Skip to main content Accessibility help

Incidental verbatim memory for language

  • Olga Gurevich (a1), Matthew A. Johnson (a1) and Adele E. Goldberg


It is widely believed that explicit verbatim memory for language is virtually nonexistent except in certain circumstances, for example if participants are warned they are to receive a memory test, if the language is ‘interactive’ (emotion-laden), or if the texts are exceedingly short and memory is tested immediately. The present experiments revisit the question of verbatim memory for language and demonstrate that participants do reliably recognize and recall full sentences that they are exposed to only once at above chance rates (Experiments 1 and 3). The texts are 300 words long, non-interactive, and no advanced warning of a memory test is given. Verbatim memory is demonstrated even when lexical content and memory for gist are controlled for (Experiments 2 and 4). The most striking finding is one of incidental recall: even after a six-day delay, participants reliably reproduce sentences they have heard before when asked to describe scenes, even though they are not asked to recall what they had heard (Experiment 5).


Corresponding author

Correspondence addresses: Adele Goldberg, Adele Goldberg, Department of Linguistics, Princeton University, 33 Washington Rd, Princeton, NJ 08544-0001, USA. E-mail:


Hide All
Anderson, J. R. 1974. Verbatim and prepositional representation of sentences in immediate and long-term memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13. 149162.
Anderson, J. R. & Bower, G.. 1973. A propositional theory of recognition memory. Memory and Cognition 2(3). 406412.
Bartlett, F. C. 1932. Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. London: Cambridge University Press.
Binet, A. & Henri, V.. 1894. La mémoire des phrases (mémoire des idées). L'Année Psychologique 1. 2459.
Bock, K. & Brewer, W. F.. 1974. Reconstructive recall in sentences with alternative surface structures. Journal of Experimental Psychology 103(5). 837843.
Bolinger, D. 1977. Meaning and form. London: Longman.
Bransford, J. D. & Franks, J. J.. 1971. The abstraction of linguistic ideas. Cognitive Psychology 2. 331350.
Bybee, J. L. 1985. Morphology: A study of the relation between meaning and form. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
de Villiers, P. D. 1974. Imagery and theme in recall of connected discourse. Journal of Experimental Psychology 103. 263268.
Gernsbacher, M. A. 1985. Surface information loss in comprehension. Cognitive Psychology 17. 324363.
Gibbs, R. W. 1981. Memory for requests in conversation. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 20. 630640.
Goldberg, A. E. 2006. Constructions at work: The nature of generalization in language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Grice, P. H. 1975. Logic and Conversation. In Cole, P. & Morgan, J. (eds.), Syntax and semantics, volume III: Speech acts, 4158. New York: Academic Press.
Holtgraves, T. 2008. Conversation, speech acts, and memory. Memory and Cognition 36(2). 361374.
Jarvella, R. J. 1973. Co-reference and short-term memory for discourse. Journal of Experimental Psychology 98. 426428.
Johnson-Laird, P., Robins, C. & Velicogna, L.. 1974. Memory for words. Nature 251. 704705.
Johnson-Laird, P. & Stevenson, R.. 1970. Memory for syntax. Nature 227. 412.
Karmiloff-Smith, A. 1986. From meta-processes to conscious access: Evidence from children's metalinguistic and repair data. Cognition 23. 95147.
Keenan, J. M., MacWhinney, B. & Mayhew, D.. 1977. Pragmatics in memory: A study of natural conversation. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 16. 549560.
Kintsch, W. & Bates, E.. 1977. Recognition memory for statements from a classroom lecture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 3. 150159.
Kintsch, W., Welsch, D., Schmalhofer, F. & Zimny, S.. 1990. Sentence memory: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Memory and Language 29. 133159.
Langacker, R. W. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar Volume I. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Langacker, R. W. 1988. A usage-based model. In Rudzka-Ostyn, B. (ed.), Topics in cognitive linguistics. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Loebell, H. & Bock, K.. 2003. Structural priming across languages. Linguistics 41(5). 791824.
Lombardi, L. & Potter, M. C.. 1992. The regeneration of syntax in short term memory. Journal of Memory and Language 31. 713733.
Murphy, G. L. 1992. Comprehension and memory of personal reference: The use of social information in language processing. Discourse Processes 15. 337356.
Murphy, G. & Shapiro, A. M.. 1994. Forgetting of verbatim information in discourse. Memory and Cognition 22. 8594.
Peterson, R. & McIntyre, C.. 1973. The influence of semantic ‘relatedness’ on linguistic integration and retention. American Journal of Psychology 86(4). 697706.
Potter, M. C. & Lombardi, L.. 1990. Regeneration in the short-term recall of sentences. Journal of Memory and Language 29. 633654.
Potter, M. C. & Lombardi, L.. 1998. Syntactic priming in immediate recall of sentences. Journal of Memory and Language 38(3). 265282.
Reyna, V. F. & Kiernan, B.. 1994. The development of gist versus verbatim memory in sentence recognition: Efects of lexical familiarity, semantic content, encoding instruction, and retention interval. Developmental Psychology 30. 178191.
Sachs, J. S. 1967. Recognition memory for syntactic and semantic aspects of connected discourse. Perception and Psychophysics 2(9). 437443.
Tomasello, M. 2003. Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Turk-Browne, N. B., Yi, D.-J. & Chun, M. M.. 2006. Linking implicit and explicit memory: Common encoding factors and shared representation. Neuron 49(6). 917928.
Zimny, S. 1987. Recognition memory for sentences form discourse. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado PhD dissertation.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed