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Why sometimes keep words on the "top of your tongue" and how to prevent it?

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

You had it at the top of your tongue and you ended up feeling frustrated and void.

Do not worry first.

We have all been victims of the Punta de la Lengua (PDL) phenomenon – yes, science has called it – and we will be back again.

But why is that happening? Who is most affected by?

Universal phenomenon

There is something special about the Punta De la Lengua phenomenon and it is not discriminating.

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

And this is not just a phenomenon that happens in the oral language. This is also true for people who speak sign language, the phenomenon is called Punta del Dedo (TOF, because of acronyms in English).

What's happening in our brain?

People need access to certain sounds that say words.

For different reasons, access to these sounds is weakened or interrupted. After that, we can not issue them when we need them.

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

"Sometimes we know the first letter, the slogan, but we can not completely recapture the word," says BBC Mundo.

"Since this has been interrupted, and we remain there, in the midst of thoughts, it is also a window to know how we think and therefore since the nineteenth century there was interest in this phenomenon," adds Facal.

Note on the chart: "People represent names (and other words) on multiple levels: what this means (semantics), how it sounds (phonology) and how they look (visual concepts). Pointed lines represent a place where the word renewal process can be interrupted because of unusual or recent, it reduces transmission through these links and prevents the return of names or words.The properties are especially important since the system can be degraded in the middle of each component: name or surname is another reason why multiple episodes of PDL may appear in their own names in relation to other words, explains Adams.

Why is this happening?

There are several hypotheses, although there is no certainty of what exactly causes the PDL phenomenon.

"Tiredness, fatigue, aging, and cognitive deterioration at one point makes one of the sounds of words not activating, so the entire lexical form of the word can not be pronounced," reveals Facal.

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

"We investigated and found that the relationship between the episode of Punta de la Lengua and the moment of anxiety or stress changes depending on age," he says.

According to Adam, in studies conducted with colleagues, older people reported having episodes of PDL at times of anxiety. However, middle-aged adults were also exposed to stressful situations with fewer PDL episodes.

"Perhaps such situations of excitement in certain people may be useful for recovery" of words that can not be pronounced, specialist analyzes.

Although he warns that "there is still much to explore in terms of emotional factors that can play a role in the Language Type phenomenon".

Own names

For experts consulted by BBC World, the PDL phenomenon is more common with their own names.

Mostly because there is no other possible word for defining that person we have in mind.

"Let's take Antonia Banderas, for example, we know that he is an actor, a spanish, acting in Hollywood, who is dark, and all of this comes together on behalf of Banderas," says Facal.

"But if we are not able to activate flags, we can not seek a synonym, so we will stay with that feeling of discomfort at the top of our tongue."

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

Who is going to do more?

Studies conducted so far show that people over the age of 60 with normal cognitive aging are more likely to suffer the episodes of PDL.

Also those who speak two or more languages.

"In the case of bilingual people, since they have access to two groups of types of sounds, they rarely use sounds in two languages ​​than speakers in a single-use language." The weakened access to the sounds you need to pronounce words, "says Adams.

Both experts argue that, like the old, PDL episodes more often. And that happens with words we do not use often.

An alarm signal occurs when there are difficulties in making very common or common words, such as everyday items. "This could be an indication of something that is not normal," warns professor of linguistic and cognitive sciences.

Is PDL associated with dementia?

Experts dismiss it.

"According to what we have discovered, the occurrence of Punta de la Lengua is relatively independent of the capacity of the work memory," says Facal of the University of Santiago de Compostela.

"What is happening in dementia, like Alzheimer's, is that it is not just a change of lexical approach, but the knowledge of the word changes," he explains.

However, "we found a link with the processing speed, the rate of response to stimuli would be positively related to the frequency of occurrence of the top of the tongue," he explains.

How to prevent it?

Read, Read, and Read.

This is the main recommendation of the expert.

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

Recommendation for people with normal cognitive aging is to focus on semantic activation.

For example, do not interrupt the conversation because that word does not appear. Continue talking and give more examples and word features until it appears.

Or, "If you know that certain names bring trouble to their memory, try to use them more often in conversation, you will definitely stop using the Punta de la Lengua episodes," Adams recommends.

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


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