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Thread: It’s, Like, You Know, Science: Why We Use Fillers When We Speak

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    It’s, Like, You Know, Science: Why We Use Fillers When We Speak

    You should say what’s on your mind. But sometimes you’ve got to stop and find it first.

    Perhaps you’ve been called out for, uh, using fillers when you talk. They’re, you know, the verbal pauses that you subconsciously sprinkle into your speech when when you’re hesitating, stalling or, er, uh — unsure.

    Prescriptivist schoolteachers and old-school etiquette experts, for example, have, like, totally lambasted the like that’s characteristic of California English and the stereotypical valley girl parlance. Some claim that younger generations are littering their language with every so, I mean, and you know? that comes from their lips. But what if using these filler words was, um… natural?

    Don’t Speak Too Soon

    Linguists like Noam Chomsky have argued that ah, er, like disfluencies — known as such because they interrupt the natural flow of speech — are nothing more than a flub in human language performance and production. Mistakes, basically. But others have tried to shed some more light on the semantic and pragmatic roles of these discourse markers.

    Jean Fox Tree and Herbert Clark, two psychology professors at University of California Santa Cruz and Stanford, respectively, call these verbal tics “conversation managers.” Tree and Clark say these words, seemingly purposeless semantic chunks, are vital to the development of a dialogue itself.

    We tend to use these interjections when we’re nervous or talking fast, stumbling along trying to collect our thoughts. They’re a staple of improvised speech, crucial conversational placeholders for those moments when there’s information on the tip of your tongue or you’re talking at warp speed because your brain won’t, um, uh, er — slow down.

    Just as important, they’re listening cues. N.J. Enfield, professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, calls disfluencies “traffic signals that regulate the flow of social interaction.” In an engaged and cooperative dialogue, speakers will communicate effectively so that listeners will understand when they have the conversational green light, usually indicated by silence. Instead of going silent — and thus letting an interlocutor take a turn — speakers can use filler words like a buffer on a video stream, a “to be continued” expressed in a syllable or two.

    It makes sense that you hear these discourse markers less in rehearsed speech like presentations and lectures. Speeches have likely been practiced more, and it’s assumed the speaker will have the floor without interruption. And we don’t put ums and likes in our writing because we have time to un-jumble our thoughts before we jot them down.

    There’s no need to stress about the occasional filler that finds its way into your speech; they’re more prevalent than you might think. Linguist Mark Liberman estimates that um and uh alone appear roughly every 60 words in the average person’s natural speech, and some researchers claim that filler words make up 6 to 10 percent of what we say spontaneously.

    But if you’re looking to make your speaking squeaky clean, the best way to eradicate filler words from your everyday chatter is to be conscious of them — by, for example, recording yourself and listening back or by slowing down and breathing instead of letting your vocal cords take over.

    Around the World in Thought Delays

    For all the scrutiny English speakers get for every um, like and er they utter, they’re not alone. These verbal pauses can be found in languages across the globe. And, like in English, these fillers are not exactly esteemed in other languages, either. In Czech, they’re called slovní vata — “word wadding” or “word padding” — or parasitické výrazy, “parasitic expressions.”

    Some of the fillers might sound familiar. The German equivalents of English’s uh and um are the virtually identical äh and ähm. In French, it’s more than common to hear euh. People from all around the world have a tendency to draw out the final vowel of the word they say before they take a pause to think, like an English speaker might do with an aaaand or a soooo. Spanish speakers often mix a pues or bueno in their speech, or tack on a ¿vale? or ¿verdad? to the end of their statements. In Japanese, you might hear um as eto or ano. There are even signs in American Sign Language for um.

    Even filler phrases that use full words — you know, for example — are by no means exclusive to English; its translations are used as filler in Turkish, Welsh and Icelandic, to name a few. Dutch speakers say weet je? and in German, weißt du is shortened into weißte, paralleling the truncated English y’know? And translations of like abound cross-linguistically. In Italian it’s tipo, among French youth it’s comme and for Finnish speakers it’s niinku.

    You’ll find that people all around the world have processing delays that manifest in these vocal pauses. Learning language-specific fillers can help you feel like a local even when you can’t find the right words to say.
    https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/filler-words

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    Senior Member Sigebrond's Avatar
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    Just goes to show linguistics is just one of many academic fields infested with post-modernist counter-culture crap. I can't stand fillers, they're a sign of a society becoming increasingly more stupid, less literate and less articulate. The worst culprits are also the motormouths, who can talk for ages without saying anything of substance, while barely managing to string together the most basic of sentences. Take some time to think about what you want to say before you say it if speaking English is that difficult - I'd rather listen to someone who pauses once in a while before composing themselves rather than blurting out filler words just to make sure they're still talking.

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    I've found that some peoples, especially some teens use a lot of fillers. For example I've heard a lot of American teens saying "like", and very often.

    e.g. "And I was like, do you want to like, go to the shopping mall? And my friend was like, yeah, totally."

    One or two fillers are okay in my view, if someone needs a little break to regather their thoughts - sort of like "hmm..." - but when you have more fillers than substance it makes the conversation a little bit strange. They're supposed to be "fillers" after all...

    An article on the overuse of the word "like" by teenagers:

    “And so she was like, it’s, like, not really, like, a big deal? And I was like, but you don’t, like, even know what you’re talking about, so, like? You know?”

    If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. For better or worse, the word “like” is a part of the teenage vernacular, staging a takeover of a kid’s vocabulary on the eve of their thirteenth birthday. Of course, today’s teens might not be so inclined toward using it if they knew “like” was a throw-back to 1980s valley-speak, a dialect of California English spoken by Valley Girls and popularized in Frank Zappa’s song, “Valley Girl”.

    “This isn’t a new phenomenon,” says Tori Cordiano, a consulting psychologist at the Center for Research on Girls at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “Teens tend to be more dramatic in their speech than adults. They often use ‘like’ to signal emotion (“I, like, lost it when I saw my grade”). They can also use it in place of the grammatically correct word (“He was like, I’ll call you” versus “He said, I’ll call you”). And they may do this more than most adults.”

    That said, “like” does have two grammatically correct uses: similarity (“That shirt looks like mine!) or enjoyment (“I like this soup!”). It can also, less correctly, be used to approximate (“It was like six feet wide.”) or as a quotative—a word that can serve as spoken quotation marks.

    But, these issues aren’t the real crux of the issue.
    It’s sentences that, like, sound, like, this, with, like, every other word, like, being like. What’s that, like, even about?

    According to John Ayto, editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, “like,” and its counterpart, “you know,” are filler words.

    “We all use fillers because we can’t keep up highly-monitored, highly-grammatical language all the time,” Ayto says. “We all have to pause and think. We’ve always used words to plug gaps or make sentences run smoothly.”

    Cordiano agrees. “A big reason why teens (and people in general) use the word, ‘like,’ is to fill space while speaking. Adults do this too, although adults may be more likely to use other filler words, such as ‘umm’ or ‘ahh’.”

    For some parents, the verbal tic is simply too annoying to stand. “My oldest daughter used to say, ‘like,’ all the time,” says Karen Vargas, whose two teenage sons have never picked up the habit. “It drove us all completely crazy! Sometimes it was hard to even have a conversation with her.”

    Others worry that it will make their teenager appear unprofessional in job or academic interviews, but Cordiano says not to worry. “For most teenagers, this isn’t something that parents need to be too concerned about, although many parents describe it as annoying. Similar to slang used by previous generations during the teen years, most of today’s teens tend to decrease their overuse of this word, especially in professional situations, as they mature.”

    If it’s a concern for you, there are ways around it.

    3 Strategies to Decrease Saying the Word “Like”:
    1. Become aware
    Cordiano says, “Parents can do a little bit of coaching to decrease its use or to use it correctly. Help your teens to become more aware of their use of the word.” A great strategy for increasing awareness is to simply keep count of the number of “likes” your teen utters in a day. They may be surprised at the total.

    2. Replace “like” with a different filler
    Cordiano suggests developing this helpful skill: “Teach them to replace the filler word with a pause or a breath.” Advise them to pause when they feel a “like” coming on, rather than uttering the word. Pausing will make them sound more authoritative than using a filler.

    3. Expand your vocabulary
    And, encourage them to broaden and strengthen their vocabulary. The more words they have at their disposal, the easier they can express a thought and rely less on fillers.

    With all that said, don’t, like, mind it too much. Obnoxious though it can seem, most teens do grow out of their “like” phase. And, besides, the word serves the noble purpose of giving teens time to consider what they’re saying before they say it. After all, isn’t that, like, what we want?
    https://yourteenmag.com/family-life/.../teenage-slang

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    I don't recall ever using fillers as a teen unless it was an 'um' or something similar if I was thinking of what to say when questioned about something. I was way before the 'like' and 'ya know' generation.

    People who start a sentence with 'So' are an immediate turn-off and my ignore button gets pressed.
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    I think those who develop this annoying habit are somehow insecure with expressing themselves while interacting with others. This is especially true concerning young people who lack confidence... You mean what I know?
    Aside from an ever increasing number of mortals who have willfully chosen to worship Satan and his minions, our battle has always been against the powers and principalities operating surreptitiously throughout this twisted world.

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