“Umm, I saw this really huge building…you know in the middle of ahh…the street near M.G. Road…you know…that street that’s like… really deserted”
Filler words are nothing but empty, unneeded words that restrict conversations and are often used to fill in gaps and pauses in conversations. In linguistics, a filler is a sound or word that is spoken in conversation by one participant to signal to others that he/she has paused to think but is not yet finished speaking.
Among youngsters, “like”, “y’know”, “so”, “actually”, “literally”, “basically”, “right”, “I’m tellin’ ya”, “you know what I mean?” are some of the common fillers that are found in most conversations.
Even though its quite alright to use these fillers once in a while during informal conversations, over a period of time they become a habit and finally are a part and parcel of our speaking style and diction. Particularly in formal situations they can become quite annoying to the listener, and the speaker could unknowingly become more and more conscious and use these fillers to make up for the awkwardness he or she feels.
Why do some people fill the air with non-words and sounds? For some, it is a sign of nervousness; they fear silence and experience speaker anxiety. Recent research at Columbia University suggests another reason. Columbia psychologists speculated that speakers fill pauses when searching for the next word. To investigate this idea, they counted the use of filler words used by lecturers in biology, chemistry, and mathematics, where the subject matter uses scientific definitions that limit the variety of word choices available to the speaker. They then compared the number of filler words used by teachers in English, art history, and philosophy, where the subject matter is less well-defined and more open to word choices.
Twenty science lecturers used an average of 1.39 “uh’s” a minute, compared with 4.85 “uh’s” a minute by 13 humanities teachers. Their conclusion: subject matter and breadth of vocabulary may determine use of filler words more than habit or anxiety.
Whatever the reason be, for those of us who would like to get over the usage of these filler words here are a few guidelines.
Say the filler word…but only in your head: Instead of filling in a gap with a filler word in between your talk or speech try to either prolong the word or the vowel sound. This means that every time you want to fill in a gap say with an “umm..” in between your talk or speech, try to prolong the word or the vowel sound instead of using a filler word. For instance, instead of saying “I saw a blue …ummm navy blue coloured saree”, say the “um” in your head but think of the word you want to say and then continue with the rest of your sentence.
Organize your thoughts: It is human nature to speak even before your thoughts have been organized and it is during this gap between the arranging of your thoughts and the words being spoken that fillers are used the most. To avoid this take time off to first think about what you want to say and then say the words. This helps in reducing the unnecessary use of filler words.
Pause and take a break: Try to take a break especially if you have a tendency to speak really fast and pause between your sentences. A person’s native language influence is responsible for this fast speaking tendency. You don’t have to feel awkward and fill in the pauses with the use of empty words. Wait a second before you say your next sentence.
Practice: If you have a really important presentation to make practice in front of the mirror and also record your speech and listen to it. This will give a clear idea of the fillers that you un-consciously use when you speak and make the necessary corrections.
Keep it Short, Simple and Sweet ( KISS ): Always use simple, neat and precise words that are easy to comprehend and not too complex for the listener (be it formal or informal communication). This keeps you from being too monotonous, boring and keeps you away from using filler words (so you don’t have to think of the high sounding words that you have forgotten to use).
Rachitha Poornima Cabral
Department of English
School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya