Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Opposite of the Tip of the Tongue

And, no, I am not talking about the root of the tongue. I am referring to the linguistic phenomenon called "tip of the tongue syndrome" or TOT.

TOT is the name that is used to describe the phenomenon of knowing that you know something, whether it be word, phrase or name, but not being able to immediately retrieve that something from your memory.

What this boils down to linguistically is that a person knows the semantic identity of the lexical item which they are trying to recall, but they are unable to bring forth the phonetic representation of said (tee hee) item, even though they feel like it is right on the tip of their tongue.

A phenomenon that is quite the opposite of TOT occurs when the phonetic representation of a lexical item is repeated to the extent that the semantic identity is lost.

For those who watch Grey's Anatomy, recall the episode when Meredeth said the word spoon had lost all meaning to her.

And for those who don't watch Grey's Anatomy, this might help -

spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon.

Okay, I think that should give you the idea.

There have been many names proposed for this reversal of the TOT phenomenon over the years including the following:

Semantic Satiation
Verbal Satiation
Word Weirding
Inhibition
Refractory phase and mental fatigue
Lapse of meaning
Word decrement
Cortical inhibition
Adaptation
Extinction
Satiation
Reactive inhibition
Stimulus satiation
Verbal transformation

Inky Fool posted about this phenomenon and the names associated with it last fall, and Language Log posted about some of the research that has been done over the years regarding the phenomenon in December.

I would be interested to know if there has been any research directly comparing and contrasting TOT to semantic satiation (occurrences by age, gender, etc.). I can't seem to locate any. And how about EKGs and MRIs of brain activity during experiences of these phenomena.

Also, I will add one more potential name to the list - the phonetic repetition effect.


3 comments:

Mrs. B said...

What I remember about TOT from linguistics classes is that when you are trying to come up with the word and you think/say something like, "Oh, I know it starts with a b-," you are almost always wrong. I don't remember why exactly, but I thought that was kind of funny.

Amber M said...

How interesting!

TOT can be looked at in terms of a temporary breakdown at the phonological level in Dell's Interactive Activation Model of language production, but where would the breakdown be if you are able to produce the word but have temporarily lost your knowledge of its meaning?

Interesting!

I brought it up in a discussion with one of my lecturers today and her take on it was: the phenomenon occurs when you are doing specific tasks which do not require semantic knowledge, eg. rote repetition, so perhaps access to semantic information is not used in such tasks which is why the word becomes meaningless.

I suppose it saves processing time that way!

I'm quite interested in it now as I'd not thought about it before, although I've experienced it from time to time! I'll let you know if I come across any mention of it in my research readings this semester.

Laura Payne said...

Mrs.B - And I have a friend who is convinced that she is always right when she has a feeling a word or name starts with a certain letter.

Amber M - Please do let me know if you come across any more research on this phenomenon.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

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