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Within linguistics, a pseudoword is defined specifically as respecting the phonotactic restrictions of a language. That is, it does not include sounds or series of sounds that do not exist in that language: it is easily pronounceable for speakers of the language. Also, when written down, a pseudoword does not include strings of characters that are not permissible in the spelling of the target language. "Vonk" is a pseudoword in English, while "dfhnxd" is not. The latter is an example of a nonword. Nonwords are contrasted with pseudowords in that they are not pronounceable and by that their spelling could not be the spelling of a real word.
Pseudowords are also sometimes called wug words in the context of linguistic experiments. This is because wug [wʌg] was one such pseudoword used by Jean Berko Gleason in her wug test 1958 experiments. Words like wug, which could have been a perfectly acceptable word in English but isn't due to an accidental gap, were presented to children. The experimenter would then prompt the children to create a plural for wug, which was almost invariably wugs [wʌgz]. The experiments were designed to see if English morphophonemics would be applied by children to novel words. They revealed that even at a very young age, children have already internalized many of the complex features of their language.
A logatome is a short pseudoword or just a syllable which is used in acoustic experiments to examine speech recognition.
A logatome or nonsense syllable is a short pseudoword consisting most of the time of just one syllable which has no meaning of its own. Examples of English logatomes are the nonsense words snarp or bluck.
Like other pseudowords, logatomes obey all the phonotactic rules of a specific language.
Logatomes are used in particular in acoustic experiments. They are also used in experiments in the psychology of learning as a way to examine speech recognition. and in experimental psychology, especially the psychology of learning and memory.
Nonsense syllables were first introduced by Hermann Ebbinghaus in his experiments on the learning of lists. His intention was that they would form a standard stimulus so that experiments would be reproducible. However, with increasing use it became apparent that different nonsense syllables were learned at very different rates, even when they had the same superficial structure. Glaze introduced the concept of association value to describe these differences, which turned out to be reliable between people and situations. Since Glaze's time, experiments using nonsense syllables typically control association value in order to reduce variability in results between stimuli.
Nonsense syllables can vary in structure. The most used are the so-called CVC syllables, composed of a consonant, a vowel, and a consonant. These have the advantage that nearly all are pronounceable, that is, they fit the phonotactics of any language that uses closed syllables, such as English and German. They are often described as "CVC trigrams", reflecting their three-letter structure. Obviously many other structures are possible, and can be described on the same principles, e.g. VC, VCV, CVCV. But the CVC trigrams have been studied most intensively; for example, Glaze determined association values for 2019 of them.
The term nonsense syllable is widely used to describe non-lexical vocables used in music, most notably in scat singing but also in many other forms of vocal music. Although such usages do not invoke the technical issues about structure and associability that are of concern in psychology, the essential meaning of the term is the same.
- Welge-Lüßen, Antje; Hauser, R.; Erdmann, J.; Schwob, Ch.; Probst, R. (2008). "Sprachaudiometrie mit Logatomen*". Laryngo-Rhino-Otologie 76 (02): 57–64. doi:10.1055/s-2007-997389.
- Scharenborg, O (2007). "Reaching over the gap: A review of efforts to link human and automatic speech recognition research". Speech Communication 49 (5): 336–347. doi:10.1016/j.specom.2007.01.009.
- Ebbinghaus, H. (1964). Memory. New York: Dover. (Originally published 1885.)
- Glaze, J. A. (1928). The association value of non-sense syllables. Pedagogical Seminary and Journal of Genetic Psychology, 35, 255-269.