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Options and Ums

Nicholas Christenfeld

Most people who have speculated about the causes of ums in speech (also known as filled pauses) have suggested that they are produced when the speaker is confronted with a challenging choice.  This idea, in spite of its intuitive appeal and theoretical usefulness, has never been directly tested.  The present experiment manipulates the complexity of options facing a speaker by having subjects describe mazes with a varying number of alternate possible routes.  The mazes with more options did produce more filled pauses.  However, in describing even the simplest maze, one of the easiest possible speech tasks, the subjects still said um regularly.  It is suggested that options are only one factor in filled pause production, and that breaking up the rhythm of speech may also foster filled pauses.
Christenfeld, N. 1994 Options and Ums. In Journal of Language & Social Psychology 13/2: 192-199.

Key points relevant to the study of filled pauses


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