Friday, February 20, 1998 at 09:48:35

I'm a high school English teacher fighting the "like" battle with my students. Do you have any research about the origins and evolution of this phenomenon? I can't seem to break even my brightest students of using "like" as every third word of their sentences.  I thought some scholarly research might help me get though to them.  Also, FYI:  hesitation forms in speech= embolalia.

- A

Thanks for the label for hesitation forms in speech.  I have not encountered the term yet in linguistic studies (I wonder if it's more of a pathological term?).

I'm not sure I'll be able to help you very much with your students' "like" problem.  As a linguist I try to describe language rather than prescribe language.  However, let's see if linguistic descriptions of filled pauses can be applied to this problem.  First, it is worthwhile to determine why your students use 'like'.  I can imagine two possibilities, one linguistic, the other psycho-social.

First, it may be that your students have a linguistic need to pause.  That is, their statements are not mentally prepared and they need to stall in order to process the continuation of their discourse.  If this is the case, then telling them not to use 'like' may result in them using other filled pauses or silent pauses.  It might be better to focus on the need for pausing and how to reduce the need in the first place.

Another possible reason for pausing might be interpersonal.  The fact that so many of your students exhibit this phenomena suggests that it might form solidarity among them.  If so, then your efforts to reduce it might be viewed as a challenge to the unity of their peer group.  So be careful.

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