Your Memory for Names and Words

AAUser Friendly Memory Book
A AYour Own Word Finding


Your Memory Difficulties with Names and Words

This section of the web site is directed toward helping you with your own memory for names and words.  The following five areas are addressed. 

1. What is Typical Word Finding Memory?
2. What Are Word-Finding  Difficulties in Typical Adults?
3. Characteristics of Word-Finding Difficulties in Young  Adults, Middle Age Adults,  and Seniors
4. Circumstances When You Can Have Word-Finding Memory Difficulties?
5. Help For Your Own Word-Finding Memory Difficulties

For further reading,  references are provided.


What is Typical Word Finding Memory?
Word finding refers to the mental activity of selecting  or retrieving words you know from your memory to express what you want to say. 

What Are Word-Finding Memory Difficulties in Typical Adults
A word-finding memory difficulty is a disruption in this mental activity of retrieving known words from your memory. When this disruption occurs you have difficulty remembering (retrieving) word(s) or name(s) you want to say (German, 1990). You may want to address a person or to refer to an individual or place that you have in mind.  You know the name or word, but you can not remember or retrieve it from your memory when you want to say it. You either misspeak, pause in silence, or mispronounce the target word.

Higbee (1998) distinguishes between information in memory that is available and information that is accessible. Available Information is material you know and is stored in your memory.  Accessible information is available material that can be recalled or retrieved.  He indicates that it is possible to have available information (material you know), that is not accessible ( you cannot recall or retrieve it).  This occurs when you have a word-finding memory difficulty.  You know the word (it is available in your memory), but you cannot retrieve it (it is not accessible) for usage.

Characteristics of Word-Finding Memory Difficulties in Typical Adults 
When you are having difficulty retrieving words you know, you may demonstrate behavioral characteristics that are typical of three types of memory difficulties with words or names: slips (word substitutions),  tips (lost words), or twists (word attempts) of the tongue. They may occur in isolation or in combination. Each is described below.

"Slip of the Tongue" The main characteristic is a word substitution (Butterworth, 1980, 1989, 1993; Garrett, 1993; German, 2001; Levelt, 1989,1993).
* You may interchange the names of individuals who are related to each other or similarly related to you (e.g.,  say Joe when you mean to say his brother's name Leo).
  • * Substitute an interfering word that is often said with other words in the sentence  (e.g.,  say "turn off the light bulb" when you mean light switch).
  • * Substitute an interfering word that sounds like the word you are trying to find  (e.g., ask for "sauce" when you want sausage). Characteristic

""Tip of the Tongue"  The main characteristic is a feeling that a word is lost  (Bock & Levelt, 1994; Brown & McNeill, 1966; Burke, MacKay, Worthley, & Wade, 1991; German, 2001; Semenza, 1997). 
* Substitute "doohickey" for a word that your are not able to retrieve in a sentence (e.g., say "I need the serve the chicken.").

* Have a long delay while you are trying to think of a known answer to a question and then find that you remember the word later in the conversation (e.g., say "Oh ..., I know that."). 

* Snap your fingers in frustration as you search your mind for the elusive word. 

* Vocalize time fillers such as  "um" or "uh" as you try to think of the target word (e.g., say, "It's ...uh..." while you search your mind for the word stethoscope).


"Twist of the Tongue"  The main characteristic is an unsuccessful attempt to say the word (Butterworth, 1993; German, 2001; Levelt, 1989, 1993; Meyer, 1993; Shallice & Butterworth, 1977; Shattuck-Hufnagel, 1993).
 * Omit syllables of words that are three or more syllables in length ( e.g., say " I want bordaise sause. " for "I want  bordelaise sause.").

 * Exchange sounds of words that are frequently said together (e.g., say "Mig Bac" for Big Mac) or of acronyms that are three or more letters in length (e.g., say "YK2" for Y2K ).

 * Mispronounce names that are three or more syllables in length (e.g., say "Dr. Marski" for Dr. Marinski).

Under What Conditions or in What Circumstances Can You Have Word-Finding Difficulties?

A disruption in memory can cause  word-finding difficulties whe0n you only need to say one or two words or when you are selecting many words in a conversation. Although a word-finding memory difficulty can occur on any parts of speech, at any time, it usually occurs on those words that are the most important in conveying your message. For example, you will probably have word-finding memory difficulties with names when it is most important for you to remember those names. It may occur when you are addressing the person, referring to the person, or introducing the person to someone else.  Word-finding difficulties may occur when you are: 
* Trying to remember or retrieve a person's name - a friend, a child, a grandchild, or an author of a book.

 * Trying to remember or retrieve the name of a location - a street name, a city name, or the name of a building. 

  * Trying to remember or retrieve the title of a book, a movie, or the name of a document.

    * Trying to remember or retrieve the name of a product - the name of a vitamin, a food,  a medication, a tool, or other object name.

Return to the Top

     Bock, K., & Levelt, W. (1994). Language production: Grammatical endocing. In M.A. Gernsbacher (Ed.), Handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 945-983). San Diego: Acadmic Press.

     Brown, R., & McNeill, D. (1966). The "tip of the tongue" phenomenon. Journal of Vebal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 5, 325-337.

     Burke, D. M., MacKay, D.G., Worthley, J.S., & Wade, E. (1991). On the tip of the tongue: What causes word finding failures in young and older adults? Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 542-579.

     Butterworth, B. (1980). Some constraints on models of language production. In B. Butterworth (Ed.), Language production: Vol. 1. Speech and talk (pp. 423-459). London: Academic Press.

     Butterworth, B. (1989). Lexical access in speech production.  In W. Marslen-Wilson (Ed.), Lexical representation and process (pp. 108-135). Cambridge: Blackwell.

     Butterworth, B. (1993). Disorders of phonological encoding.  In W. J. M. Levelt (Ed.), Lexical access in speech production,  (pp. 261-286). Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press.

     Caramazza, A., & Hillis, A.E.,(1991). Lexical  organization of nouns and verbs in the brain. Nature, 349, 788-790.

     Chernow, F.B. (1997). The sharper mind, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

     Coady, J., & Huckin, T. (Eds.). (1997). Second language vocabulary acquisition.  The Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Crook, T.H., Adderly, B. (1998) The Memory Cure, New York: Simon & Schuster.

     Dell, G. (1986). A spreading activation theory of retrieval in sentence production. Psychological Review, 93, 283-321. Fromkin (1973).

     Fay, D.,  & Cutler, A.  (1977). Malapropisms and the structure of the mental lexicon. Linguistic Inquiry, 8, 505-520.

     Fogler, J., & Stern, L. (1994). Improving your memory: How to remember what you're starting to forget, Baltimore, MA:John Hopkins University Press.

     Garrett, M., (1993). Disorders of lexical selection. In W.J.M. Levelt (Ed.),  Lexical Access in Speech Production, (pp. 143-180) Cambridge, MA:Blackwell.

     German, D. J. (2001). It's on the tip of my tongue, word finding strategies for remembering names and words you often forget, Chicago:Word Finding Materials, Inc.

German, D. J. (1990).  Test of Adolescent Adult Word Finding (TAWF). Austin TX: PRO-ED.

     Goodglass, H., & Wingfield, A. (1997). Word-finding deficits in aphasia: brain-behavior relations and clinical symptomatology. In H. Goodglass &, A. Wingfild (Eds.), Anomia, neuroanatomical and cognitive correlates (pp. 3-27). San Diego: Acadmic Press.

     Harrell, M., Parente', F., Bellingrath, E., & Lisicia, R. (1992). Cognitive rehabilitation of memory: A practical guide. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.

     Higbee, K. L.(1993). Your Memory, how it works and how you improve it. New York: Paragon House.

     Jones, G,V.(1989). Back to Woodworth: Role of interlopers in the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. Memory & Cognition, 17, 69-76. 

     Jones, H.G.V., & Langford, S. (1987). Phonological blocking in the tip of the tongue state. Cognition, 26, 115-122. 

     Koriat, A., & Lieblich, I. (1974). What does a person in a "TOT" state know that a person in a "don't know" state doesn't know? Memory & Cognition, 2(4), 647-655.

     Lapp, D.C. (1995). Don't forget! Easy exercises for a better memory. New York: Perseus Books.

     Lesser, R.,(1989). Some issues in the neuropsychological rehabilitation of anomia. In X. Seron & G. Deloche (Eds.) Cognitive approahes in neuropsychological rehabilitation.  (pp.65-104). Mahwah, NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

     Levelt, W. J. M. (1989). Speaking, from intention to articulation.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

     Levelt, W. M. J. (1993). Lexical access in speech . In W.J.M. Levelt (Ed.),  Lexical access in speechproduction, (pp. 1-22) Cambridge, MA:Blackwell.

     Lorayne, H.  & Lucas, J. (1974). The memory book. New York:Ballantine Books.

     Meyer, A.S., (1993). Investigations of phonological encoding through speech error analyses: Achievements, limitations, and alternatives. In W.J.M. Levelt (Ed.),  Lexical Access in Speech Production,  (pp. 1-22) Cambridge, MA:Blackwell.

     Meyer, A.S., & Bock, K. (1992). The tip-of-the-tongue pheonmenon: Blocking or partial activation. Memory & Cognition, 20, 715-726.

     Nicholas, M., Barth, L.K., Obler, L.K., Au, R., & Albert, M.L. (1997). Naming in normal aging and dementia of the alzheimer's type. In H. Goodglass &, A. Wingfild (Eds.), Anomia, neuroanatomical and cognitive correlates (pp. 166-188). San Diego: Acadmic Press.

     Parente', R., & Herrmann, D. (1996). Retraining cognition, techniques and applications. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.

     Pressley, M., & Woloshyn, V. (Eds.). (1995) Cognitive strategy instruction that really improves children's academic performance. Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

     Roelofs, A.  (1993). A spreading-activation theory of lemma retrieval in speaking. In W.J.M. Levelt (Ed.),  Lexical Access in Speech Production, (pp. 143-180) Cambridge, MA:Blackwell.

     Shallice, T., &  Butterworth, B. (1977). Short- term memory impairment and spontaneous speech. Neuropychologia, 15, 729-735.

     Semenza, C.(1997). Proper-name-specific aphasias. In H. Goodglass &, A. Wingfild (Eds.), Anomia, neuroanatomical and cognitive correlates (pp. 115-134). San Diego: Acadmic Press.

     Shattuck-Hufnagel, S. (1993). The role of word structure in segmental serial ordering. In W. J. M. Levelt (Ed.), Lexical Access in Speech Production, (pp. 213-259) Cambridge, MA:Blackwell.

     Trudeau, K. (1995). Kevin Trudeau's Mega Memory. New York: Quill William Morrow.

Return to the Top