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In linguistics, a filler is a sound or word that is spoken in conversation by one participant to signal to others a pause to think without giving the impression of having finished speaking. These are not to be confused with placeholder names, such as thingamajig, whatsamacallit, whosawhatsa and whats'isface, which refer to objects or people whose names are temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown. Different languages have different characteristic filler sounds; in English, the most common filler sounds are uh /ʌ/, er /ɜː/, and um /ʌm/. Among the youths, the fillers "like", "y'know", "I mean", "so", "actually", "basically", and "right" are among the more prevalent. Ronald Reagan was famous for beginning his answers to questions with "Well...", and President Barack Obama is known often beginning statements with "Look...". Fillers fall into the category of formulaic language.
The term filler has a separate use in the syntactic description of wh-movement constructions.
Filler words in different languages
- In Afrikaans, ah, um, and uh are common fillers (um, and uh being in common with English).
- In Arabic, يعني yaʿni ("means") and وﷲ wallāh(i) ("by God") are common fillers.
- In Moroccan Arabic, زعمة z3ma ("like") is a common filler.
- In American Sign Language, UM can be signed with open-8 held at chin, palm in, eyebrows down (similar to FAVORITE); or bilateral symmetric bent-V, palm out, repeated axial rotation of wrist (similar to QUOTE).
- In Bengali, mane ("it means","I mean","that is") and thuri ("..er..that is") are common fillers.
- In Bislama, ah is the common filler.
- In Bulgarian, common fillers are ъ (uh), амии (amii, 'well'), тъй (tui, 'so'), така (taka, 'thus'), добре (dobre, 'well'), такова (takova, 'this') and значи (znachi, 'it means'), нали (nali, 'right').
- In Cantonese, speakers often say 即係 zik1 hai6 ("that is"/"meaning") as a filler.
- In Catalan, eh /ə/, doncs ("so"), llavors ("therefore"), and o sigui ("it means") are common fillers.
- In Chinese, 这个 zhe4 ge ("this"), 那个 na4 ge ("that") and prolonged 嗯 en (in common with "um" in English).
- In Czech, fillers are called "slovní vata", meaning "word cotton/padding", or "parasitické výrazy", meaning "parasitic expressions". The most frequent fillers are čili or takže ("so"), prostě ("simply"), jako ("like").
- In Danish, øh is one of the most common fillers.
- In Dutch, eh, ehm, and dus ("thus") are some of the more common fillers. Also eigenlijk ("actually"), zo ("so"), nou ("well") in Netherlandic Dutch, allez ("come on") or (a)wel ("well") in Belgian Dutch, weet je? ("you know?") etc.
- In Esperanto, do ("therefore") is the most common filler.
- In Filipino, ah, eh, ay, and ano ("what") , "Pak Ganern", Alam mo na (You know) are the most common fillers.
- In Finnish, niinku ("like"), tuota, and öö are the most common fillers. Swearing is also used as a filler often, especially among youth. The most common swear word for that is "vittu", which is a word for female genitalia.
- In French, euh /ø/ is most common; other words used as fillers include quoi ("what"), bah, ben ("well"), tu vois ("you see"), t'vois c'que j'veux dire? ("you see what I mean?"), tu sais, t'sais ("you know"), and eh bien (roughly "well", as in "Well, I'm not sure"). Outside France other expressions are t'sais veux dire? ("ya know what I mean?"; Québec), or allez une fois ("go one time"; especially in Brussels, not in Wallonia). Additional filler words used by youngsters include genre ("kind"), comme ("like"), and style ("style"; "kind").
- In German, traditional filler words include äh /ɛː/, hm, so /zoː/, tja, halt, and eigentlich ("actually"). So-called modal particles share some of the features of filler words, but they actually modify the sentence meaning.
- In Greek, ε (e), εμ (em), λοιπόν (lipon, "so") and καλά (kala, "good") are common fillers.
- In Hebrew, eh (אֶה) is the most common filler. Em (אֶמ) is also quite common. Millennials and the younger Generation X speakers commonly use 'kilu: (an abbreviation of ke'ilu כאילו - the Hebrew version of "like"). Additional filler words include sto'meret (סתומרת - short for zot o'meret זאת אומרת - "that means"), az (אז - "so") and bekit'sur (בקיצור - "in short"). Use of fillers of Arabic origin such as yaʿnu (יענו - a mispronunciation of the Arabic yaʿni) is also common.
- In Hindi, matlab ("it means"), asal mein ("actually") and aisa hai ("what it is") are some word fillers. Sound fillers include hoon (हूँ or ɧuːm̩), aa (आ or äː).
- In Hungarian, filler sound is ő, common filler words include hát, nos (well...) and asszongya (a variant of azt mondja, which means "it says here..."). Among intellectuals, ha úgy tetszik (if you like) is used as filler.
- In Icelandic, a common filler is hérna ("here"). Þúst, a contraction of þú veist ("you know"), is popular among younger speakers.
- In Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), anu is one of the most common fillers.
- In Italian, common fillers include "tipo" ("like"), "ecco" ("there") and "cioè" ("actually")
- In Irish Gaelic, abair /ˈabˠəɾʲ/ ("say"), bhoil /wɛlʲ/ ("well"), and era /ˈɛɾˠə/ are common fillers, along with emm as in Hiberno-English. This accent tends to have the most fillers as Irish people tend to use the word like as well
- In Japanese, common fillers include ええと (e-eto), あの (ano, or "that over there"), その (sono, or "that"), and ええ (e-e, also an expression of surprise).
- In Kannada, Matte for also,Enappa andre for the matter is are the common fillers.
- In Korean, 응 (eung), 어 (eo), 그 (geu), and 음 (eum) are commonly used as fillers.
- In Lithuanian, nu, am, žinai ("you know"), ta prasme ("meaning"), tipo ("like") are some of common fillers.
- In Maltese and Maltese English, mela ("then"), or just la, is a common filler.
- In Mandarin Chinese, speakers often say 這個 zhège/zhèige ("this") or 那個 nàge/nèige ("that"). Other common fillers are 就 jìu ("just") and 好像 hǎoxiàng ("as if/kind of like").
- In Nepali, maane or माने ("meaning"), chaine or चैने , chai or चैं, and haina or हैन ("No?") are commonly used as fillers.
- In Norwegian, common fillers are øh, altså, på en måte ("in a way"), bare ("Just") ikke sant (literally "not true?", meaning "don't you agree?", "right?", "no kidding" or "exactly"), vel ("well"), and liksom ("like"). In Bergen, sant ("true") is often used instead of ikke sant. In the Trøndelag region, skjø' (comes from "skjønner" which means "see(?)" or "understand?") is also a common filler.
- In Persian, bebin ("you see"), چیز "chiz" ("thing"), and مثلا masalan ("for instance") are commonly used filler words. As well as in Arabic and Urdu, يعني yaʿni ("I mean") is also used in Persian. Also, eh is a common filler in Persian.
- In Portuguese, é, hum, então ("so"), tipo ("like") and bem ("well") are the most common fillers.
- In Punjabi, matlab ("it means") is a common filler.
- In Polish, the most common filler sound is yyy /ɨ/ and also eee /ɛ/ (both like English "um") and while common its use is frowned upon. Other examples include, no /nɔ/ (like English "well"), wiesz /vjeʂ/ ("you know"). In polish vernacular, speakers will use the vulgarism kurwa as a filler.
- In Romanian, deci /detʃʲ/ ("therefore") is common, especially in school, and ă /ə/ is also very common (can be lengthened according to the pause in speech, rendered in writing as ăăă), whereas păi /pəj/ is widely used by almost anyone. A modern filler has gained popularity among the youths - gen /dʒɛn/, analogous to the English "like", literally translated as "type".
- In Russian, fillers are called слова-паразиты ("parasite words"); the most common are Э-э ("eh"), вот ("here it is"), это ("this"), того ("that"), ну ("well"), значит ("it means"), так ("so"), как его ("what's it [called]"), типа ("like"), and как бы ("[just] like"), понимаешь? ("understand?").
- In Serbian, znači ("means") and ovaj ("this") are common fillers.
- In Slovak, oné ("that"), tento ("this"), proste ("simply"), or akože ("it's like…") are used as fillers. The Hungarian izé (or izí in its Slovak pronunciation) can also be heard, especially in parts of the country with a large Hungarian population. Ta is a filler typical of Eastern Slovak and one of the most parodied features.
- In Slovene, pač ("but", although it has lost that meaning in colloquial, and it is used as a means of explanation), a ne? ("right?"), and no ("well") are some of the fillers common in central Slovenia, including Ljubljana.
- In Spanish, fillers are called muletillas. Some of the most common in American Spanish are e /e/, este (roughly equivalent to "uhm", literally means "this"), and o sea (roughly equivalent to "I mean", literally means "or be it")., in Spain the previous fillers are also used, but ¿Vale? ("right?") and ¿no? are very common too.
- In Swedish, fillers are called utfyllnadsord; some of the most common are öhm, ja ("yes"), ba (comes from "bara", which means "only"), asså or alltså ("therefore", "thus"), va (comes from "vad", which means "what"), and liksom and typ (both similar to the English "like").
- In Ukrainian, е ("eh", similar to "um"), ну ("Nu (well)"), і ("and"), цей ("this"), той-во ("this one") are common fillers.
- In Urdu, yani ("meaning..."), flana flana ("this and that"; "blah blah"), haan haan ("yeah yeah") and acha ("ok") are also common fillers.
- In Telugu, ikkada entante ("Whats here is...") and tarwatha ("then...") are common and there are numerous like this.
- In Malayalam, athayathu ("that means...") and ennu vechaal ("then...") are common.
- In Tamil, paatheenga-na ("if you see...") and apparam ("then...") are common.
- In Turkish, yani ("meaning..."), şey ("thing"), işte ("that is"), and falan ("as such", "so on") are common fillers.
- In Welsh, de or ynde is used as a filler (loosely the equivalent of "You know?" or "Isn't it?"); "'lly" (from "felly" - so/like in English, used in northern Wales) and also "iawn" (translated 'ok' is used as a filler at the beginning, middle or end of sentences); "'na ni" (abbreviation of "dyna ni" - there we are); Ym... and Y... are used similarly to the English "um...".
Among language learners, a common pitfall is using fillers from their native tongue. For example, "Quiero una umm.... quesadilla". While less of a shibboleth, knowing the placeholder names (sometimes called kadigans) of a language (e.g. the equivalent of "thingy") can also be useful to attain fluency, such as the French truc: "Je cherche le truc qu'on utilise pour ouvrir une boîte" ("I'm looking for the thingy that you use to open up a can").
Fillers in syntax
The linguistic term "filler" has another, unrelated use in syntactic terminology. It refers to the pre-posed element that fills in the "gap" in a wh-movement construction. In the following example, there is an object gap associated with the transitive verb saw, and the filler is the wh-phrase how many angels:
- I don't care [how many angels] she told you she saw.
Wh-movement is said to create a long-distance or unbounded "filler-gap dependency".
- Discourse marker
- Like: as a discourse particle
- So (sentence closer)
- So (sentence opener)
- Speech disfluencies
- Weasel word
- Juan, Stephen (2010). "Why do we say 'um', 'er', or 'ah' when we hesitate in speaking?", accessed online here
- BORTFELD & al. (2001). "Disfluency Rates in Conversation: Effects of Age, Relationship, Topic, Role, and Gender" (PDF). LANGUAGE AND SPEECH. 44 (2): 123–147.
- "Egyptian Arabic Dialect Course"
- Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics XV
- "Filler Words and Vocal Pauses"
- Why do people say "um" and "er" when hesitating in their speech?, New Scientist, May 6, 1995
- Lotozo, Eils (September 4, 2002). "The way teens talk, like, serves a purpose". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Citing Siegel, Muffy E. A. (2002). "Like: The Discourse Particle and Semantics". Journal of Semantics. 19 (1): 35–71. doi:10.1093/jos/19.1.35.
- Nino Amiridze, Boyd H. Davis, and Margaret Maclagan, editors. Fillers, Pauses and Placeholders. Typological Studies in Language 93, John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 2010. Review