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The Kid Should See This

The power of er, um, uh, like, well, you know…

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Like, why do we say “like”? Why do we, like, hesitate when we, um, speak? Words, sounds, and phrases such as er, um, uh, like, well, and you know are sometimes besmirched when peppered into sentences, but these speech components are “a natural and universal trait of human speech” in almost every language.

In this TED-Ed, directed by Yael Reisfeld, linguist Lorenzo García-Amaya unpacks their meanings and functions:

For example, while a silent pause might be interpreted as a sign for others to start speaking, a filled pause can signal that you’re not finished yet.

Hesitation phenomena can buy time for your speech to catch up with your thoughts, or to fish out the right word for a situation. And they don’t just benefit the speaker— a filled pause lets your listeners know an important word is on the way. Linguists have even found that people are more likely to remember a word if it comes after a hesitation.


fishing for a word

Hesitation phenomena aren’t the only parts of speech that take on new meaning during dialogue. Words and phrases such as “like,” “well” or “you know” function as discourse markers, ignoring their literal meaning to convey something about the sentence in which they appear. Discourse markers direct the flow of conversation, and some studies suggest that conscientious speakers use more of these phrases to ensure everyone is being heard and understood.

The video also connects these speaking tools to improved comprehension for those learning a new language.

toddler comprehension of words
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Plus: Mysteries of Vernacular.

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