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Why do you sometimes hold the words "top of the tongue" and how to prevent it?



Have you ever happened to yourself that you wanted to say a word or to name a person and that you could not do it?

It was at the top of the tongue and you ended up with a feeling of frustration and emptiness.

Well, do not worry first.

We were all victims of the Punta de la Lengau phenomenon (PDL) – Yes, science called it – and we will be again.

But why this happened? Who makes it most suitable?

Universal phenomenon

There is something particularly concerning the phenomenon of Punta de la Lengua and this is not discrimination.

"This is universal and happens to all speakers in different languages, not only in Spanish, but also in English, Hebrew, French, etc. It happens to people of different ages, from children to older adults," says Lisa Adams, professor of linguistic and cognitive science at Pomona College, California, USA.

And this is not just a phenomenon that occurs in lingual languages. The same thing happens to people who speak sign languages, the phenomenon is called Punta del Dedo (TOF, for its acronym in English).

What happens in our brain?

People should have access to certain sounds to pronounce words.

And for various reasons, access to those sounds is weakened or interrupted. Then, as a result, we can not issue them when we need them.

"On the one hand, we can talk about a level of knowledge (semantic), we know that we know the word, we have certainty, and on the other hand, on the linguistic (phonological) level, what is produced is incomplete phonological activation in the presence of full semantic activation, "explains David Fakal, a professor at the Department of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

"Sometimes we know the first letter, syllable, but we can not completely restore the word," he told BBC Mundo.

"As an interrupted thought, and we remain there, in the midst of thought, it is also a window to know how we are thinking, and since the nineteenth century there is interest in this phenomenon," added Facal.

Note on the chart: "People represent names (and other words) on many levels: what does it mean (semantics), how they sound (phonology) and how they look (visual concepts). The dotted lines are where the process of returning words can be a pause due to the unusual or not the last ones, which reduces the transmission through these links and prevents the return of the name or word. Own names have been specially stated additionally because the system can fall apart in the middle of each component: name or surname, another reason why more pizodi PDL may occur with appropriate names in relation to other words, "explains Adams.

Why did this happen?

There are several hypotheses, although there are no definitions as to exactly what causes the PDL phenomenon.

"Fatigue, fatigue, aging and cognitive deterioration at some point makes one of the sounds of the word not being activated, so the full lexical form of the word can not be pronounced," Facal revealed.

However, Adams states that there are no relevant data to support this idea.

"We investigated and what we found was that the relationship between the episodes of Punta de la Lengua and the moments of anxiety or stress varies depending on age," he says.

According to Adams, in studies he conducted with colleagues, older adults reported episodes of PDL during anxiety. But middle-aged adults, also exposed to stressful situations, had fewer episodes of PDL.

"So perhaps those situations of excitement in certain people can be beneficial for recovery" of words that can not be pronounced, specialist analysis.

Although he warns that "there is still much to be done in terms of emotional factors that can play a role in the peak of the language."

Own names

For specialists consulted by BBC World, the phenomenon of PDL occurs more often with appropriate names.

Basically, because there is no other possible word to define that person we have in mind.

"To take Antonio Banderas as an example, we know he is an actor, who is a Spaniard who works in Hollywood, who is dark and it all comes in the name of Banderas," Falcal said.

"But if we are not able to activate flags, we can not search for a synonym, so we will have such a feeling of discomfort at the top of our language."

However, "if we want to say the word red and does not come out, we could say it's red, that's the color of the tomato," he explains.

Who happens more?

Studies carried out so far indicate that people over 60 years of age with normal cognitive aging are more prone to suffer PDL episodes.

Also, those who speak two or more languages.

"In the case of bilingual people, because they have access to two sets of types of sounds, they use the sounds of both languages ​​less often than a single speaker that only uses one." "It weakens the access to sounds that words should pronounce," said Adams.

The two specialists claim that as they get older, episodes of PDL are more common. And this happens with words that we do not use most often.

The alarm signal appears when there are difficulties to produce very frequent or frequent words, such as everyday objects. "It can be an indication of something that is not normal," warns the professor of linguistic and cognitive science.

Is PDL related to dementia?

Specialists reject it.

"According to what we have discovered, the frequency of the appearance of Punta de la Lengua is relatively independent of the capacity of the working memory," emphasizes Facal from the University of Santiago de Compostela.

"What happens in dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, is that there is not just a change in the lexical approach, it also changes the knowledge of the words," he explains.

However, "we found a relationship with the processing speed, the speed of response to stimuli will be positively related to the frequency of peaks at the top of the language," he explains.

How to prevent it?

Reading, Reading, and Reading.

This is the main recommendation of the experts.

"You must have an intellectually active life, talk a lot, read a lot, write and maintain control of risk factors at the cardiovascular level, such as physical exercises and healthy life," says Facal.

While recommending people with normal cognitive aging is to focus on semantic activation.

For example, do not interrupt the conversation because the word does not appear. Keep talking and giving more examples and features of the word until it appears.

Or "if you know that some names bring you trouble to remember, try to use them more often in the conversation, you will surely stop episodes of Punta de la Lengua," Adams recommends.

"There's nothing to worry about, most people suffer from it, it's even healthy and normal, and that will happen to you all the time," Adams concludes.

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