Mental Dictionary

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This recent article in the Conversation magazine explains how our mental memory works as a dictionary and how this makes everyone of us a unique individual.

Just like a physical dictionary, your mental dictionary contains information about words. This includes the letters, sounds and meaning, or semantics, of words, as well as information about parts of speech and how you can fit words together to form grammatical sentences. Your mental dictionary is also like a thesaurus. It can help you connect words and see how they might be similar in meaning, sound or spelling.

Everyone’s mental dictionary is a little bit different. And I’m even more intrigued by how we can restore the content of our mental dictionaries or improve our use of them, particularly for those who have language disorders.

Language is part of what makes humans special, and I believe everyone deserves the chance to use their words with others.

– Nichol Castro, Assistant Professor of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, University at Buffalo (Source: The Conversation)

According to the article, researchers have found that “the average 20-year-old American English speaker knows about 42,000 unique words, and this number grows to about 48,000 by age 60. Some people will have even larger vocabularies”. The word retrieval process is said to be dynamic and quick.

According to a study based on 24 college students, participants “selected words within 200 milliseconds of seeing the image. After word selection, their brain continued to process information about that word, like what sounds are needed to say that chosen word and ignoring related words. This is why you can retrieve words with such speed in real-time conversations, often so quickly that you give little conscious attention to that process.”