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Why we say "um"

Recently, I started noticing that I say "um" and "uh" a lot. With the excess of free time I've had on my hands, I've observed that humans truly do say "um" a lot.

So I decided to research it!

These 'filler words' are used in a very particular, and deliberate way. Herbert Clark - a linguist at Stanford University described that human beings use "um" and "uh" as conversation managers to signal to others that we're having trouble communicating. Studies also show that the use of these words is not directly related to anxiousness, instead, it's used to signal an upcoming pause. The pause might indicate you're searching for the right word, temporarily forgot something, or are repairing a missaid phrase.

The first very interesting thing I learned was that every language has its own version of um French has euh, Korean uses eum, Finnish says öö, Russian has eh. Even sign languages have signs for um. I guess that just goes to prove that filler words are used internationally and naturally.

Secondly, gender apparently affects how often we say um!

According to linguist Mark Liberman- Women use um about 22 percent more than men. Liberman conducted his research by transcribing 14,000 telephone calls across the US. The research showed that women say "um" more than men, and men say "uh" twice as much as women. Another fascinating thing I read about - women use "uh" 20 percent MORE when they're talking to a man rather than a woman.

Researchers think this might be because "um" is typically used to signal long pauses and "uh" is for short pauses. Women tend to use "um" because they're interrupted significantly more than men. *insert eye roll*

Age also plays a role in your usage of "um" vs "uh" Liberman reveals that as Americans get older, they use "uh" more. However, men still use "uh" more than women. Additionally, younger people say "um" more than anyone.

The Journal of Language and Social Psychology also argues that people who use filler words are generally more conscientious and thoughtful.

All in all, "um" is a relatively common, and apparently natural word!

Until next time...

Stay Curious ;)




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