A bit of language psychology

By October 2, 2007 culture, language No Comments

Michael Erard is a journalist and linguist specialist who was recently interviewed by NPR on their Science Out of the Box program to discuss his recent book, Um . . . : Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.

During the interview, Mr. Erard explains that as we are speaking, oftentimes the words are not accessed as easily or quickly as we need them to be. This blip in our thinking causes us to pause our speech and sometimes we feel the need to fill that supposedly awkward pause with an even more awkward pause filler (e.g., um, uh, like, you know, etc.).

Mr. Erard explains that some of this need for filling the space is to signal to our audience that we are midsentence or midthought; the pause filler prevents another speaker from interpreting dead air as a green light to take over the conversation. These pause fillers signal that more words are on the way.

I’ve begun to think about these pauses, not only in terms of speaking, but also in terms of writing. My blog has suffered during September; I’ve had little extra time to dedicate to it. But I do have more to say. It is brewing, steeping in my heart. There is more to come, more to be posted here in the days and weeks ahead. I hate to fill this awkward pause with ghastly pause fillers. Just think of my posting delays as a tangible representation of my writer’s voice searching for words to put to the page.

So look for more to come in the weeks ahead, and soon to come commentary on Mr. Erard’s book—a great read!

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