We will delete some ‘corona words’ from our memory

The hippocampus is a brain structure that lies deep in the brain and is involved in storing new information, such as corona words.

Someone with a suspicious-sounding dry cough has a ‘corona cough’. Anyone who is tested for COVID-19 without complaints is a ‘fun tester’. ‘Quarantinating’ is dating via Tinder while you are in quarantine, you have to do something. And the Friday afternoon drink after work has been replaced by the ‘image drink’.

These are words that are given a red circle in the word processor of the computer: they are not in the dictionary. During the corona crisis, our language gained hundreds of neologisms, or newly formed words. The pandemic was a new situation that requires new words to describe what was happening around us. People are always working to form new words and word combinations. In that regard, our brains did nothing exceptional in the pandemic, but there were many new words in a short time. Where does your brain put all those new words? And will they stay there forever?

learning new words

Suppose you opened the newspaper last year and read the word ‘one and a half meter society’ for the first time. How does your brain process that information? The hippocampus is important for learning a new word, according to neuroscientist Atsuko Takashima of Radboud University. “The moment you hear or read the word ‘other half meter society’ for the first time, this brain structure becomes active. The hippocampus is involved in storing new memories, and therefore new words.”

You don’t necessarily need the hippocampus to retain the learned information. “For example, people with damage to the hippocampus have trouble learning new words, but they have not forgotten words they learned in the past,” explains Takashima. That’s because those words are stored in the brain’s imaginary dictionary.

We store most neologisms in the brain’s imaginary dictionary after reading it once. Researchers suspect that the dictionary resides in the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex, above the ears, and that each word there is also linked to other information stored in memory. For example, hearing the word ‘cycling’ also activates the motor memory of how to perform that action.

Easier to remember

Do you actually store words that consist of two parts, such as ‘window visit’, in their entirety, or as two separate words? “Probably in its entirety,” says Mirjam Ernestus, psycholinguist at Radboud University. “You can store ‘window’ and ‘visit’ separately, but the moment you retrieve those words from your memory and put them back together, you don’t know the meaning. ‘Window visit’ can mean anything. The meaning we gave to it in corona time is that two people are both sitting on opposite sides of a window. And, for example, don’t look outside with the two of you next to each other. You have to store that meaning in the form of the word.”

It is true that you remember new words more easily if they are compositions of which you already know the individual parts. That’s why we can memorize words like ‘image drink’ and ‘window visit’ in one go.” Something like ‘Zoom fatigue’ is already a bit harder to store. ‘Zoom’ was a new word for most of us a year and a half ago.” Although we already knew zoom as ‘buzzing’, what bees do, which makes it a bit easier.”

“If we try to teach subjects new words that they don’t know at all, it becomes more difficult. You really have to hear such a word more often, and the number of words you can remember per session is limited.” Take the neologism ‘quarantine’, a contraction of ‘quarantine’ and ‘Tinder’. If you hear this word and you don’t recognize the parts, because you don’t know the dating app, for example, then you have a completely new word.

Day corona capsule

In the past corona year, an existing word sometimes took on a new meaning. ‘Lockdown’ is an example of this. In the English language, a lockdown usually involved a situation where prisoners were locked in their cells during an uprising. So the word already existed, but was not known to everyone. Until we were all glued to home and society was half locked. Ernestus: “It is easier to store an existing word with a new meaning than a completely newly formed word, because then you have to remember all those sounds and letters. Now you already have it in your memory, you just have to add a meaning to it.”

Will we all still know the hundreds of corona words in ten years? Luckily not! Our memory is flexible. We easily store new words, but just as easily forget them. Imagine: in ten years you will hear the word ‘coronakapsel’, then that will be one of the millions of words you have ever learned. “It would be a complicated search through your mental dictionary to find that word,” Ernestus said. There is a good chance that we will soon erase words such as ‘corona haircut’ and ‘cough screen’ from our memory. If another corona crisis breaks out in ten years, you just learn them again.

Source: Kennislink by www.nemokennislink.nl.

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