Sunday, March 8, 1998 at 08:34:42

Excellent.  Hope you can continue to offer such thoughtful responses to comments.   My comment:  I've assumed (based on some things I've read, but can't cite) that fps have a primary function of maintaining conversational rhythmic structure.   This would fit in well with the turn-taking aspect, in that an unfilled pause could be an occasion for a new speaker to interrupt, (or for other events, such as back-channel messages to be communicated).  I've also assumed that establishing and maintaining a conversational rhythm is quite critical to the emotional comfort of participants and the success of information exchange.  I haven't seen all of your website, but so far, you don't seem to discuss the concept of rhythm, except perhaps for some references to synchronization?  So I'm curious about whether 'rhythm' is a useful concept in your work.  I would also like to see rhythmic analysis extended to prose writing.  My sense is that complex rhythmic structures may exist in all forms of person-to-person communication, and that some communication problems might possibly be due to rhythm disruptions, both simple and complex.  FPs seem to me to be devices to avoid some of these problems, when we're 'at a loss for a word.' This might suggest that attempting to eliminate FPs might be just the wrong thing to do in the case of some 'pathologies'.   I look forward to your ongoing work in this area, whether you use rhythm or not!

- MM

In my research I've come across only one (reference to a) study that measured pause length relative to the overall rhythm of the individual's speech.  Most pausological researchers seem to presume rhythm is not relevant to the study of speech pauses.   However, it would seem prudent to validate (or invalidate) this presumption with a study of the type you suggest:  comparing hesitation with rhythm. Offhand, I would hypothesize that there might be a relation when the pause is being used purposely (say for effect), but when it is merely evidence of some cognitive function (e.g., processing the following word/phrase) then it may in fact be a disruption to the rhythm (and this might the source of irritation that so many feel at hearing others' FPs). However, paralleling your thoughts, I'm not yet sure of the advantages of encouraging one to eliminate FPs from their speech.  The most common cause of such FPs is a need to hesitate for cognitive functions to catch up with oral functions.  If an FP is not used then some other hesitation phenomena will likely be used instead:  silence, lengthening, restart, or a brief tangent to paraphrase/exemplify, etc.  While some of these techniques may indeed abate the listener's irritation, they do not speed up the transfer of the *message* and in the case of tangents, may in fact slow it down.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.  Since my mind is full of other matters, I can't remember, and haven't the time to dig out the stuff I read on conversational rhythms a number of years ago.  But it seems to me that there is a literature somewhere which discusses FPs (and UFPs) as rhythm-filling events, and I seem to remember that they may be very functional as indicators for additional speakers seeking to synchronize with a preexisting conversation, marking potential change-of-turn moments, etc.  But this is all hazy in my mind.  The basic premise was something like:  if we don't have a word ready to fill a rhythmic moment, something else has to, ranging from silence through FPs; and if the timing of the UFP or FP departs (within a range of significance?) from the rhythm, then the conversation suffers a disruption to some degree.

On my own, I would speculate about rhythmic structures as mnemonic devices, and want to add something about the psychology of rhythm--as mnemonic (and otherwise organizational) structure--to a theory of UFP/FPs.  But alas, I am not supposed to be speculating, but instead, should be writing up my research on something totally different:  social dance history.  But wait (UFP X 4); is it so different?  Dancing is rhythmic/synchorized communication activity; often, but not always, unlexicalized.   (But I look a lot at square dancing, which has an (interesting?) lexical component.) So there is a bit of method to the madness of my amorphous interests.   And we are our language(s), aren't we?

A quick question:  any research that looks at connections between UFP/FPs and parts-of-speech (if that is the correct term in linguistics)? Specifically, whether they most often occur where a verb would?  Or are most commonly followed by a verb form?   (Or something else?)

I have come across a couple of references to studies of the actual placement of FPs relative to the grammatical structure.  Perhaps the most famous pausologist is Freida Goldman-Eisler.  She found that pauses (both filled and unfilled) are more common and longer near clause boundaries (1972). 

Interesting.  Following my speculation:  are there grammatical structures
or parts of speech that are more common than others near these clause

In my own dissertation, studies I looked at this a little and my findings support this.  Furthermore, I found that FPs most often occur in the early parts of tone units (units into which speech can be broken up based on intonation), and almost never does any kind of hesitation phenomena occur after the tonic syllable (the most stressed prominent syllable in a tone unit).  I'm still trying to understand what may be the implications of this (I need to study more about cognition and speech-processing). 

Same question, but applied to pre-tonic syllable locations?

However, I'm not aware of any study that relates them to parts of speech.  My intuition is that there would be little correlation with any particular part of speech, since the cause of motivation for using an FP is not so localized.

My reasoning is that if pauses occur when rhythmic structure demands a word/syllable, but none is handy, leading speakers to UFP/FP, then in second-language speech, for instance, we might see certain grammatical structures producing more likelihood of pauses due to difficulty of learning/remembering.  In learning other languages, I have consistently found verbs more difficult, and, uh, wondered if they might trip up speakers more.

Sorry, it's total speculation on my part.  If I find any, I'll be sure to tell you.  Since you work with ESL some? I suppose you might have opportunity to observe for such a factor.  I also have the sense that phrases such as 'I'm, uh, [verb]ing...' are quite common among native speakers.  For whatever reason, phrases like this are what pop into my mind as examples of FPs.  But I suppose I could extend it to adverbs and adverbial clauses as well.  Now why do I reach for verb forms, and not nouns?  Prepositions?  Wish I had the time and discipline to pursue this. (I'm hoping you'll tell me--and the world--sooner or later.)

The following stems more from intuition and speculation than academic study but may be helpful to our discussion.  I remember reading some comparative linguistic study which demonstrated that English is centered more around its verb forms while Japanese is centered around noun forms.  As a speaker of both languages I find some truth in this.  When I speak Japanese I often find myself searching for a noun--a static representation--at the center of what I want to say. Once that noun is decided, the rest sort of falls into place.  In English, I find that I am often searching for a verb which, when found, subsequently fixes all the other elements of the thought.  It is further useful to note that although I am searching for a noun in Japanese or a verb in English, it isn't always realized as a noun or a verb in the actual speech.  For example, when speaking Japanese the noun I'm searching for may end up as a verb in speech (often accomplished by adding the suffix "-suru") while in English the verb I'm searching for may end up as an adjective or adverb.  It would follow then that native English speakers might often find verbs the source of speech-processing difficulties.   And since the verb often occurs near the beginning of clauses it would follow that disfluencies would be more apt to occur in the earlier parts of clauses.

Thanks for being willing to speculate with me.  Your thoughts on English
are exactly the kind of thing I was reaching for, and I would apply it to
other languages I have studied:  Spanish, Russian, a bit of French.  I know
very little about Japanese.  I remember vaguely that Chinese don't use
verbs the way English does?  But instead, add temporal and other indicators
to action-nouns or something?

Regarding rhythm--which was your initial question--I confess I'm still at a loss how one might weave it into this thread. Any good ideas?

My speculation was that a need to maintain a conversational rhythm would create a need for either a vocalization, (word/syllable or FP), or UFP at rhythmic intervals; therefore, a difficult grammatical construction (for me, perhaps, a verb form), might generate a deficit in my ability to place a lexically-meaningful sound in the appropriate space, in which case I might maintain the rhythm with either an FP or UFP.  Or, I might balk both verbally and rhythmically, thereby disrupting the conversation much more severely than an FP or UFP would.  (insert speculation disclaimer here)

Since rhythms can be made interesting by both absences of sound (rhythmic pauses), and by what musicians call 'syncopation' (shifting accents to normally unaccented, but rhythmic moments), I might also 'pause' for various deliberately meaningful reasons:   a 'dramatic pause' or a 'pause for effect', etc.  My whole shtick, I suppose, is that the timing of pauses, in successfully 'flowing' conversation, (or monologue) is probably not haphazard, random, or arythmic, but instead, highly-structured temporally.   If I'm right about this, perhaps the absolute length of FPs or UFPs is not critical, but the length expressed in rhythmic units derived from the particular speech being examined would be.  There might be an acceptable amount of variation from strict rhythm, beyond which disruption would become noticeable.  Might also be a number of 'liminal' effects (a popular word in the humanities, these days), not to mention 'subliminal' ones, depending on how strictly rhythms are maintained.

I also suppose that these rhythms might have considerable complexity, plus modulation/change; (beyond a simple speeding up or slowing down).  But maybe this is going to far.

In electronic communication (and I think, 'information theory'), there is a concept called 'multi-plexing', which has generally has to do with overlaying multiple signals on a carrier frequency (as in FM stereo broadcasting and TV), or multiple conversations on a single phone cable. It's simple to add signals, of course; decoding them can be done with matrix circuitry, and probably is done that way with digital sampling--I'm not up on this stuff, it's been years since I looked at it--but I'm continually wondering about where multiple overlaid signals might exist. Seems like some might be found in HIV (AIDS virus), for instance, where a coding sequence ('gene') starts from a certain point, another starts from a different point, but both overlap and use some of the same nucleotides.  I shouldn't write things like this, since I'm not absolutely sure that this is true, and can't cite where I saw this.  As far as I know, this doesn't occur in human DNA.

To finally get back to my point, such as it is:  I wonder if some of the rhythmic information that we are exchanging in speech could be considered as a multi-plexed signal, overlaid on the lexical data, and perhaps usually processed subconsciously?  I know that some people are much better than others at conversational rhythms, either in their own speech, mimicking others, or in such efforts as writing dialogue.

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