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  • For as long as we've had language, some people have tried to control it.

  • And some of the most frequent targets of this communication regulation

  • are the ums, ers, and likes that pepper our conversations.

  • Ancient Greek and Latin texts warned against speaking with hesitation,

  • modern schools have tried to ban the offending terms,

  • and renowned linguist Noam Chomsky dismissed these expressions aserrors

  • irrelevant to language.

  • Historically, these speech components had been lumped

  • into the broader bucket ofdisfluencies”—

  • linguistic fillers which distract from useful speech.

  • However, none of this controversy has made these so-called disfluencies less common.

  • They continue to occur roughly 2 to 3 times per minute in natural speech.

  • And different versions of them can be found in almost every language,

  • including sign language.

  • So are ums and uhs just a habit we can't break?

  • Or is there more to them than meets the ear?

  • To answer this question, it helps to compare these speech components

  • to other words we use in everyday life.

  • While a written word might have multiple definitions,

  • we can usually determine its intended meaning through context.

  • In speech however, a word can take on additional layers of meaning.

  • Tone of voice, the relationship between speakers,

  • and expectations of where a conversation will go

  • can imbue even words that seem like filler with vital information.

  • This is whereumanduhcome in.

  • Orehandehm,” “tutoaand “öö,” “etoandano.”

  • Linguists call these filled pauses, which are a kind of hesitation phenomenon.

  • And these seemingly insignificant interruptions

  • are actually quite meaningful in spoken communication.

  • For example, while a silent pause might be interpreted

  • as a sign for others to start speaking,

  • a filled pause can signal that you're not finished yet.

  • Hesitation phenomena can buy time for your speech to catch up with your thoughts,

  • or to fish out the right word for a situation.

  • And they don't just benefit the speaker

  • a filled pause lets your listeners know an important word is on the way.

  • Linguists have even found that people are more likely

  • to remember a word if it comes after a hesitation.

  • Hesitation phenomena aren't the only parts of speech

  • that take on new meaning during dialogue.

  • Words and phrases such aslike,” “welloryou know

  • function as discourse markers,

  • ignoring their literal meaning to convey something about the sentence

  • in which they appear.

  • Discourse markers direct the flow of conversation,

  • and some studies suggest that conscientious speakers

  • use more of these phrases to ensure everyone is being heard and understood.

  • For example, starting a sentence withLook...”

  • can indicate your attitude and help you gauge the listener's agreement.

  • “I meancan signal that you're about to elaborate on something.

  • And the dreadedlikecan perform many functions,

  • such as establishing a loose connection between thoughts,

  • or introducing someone else's words or actions.

  • These markers give people a real-time view into your thought process

  • and help listeners follow, interpret, and predict what you're trying to say.

  • Discourse markers and hesitation phenomena

  • aren't just useful for understanding language

  • they help us learn it too.

  • In 2011, a study showed toddlers common and uncommon objects

  • alongside a recording referring to one of the items.

  • When a later recording asked them to identify the uncommon object,

  • toddlers performed better if that instruction contained a filled pause.

  • This may mean that filled pauses cue toddlers to expect novel words,

  • and help them connect new words to new objects.

  • For adolescents and adults learning a second language,

  • filled pauses smooth out awkward early conversations.

  • And once they're more confident,

  • the second-language learner can signal their newfound fluency

  • by using the appropriate hesitation phenomenon.

  • Because, contrary to popular belief,

  • the use of filled pauses doesn't decrease with mastery of a language.

  • Just because hesitation phenomena and discourse markers

  • are a natural part of communication doesn't mean they're always appropriate.

  • Outside of writing dialogue, they serve no purpose in most formal writing.

  • And in some contexts, the stigma these social cues carry

  • can work against the speaker.

  • But in most conversations, these seemingly senseless sounds

  • can convey a world of meaning.

For as long as we've had language, some people have tried to control it.

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B1 TED-Ed hesitation language speech filled discourse

Why do we, like, hesitate when we, um, speak? - Lorenzo García-Amaya

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/02/18
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