and sentences is considered, with modular and interactionist interpretation approaches presented and evidence weighed for garden path and constraint-based processing theories. In the fifth chapter, the brain's role in language production and comprehension is more formally introduced, with typical coverage of Broca's and Wernicke's areas, aphasias (including an interesting peek into Semantic Dementia research), and some commentary on the relevance of working memory models. The remainder of the chapter focuses on how the neural cognition of bilingual speakers differs from monolinguals, such as which areas of the brain show activity for less robustly acquired languages, and also on some general differences in non-linguistic cognitive ability. The sixth chapter explores the issue of dialogue, particularly focusing on experiments analyzing listener-speaker relations using a real participant and a research staff member. Coreference, through pronouns or semantically richer expressions, is analyzed from sentence structure and mental-model angles. Personally, I would have liked the author to mention deixis or anaphora, but she avoids the terms, which may be a disservice to a reader who attempts to read some of the cited papers.
In the seventh chapter, the hot topic of sign language is touched upon. Incredibly, the author feels the needs to point out that many still remain ignorant of the fact that sign is anything more than pantomime. She uses examples from many different sign languages, exploring the intricate and highly interesting contrasts between vocal and gestural modalities, but without any strong conclusions -- a bit of a tease. Lastly, in chapter eight, a newer issue is discussed which could affect the interpretation of a large volume of past research. Essentially, evidence is presented that humans do not always fully process all sentence information, instead attending to whatever amount seems to be necessary. This is in line with other attention-related compromises people make unconsciously when allocating mental resources. The chapter is short but example-heavy, and could be cleaned up a bit. At the end, the author very briefly summarizes the basic considerations of language covered and the general concerns of the field.
In sum, I applaud Dr. Cowles for managing to present several complex issues in a fairly accessible and engaging manner -- it could not have been easy to balance this text for merely curious people of limited backgrounds as well as for those interested in contributing to the field more directly, such as myself. Most importantly, I gained some basic confidence in my conceptual knowledge of psycholinguistics along with ideas about the more current avenues of research, which I will take to primary sources and more in-depth texts.