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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

Speech disfluencies are speech characteristics in which any of various speech pauses, irregularities, or non-lexical vocables that occur within the flow of otherwise fluent speech. These include false starts, i.e. words and sentences that are cut off mid-utterance, phrases that are restarted or repeated and repeated syllables, fillers i.e. grunts or non-lexical utterances such as "uh", "erm" and "well", and repaired utterances, i.e. instances of speakers correcting their own slips of the tongue or mispronunciations (before anyone else gets a chance to).

  • "The best part of my job is … well … the best part of my job is the responsibility."
  • "The soup is too hot and it would burn if you … it would burn you if you tried to eat it."
  • "Fool me once, shame on—uh, shame on you. Fool me twice—you can't get fooled again."
  • "Y'know, when I was asked earlier about, uh, the issue of coal, uh, you … under my plan, uh, of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket …"
  • "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."


Fillers are parts of speech which are not generally recognized as purposeful or containing formal meaning, usually expressed as pauses such as uh, like and er, but also extending to repairs ("He was wearing a black—uh, I mean a blue, a blue shirt"), and articulation problems such as stuttering. Use is normally frowned upon in mass media such as news reports or films, but they occur regularly in everyday conversation, sometimes representing upwards of 20% of "words" in conversation.[citation needed] Fillers can also be used as a pause for thought ("I arrived at, um—3 o'clock").


Research in computational linguistics has revealed a correlation between native language and patterns of disfluencies in spontaneously uttered speech.[1] In addition to this research, there are other subjective accounts reported by individuals. According to one commentator, Americans use pauses such as "um" or "uh," the British say "er" or "erm",[2] the French use "euh", the Germans say "äh" (pronounced eh or er), Japanese use "ā", "anō", or "ēto", and Spanish speakers say "ehhh" (also used in Hebrew), "como" (normally meaning 'like'), and "este" (normally meaning 'this'). Besides "er" and "uh", the Portuguese use "hã or é". In Mandarin "nèi ge" and "zhè ge" ('that' and 'this') are used. In Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian, speakers vocalize an "ovaj". Arabic speakers say "يعني", the pronunciation of which is close to "yaa'ni", Template:IPA-ar or [jaʕni], (literally, "he means", there being no grammatically gender-neutral third person) and in Turkish, they say "şey" in addition to "yani" (without the Template:IPAblink found in Arabic) and "ııı".[3] A more complete list can be found on the fillers page.


Recent linguistic research has suggested that non-pathological disfluencies may contain a variety of meaning; the frequency of "uh" and "um" in English is often reflective of a speaker's alertness or emotional state. Some have hypothesized that the time of an "uh" or "um" is used for the planning of future words; other researchers have suggested that they are actually to be understood as full-fledged function words rather than accidents, indicating a delay of variable time in which the speaker wishes to pause without voluntarily yielding control of the dialogue. There is some debate as to whether to consider them a form of white noise or as a meaning-filled part of language.

Speech disfluencies have also become important in recent years with the advent of speech-to-text programs and other attempts at enabling computers to make sense of human speech.

See also[]


  1. Spoken Language Processing in a Multilingual Context L.F. Lamel, M. Adda-Decker, J.L. Gauvain, G. Adda LIMSI-CNRS, BP 133 91403 Orsay cedex, FRANCE
  2. Another commenter notes that these are the same, but the British non-rhotic spelling causes the spelling to differ.
  3. New York Times, 2004-January-03