Sunday, March 8, 1998 at 01:20:09

First: a fascinating area of study.

Second: As a retired college professor who had to listen to both prepared oral presentations and the unprepared presentations of students in my office, I found myself noticing that filled pauses, especially the uhms and the uhhhs have been becoming more common over the past few years. I'm especially annoyed by the FPs that start a sentence. For example, a student will stand in front of my desk and I'll ask what I can do for him. The answer will be "Uhhhhh....." followed by a long pause. If I'm silent, the pause will be followed by at least one more "Uhhhh...." and then the start of the sentence. If I interject a remark: "very articulate" let's say...the whole thing will start over again. If you ever come up with a solution to that -- or at the very least, an explanation, I'd love to know it.

Third: You said that you have the same habit as your father. It seems to me that you learn your speech from your parents and accents and mannerisms are bound to be picked up more or less permanently at that time.

- RR

I was probably one of your students--in spirit, at least. The filled pause(s) and other hesitations which occur at the beginning of one's speech have been referred to as latency phenomena and are treated by some researchers as slightly different phenomena than hesitations which occur in-process. I can't remember the reference right now but I even remember one researcher noting a negative correlation between latency and in-process FP use.  That is, those who took longer to think before answering gave more fluent answers.  It sounds sensible, but does this jibe with your experience?

This might sound denigrating, but most of my students during the past eight or ten years were not particularly articulate...their communication skills, even in ordinary conversation were very poor. The speaking vocabulary of the current crop of college students is quite limited. The reason for the initial FP (or latency phenomenon) might be in part a result of my being somewhat intimidating, as I've been told in student evaluations that I am. However, even the brighter and more accomplished students have a vocabulary that is much smaller than my students from fifteen or so years ago and, certainly, smaller than mine was at their age.

With regard to picking up our parents' speech habits, although I have not researched this in detail, there seems little doubt that parents have a very strong influence on our speech development:  they are our first interlocuters and our most significant conversational partners during the early formative years of language.  It would be interesting to study the speech of say two to three generations of the same family to note what hesitation patterns have been inherited.  Possibly my next paper?

Note the regional accents that are passed from parent to child. The Wisconsin native picks up that Scandinavian twang from parents or grandparents for whom it was a foreign accent. Then the next generation picks it up and it's usually lifelong, even if they leave the area. I'm originally from Boston, Mass. and have at least the remnants of a Boston accent even though I haven't lived there since 1952. I currently live in Florida and the large number of Cubans that emigrated here have children whose English is perfect but obviously Spanish accented.

The point of my comment was your picking up your father's speech habit consisting of large numbers of filled pauses as a natural form of speech rather than as a necessity because of your inability to think fast enought to fill the gaps as they occurred.

Notice the somewhat gutteral way many of your Japanese students speak when they pronounce their native language (men especially) and how it doesn't carry over into their English.

Pay attention to the distinctive way that clergyman -- of any faith --speak when they are on the pulpit as opposed to when they are conversing...

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