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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

Speech disfluencies are any breaks in otherwise fluent speech: for example, words/sentences/phrases that are cut off, restarts/repetitions/repairs ("The best part of my job is...well...the best part of my job is the responsibility."), and fillers.

Fillers are parts of speech which are not generally recognized as purposeful or containing formal meaning, usually expressed as pauses such as uh or er, but also extending to repairs ("He was wearing bla—uh, blue pants"), and articulation problems such as stuttering. Use is normally looked down 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.

Americans use pauses such as "um" or "uh," the British say "er" or "erm", Mandarin speakers use something like "er," the French use something like "euh," the German say "äh" (pronounced eh or er), Japanese use "ahh","ano", or "eto", and Hebrew and Spanish speakers use something like "ehhh", and "este" in Mexican Spanish. Other languages have their own syllables for these pauses, but research has shown that the relative usage of these disfluencies is approximately constant across language boundaries.

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 yet to come. 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.

In America, since the 1980s, the word "like" has been used as a discourse marker similar to filled pauses like "um" or "uh" and is widespread among youth. For example, "I, like, don't know" instead of "I, uh, don't know" (see Valley speak for more information).

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