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Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Well, apparently its universal and it's called a 'filler' word.

In linguistics, a filler is a sound or word that is spoken in conversation by one participant to signal to others that he/she has paused to think but is not yet finished speaking.  The "ums", "ers", and “ahs” are among the easiest sounds to make and contain what linguists call "neutral vowel sounds".

It may be that they can be said without a great deal of thought too. "Fillers" help conversations continue smoothly.

Different languages have different characteristic filler sounds; in English, the most common filler sounds are uh and um. Among youths, the fillers "like", "y'know", "so", "actually", "literally", "basically", "right", "I'm tellin' ya" and "you know what I mean?" are among the more prevalent.

In Afrikaans, ah, em, and eh are common fillers.
In Arabic, يعني yaʿni ("I mean") and وﷲ wallāh(i) ("by God") are common fillers.
In American Sign Language, UM can be signed with open-8 held at chin, palm in, eyebrows down (similar to FAVORITE); or bilateral symmetric bent-V, palm out, repeated axial rotation of wrist (similar to QUOTE).
In Bengali, mane ("it means") is a common filler.
In Catalan, eh /ə/, doncs ("so"), llavors ("therefore"), and o sigui ("it means") are common fillers.
In Czech, fillers are called "slovní vata", meaning "word cotton/padding". The most frequent fillers are čili or takže ("so"), prostě ("simply"), jako ("like"). Overuse of jako and prostě becomes a bad habit among youth and could be viewed as simple-minded.
In Danish, øh is one of the most common fillers.
In Dutch, eh, ehm, and dus are some of the more common fillers.

As Stephen Juan, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Sydney explains.. "Although we may not consciously realise it, in a two-person conversation, people speak by taking turns. When someone thinks it is their turn to talk, they do. Otherwise, they listen. A two-person conversation becomes like a tennis match. Inevitably there are short periods of silence as people pause to let the other person take over the speaking. But sometimes a speaker doesn’t want to give up their turn and instead wants a little extra time to think about what they’re going to say next. They use a “filler” to signal this.

When a listener hears the “filler”, they continue listening rather than start talking. “Um”, “er”, and “ah” are examples of phonemes. In linguistics, phonemes are the smallest meaningless speech sounds humans make. The smallest meaningful speech sounds humans make are called “morphemes”. Everything we humans say is either meaningless or meaningful. A lot of people never learn the difference.

More Filler words in different languages...

  • In Esperanto, do ("therefore") is the most common filler.
  • In Filipino, ah, eh, ay, and ano are the most common fillers.
  • In Finnish, niinku ("like"), tota, and öö are the most common fillers.
  • In French, euh /ø/ is most common; other words used as fillers include quoi ("what"), bah, ben ("well"), tu vois ("you see"), t』vois c』que j'veux dire? ("you see what I mean?"), tu sais, t'sais ("you know"), and eh bien (roughly "well", as in "Well, I'm not sure"). Outside of France, other expressions are t'sais veux dire? ("you know what I mean?"), or allez une fois ("go one time"). Additional filler words used by youngsters include genre ("kind"), comme ("like"), and style ("style"; "kind").
  • In German, a more extensive series of filler words, called modal particles, exists, which actually do give the sentence some meaning. More traditional filler words are äh /ɛː/, hm, so /zoː/, tja, and eigentlich ("actually").
  • In Hebrew, eh is the most common filler. Em is also quite common. Young speakers commonly use "Ke'ilu" (the Hebrew version of "like").
  • In Hindi, matlab ("it means") and "Mah" are fillers.
  • In Hungarian, filler sound is ő, common filler words include hát, nos (well...) and asszongya (a variant of azt mondja, which means "it says here..."). Among intellectuals, ha úgy tetszik (if you like) is used as filler.
  • In Icelandic, a common filler is hérna ("here"). Þúst, a contraction of þú veist ("you know"), is popular among younger speakers.
  • In Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), anu is one of the most common fillers.
  • In Italian, common fillers include "tipo" ("like"), "ecco" ("there") and "cioè" ("actually")
  • In Irish Gaelic, abair /ˈabˠəɾʲ/ ("say"), bhoil /wɛlʲ/ ("well"), and era /ˈɛɾˠə/ are common fillers, along with emm as in Hiberno-English.
  • In Japanese, common fillers include eetto, ano, sono, and ee.
  • In Kannada,Matte for also,Enappa andre for the matter is are the common fillers.
  • In Korean, eung, eo, ge, and eum are commonly used as fillers.
  • In Lithuanian, nu, am and žinai ("you know") are common fillers.
  • In Maltese and Maltese English, mela ("then"), or just la, is a common filler.
  • In Mandarin Chinese, speakers often say 這個 zhège/zhèige ("this") or 那個 nàge/nèige ("that"). Other common fillers are 就 jìu ("just") and 好像 "very like/"kinda like"}}.
  • In Norwegian, common fillers are øh, altså, på en måte ("in a way"), ikke sant (literally "not true?", "no kidding", or "exactly"), vel ("well"), and liksom ("like"). In Bergen, sant ("true") is often used instead of ikke sant. In the Trøndelag region, skjø' ("see?" or "understand?") is also a common filler.
  • In Persian, bebin ("you see"), چیز "chiz" ("thing"), and مثلا masalan ("for instance") are commonly-used filler words. As well as in Arabic and Urdu, يعني yaʿni ("I mean") is also used in Persian. Also, eh is a common filler in Persian.
  • In Portuguese, é, hum, então ("so") and tipo ("like") are the most common fillers.
  • In Punjabi, matlab ("it means") is a common filler.
  • In Romanian, deci /detʃʲ/ ("therefore") is common, especially in school, and ă /ə/ is also very common (can be lengthened according to the pause in speech, rendered in writing as ăăă), whereas păi /pəj/ is widely used by almost anyone.
  • In Russian, fillers are called слова-паразиты ("vermin words"); the most common are Э-э ("eh"), это ("this"), того ("that"), ну ("well"), значит ("it means"), так ("so"), как его ("what's it [called]"), типа ("like"), and как бы ("[just] like").
  • In Serbian, znači ("means") and ovaj ("this") are common fillers.
  • In Slovak, oné ("that"), tento ("this"), proste ("simply"), or akože ("it's like…") are used as fillers. The Hungarian izé (or izí in its Slovak pronunciation) can also be heard, especially in parts of the country with a large Hungarian population. Ta is a filler typical of Eastern Slovak and one of the most parodied features.
  • In Slovene, pač ("but", although it has lost that meaning in colloquial, and it is used as a means of explanation), a ne? ("right?"), and no ("well") are some of the fillers common in central Slovenia, including Ljubljana.
  • In Spanish, fillers are called muletillas. Some of the most common in American Spanish are e /e/, este ("this"), and o sea (roughly means "I mean", literally means "it means"), in Spain the previous fillers are also used, but ¿Vale? ("right?") and ¿no? are very common too.
  • In Swedish, fillers are called utfyllningsord; some of the most common are öhm, ja ("yes"), ba (comes from "bara", which means "just"), asså or alltså ("therefore", "thus"), va (comes from "vad", which means "what"), and liksom and typ (both similar to the English "like").
  • In Ukrainian, е ("eh", similar to "um"), ну ("Nu (well)"), і ("and"), цей ("this"), той-во ("this one") are common fillers.
  • In Urdu, yani ("meaning..."), flana flana ("this and that"; "blah blah"), haan haan ("yeah yeah") and acha ("ok") are also common fillers.
  • In Telugu, ikkada entante ("Whats here is...") and tarwatha ("then...") are common and there are numerous like this.
  • In Tamil, paatheenga-na ("if you see...") and apparam ("then...") are common.
  • In Turkish, yani ("meaning..."), şey ("thing"), "işte" ("that is"), and falan ("as such", "so on") are common fillers.
  • In Welsh, de or ynde is used as a filler (loosely the equivalent of "You know?" or "Isn't it?"). Ym... and Y... are used similarly to the English "um...".
Among language learners, a common pitfall is using fillers from their native tongue. For example, "Quiero una umm.... quesadilla". While less of a shibboleth, knowing the placeholder names (sometimes called kadigans) of a language (e.g. the equivalent of "thingy") can also be useful to attain fluency, such as the French truc: "Je cherche le truc qu'on utilise pour ouvrir une boîte" ("I'm looking for the thingy that you use to open up a can").

Some Observations:

"Perhaps no profession has uttered more 'ums' or 'uhs' than the legal profession. Such words are a clear indication that the speaker's style is halting and uncertain. Eliminate these filler words. The lack of 'ums' and 'uhs' alone can make you sound more confident.

"And it's not hard to do. Just pause. Every time you feel that you're about to use a filler word, pause instead."
(Joey Asher, Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers. ALM Publishing, 2005)

Hesitation Forms
"Modern linguists led by Leonard Bloomfield in 1933 call these 'hesitation forms'--the sounds of stammering (uh), stuttering (um, um), throat-clearing (ahem!), stalling (well, um, that is), interjected when the speaker is groping for words or at a loss for the next thought.

"You know that y'know is among the most common of these hesitation forms. Its meaning is not the imperious 'you understand' or even the old interrogatory 'do you get it?' It is given as, and taken to be, merely a filler phrase, intended to fill a beat in the flow of sound, not unlike like, in its new sense of, like, a filler word. . . .

"[T]hese staples of modern filler communication--I mean, y'know, like--can also be used as 'tee-up words.' In olden times, pointer phrases or tee-up words were get this, would you believe? and are you ready? The function of these rib-nudging phrases was--are you ready?--to make the point, to focus the listener's attention on what was to follow. . . .

"If the purpose is to tee up a point, we should accept y'know and its friends as a mildly annoying spoken punctuation, the articulated colon that signals 'focus on this.' . . . If the purpose is to grab a moment to think, we should allow ourselves to wonder: Why are filler phrases needed at all? What motivates the speaker to fill the moment of silence with any sound at all?"
(William Safire, Watching My Language: Adventures in the Word Trade. Random House, 1997)

Filler Words Across Disciplines

"Why do some people fill the air with non-words and sounds? For some, it is a sign of nervousness; they fear silence and experience speaker anxiety. Recent research at Columbia University suggests another reason. Columbia psychologists speculated that speakers fill pauses when searching for the next word. To investigate this idea, they counted the use of filler words used by lecturers in biology, chemistry, and mathematics, where the subject matter uses scientific definitions that limit the variety of word choices available to the speaker. They then compared the number of filler words used by teachers in English, art history, and philosophy, where the subject matter is less well-defined and more open to word choices.

"Twenty science lecturers used an average of 1.39 uh's a minute, compared with 4.85 uh's a minute by 13 humanities teachers. Their conclusion: subject matter and breadth of vocabulary may determine use of filler words more than habit or anxiety.

"Whatever the reason, the cure for filler words is preparation. You reduce nervousness and pre-select the right ways to say ideas through preparation and practice."
(Paul R. Timm and Sherron Bienvenu, Straight Talk: Oral Communication for Career Success. Routledge, 2011)

Personally, I don't use 'you know' often.  I mean I use it, just not often.  However, I know about 8 friends I can count that uses it a lot... and I mean A LOT!  Having said that, it doesn't bother me in the least bit that they do this because it seems to make them feel comfortable saying this and they each say it in their own unique way whether it's said with an accent or said fast/slow etc.  It makes them who they are and after awhile you just ignore it as it becomes part of their speech.  So instead of trying to stop people from saying these words, I think we should all learn to accept it (as annoying as it may be to you) and move on... you know, just get over it!

Source(s): wikipedia, theregister.com/, about.com/,
Original cartoon character by Flickr user  dogwelder

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