Tuesday, March 3, 1998 at 05:25:18

I checked out your website because a few years ago, I noticed a prevalent characteristic of my female peers, which was that they constantly infused their conversation with the word "like."  This bothered me tremendously because the end result of this speech pattern was that these highly intelligent, well-educated, college-age women were reduced to sounding like ditzy "Valley Girls."  I made a concerted effort to avoid the word "like" in my own speech, but I'm sure that it still sneaks in sometimes.  I have noticed that this speech characteristic seems to be more prevalent in women, so I was wondering whether or not it had to do with the still-existent social expectation that women be "less smart" than men, and also perhaps to do with the inherently feminine characteristic being a non-agressive, mediator.  With that in mind, the seemingly random chance of the word "like" developing into this "FP" seems less random.   "Like" in its simple word definition means several different things - it draws similarities between two people, items, ideas; it expresses a harmony between people.  Is this simply random?  Are women seeking positive reinforcement from their listener when they use this word in conversation?  I am very curious about this.  Thank you for supplying your research to the public via the web!

- BH

Yes, I think you've hit the nail on the head.  You have discovered through intuition what many researchers have taken years and funds to uncover.  One function of FPs (filled pauses) appears to be the mitigation of the potential impact of one's speech.  For example, consider the following:

A:  Hey, how about going to a movie Friday night?
B:  Uh, sorry.  I'm afraid I have other plans...

Speakers commonly use a FP in this situation to reduce the impact of their declination.  Similarly, when being assertive, many people tend to use FPs to downplay their assertiveness.  As you note, nonassertiveness is a socially accepted feminine quality.  So, it is not surprising that many women develop this trait.

I don't know of any research yet on this topic, but an interesting hypothesis to check would be whether men who use FPs when asserting a point are perceived by others as being effeminate.

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