“Um” and other filled pauses

From Atlas Obscura: The Mystery and Occasional Poetry of, Uh, Filled Pauses.

Nearly every language and every culture has what are called “filled pauses,” a notoriously difficult-to-define concept that generally refers to sounds or words that a speaker uses when, well, not exactly speaking. In American English, the most common are “uh” and “um.”

Until about 20 years ago, few linguists paid filled pauses much attention. They were seen as not very interesting, a mere expulsion of sound to take up space while the speaker figures out what to say next. (In Russian, filled pauses are called “parasite sounds,” which is kind of rude.) But since then, interest in filled pauses has exploded. There are conferences about them. Researchers around the globe, in dozens of different languages, dedicate themselves to studying them. And yet they still remain poorly understood, especially as new forms of discourse begin popping up. (…)

But researchers digging into the weird world of filled pauses have turned up some crazy, fascinating stuff. Some have taken sentences full of “ums” and “uhs” and edited them out to find out if people react more positively to someone who doesn’t use them. (They do.) Some are putting people in MRI machines to find out what weird neural stuff is going on when people use filled pauses. (Definitely some stuff.) And in Japan, researchers are trying to puzzle out how and why Japanese filled pauses are so unusual. [continue]

Although I do read Atlas Obscura, I somehow missed this article. The Language Hat blog did not, though, so I found the link through the this post at LanguageHat.

2 thoughts on ““Um” and other filled pauses

  1. A fantastic article! When I’ve taught public speaking, I’ve often played ‘The Um Game’ where the aim is to speak on an impromptu topic for a minute or more without using any of these filled pauses. Little did I know how significant these were! Thank you for sharing.

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