Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Syntactic Class Influences Phonological Priming of Tip-of-the-Tongue Resolution

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Syntactic Class Influences Phonological Priming of Tip-of-the-Tongue Resolution

Article excerpt

During tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) experiences, phonologically related words have both facilitated and impeded word retrieval. In the present experiment, we examined whether phonologically related words' syntactic class (part of speech) is responsible for these differential effects. Sixty college students saw general knowledge questions whose answers were designated target words and responded "know," "don't know," or "TOT." Following "TOT" and "don't know" responses, the participants saw five words, one of which was a prime. The primes contained the target's first syllable and either shared or did not share the target's part of speech. Following presentation of the primes, retrieval of the target was attempted again. Different-part-of-speech primes facilitated resolution of TOT states, whereas same-part-of-speech primes had no effect, relative to phonologically unrelated words. These results support node structure theory's most-primed-wins principle and the transmission deficit model account of TOT states and detail the importance of syntactic class in the selection of words that are candidates for speech production.

A tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state is a well-known phenomenon that consists of a temporary inability to retrieve a known word (e.g., R. Brown & McNeill, 1966). This frustrating experience has motivated considerable research in the past 25 years and has led to the development of several theories regarding why TOT states occur. One of the predominant theoretical explanations is the transmission deficit (TD) model, which proposes that TOT states are caused by weakened connections between a word and its phonology, or sounds (e.g., Burke, MacKay, Worthley, & Wade, 1991; MacKay & Burke, 1990). The TD model therefore suggests a solution for resolving TOT states: Strengthening the weak phonological links will increase retrieval of the missing word. In previous research, this prediction has been tested by inducing TOT states, presenting words containing various phonological features of the unretrieved word, and then asking participants to attempt word retrieval again. These studies showed that phonologically related words presented during TOT states increase word retrieval (e.g., Abrams, White, & Eitel, 2003; James & Burke, 2000; White & Abrams, 2002).

However, phonologically related words can also inhibit or delay TOT resolution. TOT states are often accompanied by blockers, or persistent alternates-that is, incorrect words that come to mind involuntarily and typically share phonological features with the unretrieved word (e.g., MacKay & Burke, 1990). Research has demonstrated that when TOT states are accompanied by an alternate word, TOT states are less likely to be resolved and that, even when resolved, retrieving the intended word takes longer, relative to TOT states that occur without alternate words in mind (Burke et al., 1991). These results are consistent with an inhibition model of TOT states, in which TOT states are caused by an alternate word, which comes to mind first and suppresses retrieval of the desired word (e.g., Jones, 1989).

The present experiment attempted to resolve these paradoxical findings by testing a specific hypothesis unique to node structure theory (NST; MacKay, 1987) and the TD model. This hypothesis predicts that a word's syntactic class plays a pivotal role in determining the impact that phonologically related words will have on resolution of TOT states. Specifically, Burke et al. (1991) suggested that "for subjects in the TOT state, presenting a word that is phonologically related and in a different domain (syntactic class) from the target will facilitate resolution, whereas a phonologically related word in the same domain as the target will delay resolution" (p. 570). To understand how this prediction is derived, a brief overview of NST and the TD model is given below.

NST arranges conceptual representations, or nodes, into a hierarchical network of multilevel systems, including semantic, syntactic, and phonological systems. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.