Wednesday, March 11, 1998 at 13:53:54
I am a person who uses "umm.." and "hmmm..." very often in TRC Internet chat. It is quite deliberate, and used to indicate that I am deliberately hesitant about a question I've been asked. In my experience filled pauses are used quite extensively in IRC and it goes to prove that they are much more than accidental artifacts of speech.
I think your communicative use of "umm" and "hmm" in chat sessions parallel a not-too-well-known purpose for filled pauses in spontaneous speech. I now live in Japan where I 've been teaching English for nearly ten years. One thing that really tested my patience in my early years was the tendency of many students to process an answer silently before making any verbal response. In their native Japanese language this is customary, but in English, particularly when communicating with a native speaker of English, this is problematic. Recently I have developed some lessons to encourage my students to 'fill' their silence. Ideally, I tell them, they should fill the silence with an answer. Second, they may fill the silence with lexicalizations, "well", "let's see..", etc. Finally, they might use a filled pause. This silence lets the other speaker know they have understood their statements and are engaged in the conversation (an echo of your statements about chat).
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