Speech disfluency  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from Speech disfluencies)
Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Speech disfluencies are any of various breaks, irregularities, or non-lexical vocables that occur within the flow of otherwise fluent speech. These include false starts, i.e. words and sentences that are cut off mid-utterance, phrases that are restarted or repeated and repeated syllables, fillers i.e. grunts or non-lexical utterances such as "uh", "erm" and "well", and repaired utterances, i.e. instances of speakers correcting their own slips of the tongue or mispronunciations (before anyone else gets a chance to).

  • "The best part of my job is … well … the best part of my job is the responsibility."
  • "The soup is too hot and it would burn if you … it would burn you if you tried to eat it."
  • "Fool me once, shame on—uh, shame on you. Fool me twice—you can't get fooled again."
  • "Y'know, when I was asked earlier about, uh, the issue of coal, uh, you … under my plan, uh, of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket …"
  • "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."



Fillers are parts of speech which are not generally recognized as purposeful or containing formal meaning, usually expressed as pauses such as uh, like and er, but also extending to repairs ("He was wearing a black—uh, I mean a blue, a blue shirt"), and articulation problems such as stuttering. Use is normally frowned upon in mass media such as news reports or films, but they occur regularly in everyday conversation, sometimes representing upwards of 20% of "words" in conversation.Template:Citation needed Fillers can also be used as a pause for thought ("I arrived at, um—3 o'clock").


Research in computational linguistics has revealed a correlation between native language and patterns of disfluencies in spontaneously uttered speech. In addition to this research, there are other subjective accounts reported by individuals. According to one commentator, Americans use pauses such as "um" or "uh," the British say "er" or "erm", the French use "euh", the Germans say "äh" (pronounced eh or er), Japanese use "ā", "anō", or "ēto", and Spanish speakers say "ehhh" (also used in Hebrew), "como" (normally meaning 'like'), and "este" (normally meaning 'this'). Besides "er" and "uh", the Portuguese use "hã or é". In Mandarin "nèi ge" and "zhè ge" ('that' and 'this') are used. In Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian, speakers vocalize an "ovaj". Arabic speakers say "يعني", the pronunciation of which is close to "yaa'ni", Template:IPA-ar or Template:IPA, (literally, "he means", there being no grammatically gender-neutral third person) and in Turkish, they say "şey" in addition to "yani" (without the Template:IPAblink found in Arabic). A more complete list can be found on the fillers page.


Recent linguistic research has suggested that non-pathological disfluencies may contain a variety of meaning; the frequency of "uh" and "um" in English is often reflective of a speaker's alertness or emotional state. Some have hypothesized that the time of an "uh" or "um" is used for the planning of future words; other researchers have suggested that they are actually to be understood as full-fledged function words rather than accidents, indicating a delay of variable time in which the speaker wishes to pause without voluntarily yielding control of the dialogue. There is some debate as to whether to consider them a form of white noise or as a meaning-filled part of language.

Speech disfluencies have also become important in recent years with the advent of speech-to-text programs and other attempts at enabling computers to make sense of human speech.


Hmm is an exclamation (an emphatic interjection) typically used to express reflection, uncertainty, thoughtful absorption, or hesitation. Hmm is technically categorized as an interjection, like um, huh, ouch, erm, and wow. The first h-sound is a mimic for breathing in, and the second m-sound, since the mouth is closed, is representing that the person is not currently sure what to say ("erm" and "um" are used similarly). The pause filler indicates that the person is temporarily speechless, but still engaged in thought. The variety of tones, pitches, and lengths used add nuances in meaning.


The expression is used in many different languages, however the origin of "hmm" is difficult to find, mainly because "the word is so natural that it may have arisen at any time," as highlighted by linguist at the University of Minnesota and an expert on word origins, Anatoly Liberman. It is possible Neanderthals might have used "hmm". Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an expert on filled pauses, attests "hmm" is popular largely since it's such a neutral sound and that "it's easier to say than anything else". The earliest attestations of "hmm" are from Shakespeare, "I cried hum... But markt him not a word" (1598 Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 1 iii. i. 154). It may be a vocable that grew out of lexicalized throat-clearing.

Use as a filler word

"Hmm" is a "filler" word, such as "um" and "er". Use of "hmm" for "filled pauses" has been considered by many as stupidity and showing a lack of skill or competence, but many linguists attest this judgement is unjustified. Typically, "hmm" is uttered when the person is being especially conscious about whom they are talking with, and as a result are thinking deeply about what to say. Moreover, the use of "hmm" is often interactional and cognitive. The interactional function is to do with politeness. Professor Michael Handford, a professor of applied linguistics and English language at Cardiff University, gave the example of if one invited somebody to a party, and they said no without a filled pause, they would appear rude probably. However, if the person replied, "hmm, sorry, no" they would appear much more polite, as it seems the speaker is giving the offer some thought, rather than abruptly declining the offer.

Thoughtful absorption

The use of "hmm" is typically used during "thoughtful absorption", which is when one is engrossed in their flow of ideas and associations, that lead to a reality-oriented conclusion. The utterance of "hmm" is key for surrounding person/s to understand that the person is currently involved in thoughtful observation; if the person thinks silently, those surrounding may not be sure that the person is currently thinking. "Um" and "er" are also used during thoughtful absorption, however, typically the extent of the absorption of thought is limited when "um" and "er" are uttered since they are usually spoken mid-sentence, and for shorter periods of time than "hmm". For this reason, thoughtful absorption is typically associated with the utterance of "hmm".

"Huh" – the universal syllable

Research has shown that the word/syllable "huh" is perhaps the most recognized syllable throughout the world. It is an interrogative. This crosses geography, language, cultures and nationalities.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Speech disfluency" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools