Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomena: An Introductory Phenomenological Analysis

Steven Ravett Brown

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13 Scopus citations


The issue of meaningful yet unexpressed background - to language and to our experiences of the body - is one whose exploration is still in its infancy. There are various aspects of "invisible," implicit, or background experiences which have been investigated from the viewpoints of phenomenology, cognitive psychology, and linguistics. I will argue that James's concept of the phenomenon of fringes, as explicated by Gurwitsch, provides a structural framework from which to investigate and better understand ideas and concepts that are indeterminate, particularly those experienced in the sense of being sought-after. Johnson's conception of the image-schematic gestalt (ISG) provides an approach to bridging the descriptive gap between phenomenology and cognitive psychology. Starting from an analysis of the fringes, I will turn to a consideration of the tip-of-tongue (TOT) state, as a kind of feeling-of-knowing (FOK) state, from a variety of approaches, focusing mainly on cognitive psychology and phenomenology. I will then integrate a phenomenological analysis of these experiences, from the James/Gurwitsch structural viewpoint, with a cognitive/phenomenological analysis in terms of ISGs, and further integrate that with a cognitive/functional analysis of the relation between consciousness and retrieval, employing Anderson et al's theory of inhibitory mechanisms in cognition. This synthesis of these viewpoints will be employed to explore the thesis that the TOT state and similar experiences may relate to the gestalt nature of schemas, and that figure/ground and other contrast-enhancing structures may be both explanatory and descriptive characterizations of the field of consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-537
Number of pages22
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2000
Externally publishedYes


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