'Ums' and 'Uhs'...

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by kmguru, Jun 20, 2002.

  1. kmguru Staff Member

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    Um ... there're these psychologists, right? And they've, uh, come up with, like, the idea that 'um' and 'uh' are really words, which speakers, um ... use to highlight their conversational problems. Ok?

    'Uh' and 'um' send information to listeners just like proper words, say Herbert Clark of Stanford University, California, and his colleague Jean Fox Tree at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They analysed transcripts of conversations between academics and from phone conversations and answering-machine messages.

    English speakers lob in 'um' before a long pause and 'uh' in front of a brief hiatus, the analysis revealed. People even create compounds such as 'the-um' or 'and-uh', says Clark, showing that speakers know that there is going to be a problem after the word even before they begin it.

    The researchers believe that speech contains two streams of information, which speakers blend and listeners unravel. One strand contains the meaning. With the other - asides such as 'um', 'uh', 'like' and 'y'know?' - speakers comment on how smoothly their train of thought is running. "Remarkably, we do these things more or less simultaneously during conversation," says Clark.

    'Uh' and 'um' are commonly thought just to fill a pause or prevent interruptions. But this doesn't explain how people use them, says Clark: "You see them in monologues as much as dialogues, and people also use them in Internet chatrooms," he points out.

    Speech researcher Robin Lickley agrees that 'uh' and 'um' should be treated as genuine words. "People tend to think of these things as sloppy, whereas they're perfectly normal," says Lickley, who works at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh.

    He also likes the idea that speech contains parallel strands. But he doubts that 'uh' and 'um' really perform the function that Clark and Fox Tree claim for them. "I don't think they're inserted to help the listener - about half the time people don't notice them," he says. "They just keep the flow of speech going."

    Other studies have shown, however, that listeners process speech more quickly with the 'ums' and 'uhs' left in than when they are taken out. And beginning an answer with 'um' is interpreted as showing greater uncertainty than a silent pause of the same length.

    Pause forethought

    Different languages have their own gap-signalling words. The uncertain Spaniard says 'em' and the Swede 'hmm', whereas the Japanese have a raft of options, including 'anoo' and 'jaa'. A common feature is that the word's sound is easy to stretch out, and so adapt to the length of the pause for thought.

    Public speakers learn to suppress umming and erring, hiding moments of uncertainty. For example, there's not a single 'um' or 'uh' in any of the recorded inaugural addresses made by US presidents between 1940 and 1996.

    So has studying 'uhs' and 'ums' made Clark more conscious of his own hesitations? "If you aren't careful it's a killer, but I try and keep it from becoming one," he says.


    References
    Clark, H. H. & Fox Tree, J. E. Using uh and um in spontaneous speaking. Cognition, 84, 73 - 111, (2002).


    © Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2002
     
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  3. *stRgrL* Kicks ass Valued Senior Member

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    I was taught not to say umm and uhhh cuz it makes you look like you dont know what your talking about

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    Ummmm, right?
     
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  5. Avatar smoking revolver Valued Senior Member

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    on the contrarory (sp), it gives you time to organise/gather your thoughts.

    I was taught just like you, but tht doesn't mean I believe in everything I'm told

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  7. *stRgrL* Kicks ass Valued Senior Member

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    Uhhh... ya, neither do I. I was being sarcastic

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  8. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

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    Hard Drive

    I always figured that, at their best, "Um," and "Uh", and "Er," and other such nonsense words in speech were our equivalent of that wonderful spinning sound you hear every time your hard drive engages. Well, not always. There weren't always hard drives to spin. But it's a cute analogy, I think.

    thanx,
    Tiassa

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  9. Bebelina Feminazi Messiah Valued Senior Member

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    There are also those who say that those tiny little sounds are a natural expression of the thought before and after verbalized. Old couples can communicate entirely with these.
     
  10. Adam §Þ@ç€ MØnk€¥ Registered Senior Member

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    Bebelina, have you ever studied at all the odd languages which some sets of twins develop, and such? Often they are not related at all to the primary language spoken at home. They just create their own form of verbal communication sometimes.
     
  11. kmguru Staff Member

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    Dont go there Adam. Otherwise we have to explain that by saying some twins develop telepathy agumented by verbal grunts to focus and control the mental process!


    On the otherhand....may be man was destined to develop language as a part of DNA subroutine....
     
  12. Bebelina Feminazi Messiah Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, I've heard of that. All poeple communicate to a certain extent with telepathy, but twins and people who share their lives for long period of times develop telepathic qualities easier amongst themselves.
    So grunts are all it takes to reach mutual understanding.

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  13. A4Ever Knows where his towel is Registered Senior Member

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    That's what some people on this forum think anyway.
     

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