nonsense syllable

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A CVC trigram that forms a meaningless non-word (such as KEB) rather than a meaningful word (such as DOG). It was introduced into psychology in about 1878 by the German psychologist Hermann von Ebbinghaus (1850–1909) for studying memory. Ebbinghaus had begun by experimenting with fragments of poetry but had found that they aroused mental associations, influencing their ease of learning, so he constructed lists of nonsense syllables, which provided material that was relatively homogeneous, evoked few mental associations, and could easily be broken into objectively equal units for quantitative research, and he reported his results in his book Über das Gedächtnis (On Memory) in 1885. See also association value, consonant trigram.

Subjects: Psychology.

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