Edited By Markus Bieswanger and Amei Koll-Stobbe
III. Approaches to the study of linguistic variability as a contextual and conceptual process
Subject to change: Decay and mutation of linguistic memory Florian Dolberg1 Abstract This paper investigates the relation of verbatim and gist memory as well as factors for memory loss by quantitatively analysing repeated reproductions. Results show that verbatim memory does not disappear within seconds, as most scholars report, but rather persists notice- ably frequently for at least 15 minutes. Influence of coincidental identity of reproduction and stimulus due to lexical, syntactic and pragmatic constraints is shown to be marginal. Memory for gist is more reliable and more sustained, but far from fail-safe: material is frequently changed to semantically related concepts and/or material from elsewhere in the stimulus for weeks after exposure to the stimulus. Gist memory deteriorates significantly after three months and incorporation of semantically unrelated concepts and material not included in the stimulus dominates. In sum, this study shows the portion of fictitious memory to grow progressively larger as time passes. Introduction Mental storage of information is a key feature of the human condition; this abil- ity is the prerequisite for developing and maintaining not only the hallmarks of the human species – society, culture, technology and science – but also, and no less fundamentally, the individuality and identity of every person. It is only on the basis of this ability that a mode of communication as complex and adaptive as human language becomes conceivable. Interestingly and despite its key role in our existence, human memory often appears incomplete, transient and mutable up to the point of being fictitious (c.f., e.g...
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