Friday, February 20, 1998 at 11:14:15
If you have ever lived in a foreign country you'd know exactly why those pauses & what they mean. I figured it out many years ago. In case you haven't yet: We (Americans) are taught, from early childhood to "think" before we speak. As a result it tends to fill our speech with the "thinking" pauses, etc. When people who learn a foreign language are constantly having to interperate as against "thinking" in the language, the same thing occurs.
If you disagree, please, don't give it a second thought! (I couldn't resist this pun)
I think you have definitely hit on one of the most (perhaps the most) common causes of pausing in spontaneous speech: processing needs. My research shows that a majority of pauses are a result of the need to 'stall' while preparing subsequent discourse. However, there do appear to be some uses of filled pauses which are communicative. For example, in interaction, one person may interrupt with a long filled pause, or begin their turn with a pause as if to say "I have the floor now, listen to me." Especially interesting is the use of filled pauses in declinations:
A: How about going to a movie Friday night?
B: Uh, sorry, I can't. I have to study.
A: Oh, I see. Well maybe some other time then.
The filled pause by B appears to mitigate the impact of the declination whereas an abrupt "I can't" would have been taken as a cold-shoulder.
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