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Senior Award Winner

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Kristine ChangFollow


The tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) phenomenon occurs when one knows a word but temporarily cannot recall it. TOT studies in English have demonstrated that providing the first syllable of a word plays an important role in resolving TOTs, and TOTs for English words with higher-frequency first syllables are less likely to be resolved than lower-frequency first syllables. The present study explored TOTs in Mandarin, where words consist of one syllable characters whose visual representation (orthography) is largely independent of their sound (phonology). Participants saw descriptions corresponding to target cheng-yus, four-character Chinese idioms. If they experienced a TOT, they saw a list of words where one was a phonological (Experiment 1) or orthographic (Experiment 2) prime. Phonological primes had a first character different from the target's but contained either its first phoneme or first syllable (homophone), whereas an orthographic prime contained the target's first radical. Primes’ first syllables and first radicals were also categorized as higher or lower in frequency. Results showed that a homophone prime marginally increased TOT resolution relative to an unrelated word, whereas a prime with the target’s first phoneme or first radical did not. With respect to frequency, TOTs were less likely to occur and were more likely to be resolved for words with higher-frequency first radicals than lower-frequency first radicals, whereas the first syllable’s frequency had no effect. These results are interpreted in terms of an interactive activation model for Mandarin where phonological and orthographic systems can both independently and interactively influence TOT resolution.

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