A new article in Business Insider cites a study about the psychological reasons we use filler words, such as “um, uh, er.” It was a good reminder that we ALL use filler words, not just individuals with word finding difficulties. Dr. Michael Handford, professor of applied linguistics and English language at Cardiff University in the UK, explained that people often use fillers to be polite. Linguists have suggested that speakers who use more fillers are probably being more conscious of who they are talking to and what they are saying.
“As speakers we are often aware [that] if we speak too complexly the listener might not understand,” Handford told The Independent. “We use these items, pretty unconsciously, to help the person process what we are saying.” Fillers are also used to buy time when we know what we want to say, but our brain hasn’t yet caught up.
Fillers can also signal deception. A retired FBI Special Agent and professor at Western Illinois University, Dr. John R. Schafer, was cited in a blog post in Psychology Today : https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/let-their-words-do-the-talking/201512/um-little-words-can-signal-big-lies-you-know He said tag words such as “you know,” “I mean,” and “right” may be used to seek confirmation in the listener, or convince them of the truthfulness of a message.
So does that mean using fillers means you are lying? By no means. Filler words can simply be a habit. So how do we as SLPs interpret those interjections and delays?
Do the fillers interfere with conversation? Are they typical for this individual? Consider the context; consider the speaker. We all experience word finding difficulties at times. We have a more difficult time retrieving the words we need when stressed or fatigued. We may resort to fillers to let ourselves (or our listeners) catch up. The article reminded me that we shouldn’t look at one language sample on one day and diagnose word finding problems. We need to assess if there is a pattern. We need to assess if communication is really impaired.
The Business Insider article may be found at: http://www.businessinsider.com/psychological-reasons-we-use-filler-words-2017-4?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=webfeeds
Let me know what you think!