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Why sometimes words remain at the top of the tongue



"What was his name? I swear that I have it at the top of my language."

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 phenomenon of Language Council (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 that is does not discriminate.

"This is universal and it happens to everyone speakers in different languages, not only in Spanish, but also in English, Hebrew, French, etc. It happens in people of different ages, from children to older adults, "said Lisa Adams, a 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 in people who speak sign languages, the phenomenon is called Tip for your finger (TOF, for an 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 part of the level of knowledge (semantic), we know that we know the word, we have certainty, and on the other hand, at the linguistic level (phonology). incomplete phonological activation occurs in the presence of complete 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: "The people we represent the names (and other words) on several levels: what does it mean (semantics), how they sound (phonology) and what they look like (visual concepts). Crossed lines represent where the recovery process of the word it can break because ofrare or recent use, which reduces transmission through those links e prevents the recovery of the name or word. Names own they haveto singularity additional because the system can break down in the middle of each cslope: name or surname, another reason why more episodes of PDL can appear in 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, age and cognitive impairment at some point makes one of the sounds of the word not being activated, then 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 vary 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 much to explore in terms of emotional factors which can play a role in the phenomenon of Top of Language. "

Own names

For specialists consulted by BBC World, the phenomenon of PDL occurs more often with own 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 unable to activate the flags, we can not ask for a synonym. Then we will remain with this feeling of annoyance at the top of the 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?

The studies that have been made so far show this People older than 60 years with normal cognitive aging they are more likely to suffer episodes of PDL.

Also, those who speak two or more languages.

"In case of bilingual peopleSince they have access to two groups of sound types, they seldom use the sounds of both languages ​​than one speaker with one language. And this reduction in use can weaken access to the sounds you need to say the words, "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 occurs when there are difficulties in producing very common or frequent words, 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 they 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, "Yes, we are found relation to processing speed. The speed of response to stimuli would be positively related to the frequency of the appearance of Punta de la Lengua, "he explains.

How to prevent it?

Reading, Reading, and Reading.

This is the main recommendation of the experts.

"You need to have a life intellectually active, many talk, read, write and maintain control of cardiovascular risk factors, such as physical exercises and a healthy lifestyle, "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.

"It's not what to worry about, most people suffer from it, it's even healthy and normal, and it will happen to you throughout your life", Adams concludes.


This article is part of the digital version of Hay's Festival Cartagena, a meeting of writers and thinkers held in that city Colombian between January 31 and 3 on February from 2019



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