Monday, January 05, 2004

Filling the Gap

Previously, I reported on research concerning the use of "like" in modern speech, in which the researcher determined that this much-maligned "filler" word actually had a number of specific and generally accepted meanings. Prior to this research, most English teachers would have told you that the use of "like" in any manner other than "to have affection for" or "similar to" amounts to carrying a sign that you have no brains at all. (Many probably still feel that way.) Further pollute your language with "um" and "uh" as well, and you might as well forget about getting on in the serious adult world.

However, in this article from the NY Times, Michael Erard reports on other recent linguistic studies that have somewhat exonerated this lowly class of words called "fillers". Some researchers have even detected specific purposes and conversational meaning for each type of filler. One researcher found that nearly every language has such words, although they vary in sound, and they perform much the same purpose wherever they appear.

Another interesting fact appears in the article. In the process of trying to improve the efficiency of therapeutic conversations with patients, one psychologist determined that up to 50% of all speech consists of silence. That's one to ponder....

Think Tank: Just Like, Er, Words, Not, Um, Throwaways

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