Research interests


  • Psycholinguistics & Didactics: Mental lexicon, Impairments in oral language production (speech errors, pauses, word finding problems), Impairments in written language production (spelling errors, dyslexia), Second language acquisition, Multilingualism, German as a second and foreign language, Linguistics for school education 
  • Cognitive Psychology: Memory: learning, storing, forgetting, language and age
  • Clinical Linguistics & Neurolinguistics: Autism, Aphasia, Dementia, Mild cognitive impairment
  • Phonology, Graphemics and Orthography: Syllable phonology, Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences

Ph.D. Project


October 2011 - November 2015: Dissertation at Goethe-University Frankfurt, German Philology, Department of Linguistics:  


Das Tip-of-the-Tongue-Phänomen. Zur Rolle der Silbe beim Auflösen von Wortfindungsstörungen

(The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. On the role of the syllable in resolving word finding failures)


Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Helen Leuninger ( Prof. em. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt / Prof. Hochschule Fresenius Idstein)

Grade: summa cum laude, overall grade: magna cum laude


My Ph.D. thesis can be downloaded here: Dissertation NJ Sauer




The Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon (TOT) represents, next to pauses and slips of the tongue, a further impairment in speech production. When experiencing a TOT, one has access to semantic (concept) and syntactic information (lemma) but only partial access to phonological information (lexeme). The complete word form cannot be retrieved. In a TOT, a speaker has often access to partial word information (master thesis 2008). In my dissertation (2015) I focused on the resolution of TOTs.


In order to evoke TOTs in an experimental setting, definitions were presented on a computer screen, for example, “a lift consisting of a series of linked compartments moving continuously“ for paternoster. The subjects pressed a button on the keyboard indicating that they know the word and are able to name it (KNOW), that they do not know the word (DON’T KNOW), or that the word is on their tip of the tongue (TOT). When in a TOT, a cue was presented visually.


In the cueing paradigm so far, syllable cues were embedded in words or pseudowords, and presented in word lists in order to manipulate TOT resolution. In the present studies, syllable cues were presented in isolation. The advantage is that the syllable itself has no semantic (word meaning) and syntactic information (word type). The presentation of isolated correct, incorrect, and extended syllables is new in TOT research. Furthermore, the present work offers the first investigation for both cueing and reaction times (RT) in German TOT research. In the pre-test, definitions were verified, and in the two pilot studies, the design of the reaction time measurement was evaluated, and more definitions were collected and validated.


In the 1. experiment, there was a syllable cueing effect: after the presentation of the correct syllable (e.g., pa for paternoster), TOTs could be resolved about twice as fast compared to after an incorrect syllable (e.g., co) and to the control condition (xxx). The correct syllable also led to significantly more accurate answers compared to the other two conditions. The incorrect syllable did not block TOT resolution (not more inaccurate answers), but there was an inhibition effect: There were fewer accurate answers and more unresolved TOTs.


In the 2. experiment, it was demonstrated that the extended syllable (e.g., pat for paternoster) significantly speeded up lexical access (shorter RTs), and significantly increased TOT resolution (more accurate answers). This may be explained with the segmental overlap effect.


The results support models of speech production that allow for an interactive activation spread and assume a syllable level below the phoneme level.



Please use the following DOI in order to cite the work (generated via ResearchGate):

DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.1229.8645