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In linguistics, a filler, filled pause, hesitation marker or planner 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, whatchamacallit, whosawhatsa and whats'isface, which refer to objects or people whose names are temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown.) Fillers fall into the category of formulaic language, and different languages have different characteristic filler sounds. The term filler also has a separate use in the syntactic description of wh-movement constructions.
Every conversation involves turn-taking, which means that whenever someone wants to speak and hear a pause, they do so. Pauses are commonly used to indicate that someone’s turn has ended, which can create confusion when someone hasn’t finished a thought but has paused to form a thought; in order to prevent this confusion, they will use a filler word such as um, er, or uh. The use of a filler word indicates that the other person should continue listening instead of speaking.
Filler words generally contain little to no lexical content, but instead provide clues to the listener about how they should interpret what the speaker has said. While there are many different reasons for using filler words, sociolinguists have identified six main reasons for doing so: pausing to give time for the speaker to gather their thoughts, speaking more indirectly in order to encourage politeness, approaching delicate topics gently, emphasizing ideas, providing clues to emotions or behaviors, and communicating uncertainty. The actual words that people use may change (such as the increasing use of like), but the meaning and reason why people use them doesn’t change.
In American English, the most common filler sounds are ah or uh /ʌ/ and um /ʌm/ (er /ɜː/ and erm /ɜːm/ in British English). Among younger speakers, the fillers "like", "you know", "I mean", "okay", "so", "actually", "basically", and "right" are among the more prevalent. Christopher Hitchens described the use of the word "like" as a discourse marker or vocalized pause as a particularly prominent example of the "Californianization of American youth-speak," and its further recent spread throughout other English dialects via the mass-media.
Filler words in different languages
- In Afrikaans, ah, um, and uh are common fillers (um, and uh being in common with English).
- 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 Arabic, يعني yaʿni ("means") and وﷲ wallāh(i) ("by God") are common fillers. In Moroccan Arabic, زعمة z3ma ("like") is a common filler, as well as ewa (so). In Iraqi Arabic, shisma ("what's its name") is a filler.
- In Assyrian, yeni ("I mean"), aya, mindy or hina ("thingy" and "uh"), akh ("like") and kheena ("well") are common fillers.
- In Bengali, মানে (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"), o sigui ("it means"), saps? ("you know"?) and diguem-ne ("say") are common fillers.
- In Croatian, the words ovaj (literally "this one", but the meaning is lost) and dakle ("so"), and znači ("meaning", "it means") are frequent.
- In Czech, fillers are called slovní vata, meaning "word cotton/padding", or parasitické výrazy, meaning "parasitic expressions". The most frequent fillers are čili, tak or takže ("so"), prostě ("simply"), jako ("like").
- In Danish, øh is one of the most common fillers.
- In Dutch, ehm, and dus ("thus") are some of the more common fillers. Also eigenlijk ("actually"), zo ("so"), nou ("well") and zeg maar ("so to say") in Belgian Dutch, allez ("come on") or (a)wel ("well") in Netherlandic Dutch, weet je? ("you know?") etc.
- In Esperanto, do ("therefore") is the most common filler.
- In Estonian, nii ("so") is one of the most common fillers.
- In Filipino, ah, eh, ay, and ano ("what"), parang ("like"), diba? ("isn't it right?"), ayun ("that's") 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"), eh bien (roughly "well", as in "Well, I'm not sure"), and du coup (roughly "suddenly"). 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, אֶה (eh) is the most common filler. אֶם (em) is also quite common. Millennials and the younger Generation X speakers commonly use כאילו (ke'ilu, the Hebrew version of "like"). Additional filler words include זתומרת (zt'omeret, short for זאת אומרת zot omeret "that means"), אז (az, "so") and בקיצור (bekitsur, "in short"). Use of fillers of Arabic origin such as יענו (yaʿanu, a mispronunciation of the Arabic يعني, yaʿani) is also common.
- In Hindi, मतलब (matlab, "it means"), क्या कहते हैं (kya kehte hain, "what do you say"), वो ना (woh na, "that") and ऐसा है। (aisā hai, "what it is") are some word fillers. Sound fillers include हूँ (hoon, [ɦuːm̩]), अ (a, [ə]),आ (aa, [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, anu & apasi are two of the most common fillers.
- In Irish Gaelic, abair /ˈabˠəɾʲ/ ("say"), bhoil /wɛlʲ/ ("well"), and era /ˈɛɾˠə/ are common fillers, along with emm as in Hiberno-English.
- In Italian, common fillers include ehm ("um", "uh"), allora ("well then", "so"), tipo ("like"), ecco ("there"), cioè ("actually", "that is to say", "rather"), and beh ("well", "so"; most likely a shortening of bene or ebbene, which are themselves often used as filler words).
- In Japanese, common fillers include ええと (e-, eto, or "um"), あの (ano, literally "that over there", used as "um"), ま (ma, or "well"), そう (so-, used as "hmmm"), and ええ (e-e, a surprise reaction, with tone and duration indicating positive/negative).
- In Kannada, matte for "also", enappa andre for "the matter is" are common fillers.
- In Korean, 응 (eung), 어 (eo), 그 (geu), and 음 (eum) are commonly used as fillers.
- In Kyrgyz, анан (anan, "then", "so"), баягы (bayağı, "that"), жанагы (janağı, "that"), ушуреки (uşureki, "this"), эме (eme, "um"), are common fillers.
- In Lithuanian, nu, am, žinai ("you know"), ta prasme ("meaning"), tipo ("like") are some of common fillers.
- In Malayalam, അതായതു (athayathu, "that means...") and ennu vechaal ("then...") are common.
- In Maltese and Maltese English, mela ("then"), or just la, is a common filler.
- In Mandarin Chinese, speakers often say 这个; 這個; zhège/zhèige; 'this' or 那个; 那個; nàge/nèige; 'that' and prolonged 嗯; en (in common with "um" in English). Other common fillers are 就; jiù; 'just' and 好像; hǎoxiàng; 'as if/kind of like'.
- In Mongolian, одоо (odoo, "now") is a common filler.
- In Nepali, माने (maane, "meaning"), चैने (chaine), चैं (chai), हैन (haina, "No?") are commonly used as fillers.
- In Norwegian, common fillers are eh, altso/altså, på ein måte / på en måte ("in a way"), berre/bare ("just") ikkje sant / ikke sant (literally "not true?", meaning "don't you agree?", "right?", "no kidding" or "exactly"), vel ("well"), liksom ("like") and er det ("is it", "it is"). In Bergen, sant ("true") is often used instead of ikkje/ikke sant. In the region of Trøndelag, /ʃʉ/ (comes from ser du which means "you see", "as you can see") is also a common filler.
- In Persian, ببین (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, اه eh is a common filler in Persian.
- In Portuguese, é, hum, então ("so"), tipo ("like") and bem ("well") are the most common fillers.
- 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 Punjabi, مطلب (मतलब, mat̤lab, "it means") is a common 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 (slova-parazity, "parasite words"); the most common are э-э (è-è, "eh"), вот (vot, "here it is"), это (èto, "this"), того (togo, "that kind, sort of"), (ну) такое ((nu) takoye, "some kind [of this]"), ну (nu, "well, so"), значит (značit, "I mean, kind of, like"), так (tak, "so"), как его (kak ego, "what's it [called]"), типа (tipa, "kinda"), как бы (kak by, "[just] like, sort of"), and понимаешь? (ponimayesh, "understand?, you know, you see").
- In Serbian, значи (znači, "means"), па (pa, "so"), мислим (mislim, "i think") and овај (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 ("indeed", "just", "merely"), 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. and occasionally pues ("well") is used. Younger speakers there often use en plan (meaning "as", "like" or "in [noun] mode"). The Argentine filler word che became the nickname of rebel Ernesto "Che" Guevara, by virtue of his frequent use of it.
- In Swedish, fillers are called utfyllnadsord; some of the most common are öhm or öh, ja ("yes"), ehm or eh (for example eh jag vet inte) or 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 Tamil, paatheenga-na ("if you see...") and apparam ("then...") are common.
- In Telugu, ఇక్కడ ఏంటంటే (ikkada entante, "what's here is...") and తర్వాత (tarwatha, "then...") are common and there are numerous like this.
- In Turkish, yani ("meaning..."), şey ("thing"), işte ("that is"), and falan ("as such", "so on") are common fillers.
- In Ukrainian, е (e, similar to "um"), ну (nu, "well"), і (i, "and"), цей (tsey, "this"), той-во (toy-vo, "this one") are common fillers.
- In Urdu, یعنی (yani, "meaning..."), فلانا فلانا (flana flana, "this and that" or "blah blah"), ہاں ہاں (haan haan, "yeah yeah") and اچھا (acha, "ok") are also 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...".
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. Wh-movement is said to create a long-distance or unbounded "filler-gap dependency". 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."
- Like: as a discourse particle
- Phatic expression
- So (sentence closer)
- So (sentence opener)
- Speech disfluency
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