Monday, February 9, 2015

More 'um', less 'uh' being used in the US

My Paper, Monday, February 09, 2015, Page A9, Lifestyle
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By BBC, mypaper,, Published on Feb 09, 2015

Words such as um, a, like, etc... degrade and detract from what you say.
PHOTO: Words such as um, a, like, etc... degrade and detract from what you say. They disturb the flow of a sentence and make it detached. A nonverbal pause is much better. When floundering for words, a nonverbal pause, placed correctly, gives the listener the effect of a dramatic or studied thought. It confirms your control over what is being said.
Do not despair! By simply reading aloud any professional writing such as a book, newspaper, or article you can instantaneously possess all the aforementioned qualities an articulate speaker should have!
Posted in wikiHows, How to Be Articulate

WHAT'S in an "um"? According to experts, "uh" and "um" are somewhat different beasts.

"It does seem to be the case that 'um' generally signals a longer or more important pause than 'uh'," said Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania.

At least that was what he thought.

Professor Liberman has been studying these so-called "filled pauses" for almost a decade, and has made a curious discovery.

"As Americans get older, they use 'uh' more," he says. "And at every age, men use 'uh' more than women."

If you look at "um", exactly the opposite is true. Younger people say "um" more often than older people. And no matter the age, women say "um" more than men. 
Nobody, not even the linguists, were expecting this result; until they studied these hesitations, they thought it was more about the amount of time a speaker hesitates than who that speaker is.

Then, late last summer, Prof Liberman attended a conference in Groningen in the Netherlands. During a coffee break, he was chatting with a small group of researchers. He brought up his finding about the age and gender differences related to "um" and "uh", which prompted the group to look for that pattern outside of American English. They scanned British and Scottish English, German, Danish, Dutch and Norwegian.

The result, said University of Groningen linguist Martijn Wieling, is that, "in all cases, we find the same thing". Just like the Americans that Prof Liberman analysed, women and younger people said "um" more than "uh".

Mr Weiling's conclusion is that we are witnessing a language change in progress "and that women and younger people are leading the change".

This pattern of women and young people leading us forward is typical of most language changes.

But why is "um" our future, across at least two continents and five Germanic languages? It is still a puzzle.

Josef Fruehwald, a sociolinguist at the University of Edinburgh, agreed that "um" and "uh" may be used slightly differently. But as far as he is concerned, they are pretty much equivalent.

His research suggested that the use of "um" is preferred among females and young people.

"When you have two options, you can start using one more frequently and maybe replace the other one so that it is no longer an option," he said. "So why 'um'? It is just one of these things. There is always a little bit of randomness to the whole situation."

By random, he meant that we do not know why changes in usage like this happen, or when the next one will be. Dr Fruehwald admitted that linguists are terrible at predicting the future - worse than meteorologists.

Language, he said, is even more chaotic than the weather.

As for how such a linguistic trend might have jumped from one language to another, he said that "there are some documented cases of that kind of thing happening, usually where people can speak both languages and borrow features of one into the other".

English is the most likely to be influencing the other languages, but we still do not know whether that is actually what's happening with "um". More research and more linguists are needed.

And as for the future, "um" and "uh" may yo-yo back and forth in terms of their popularity. Or we may well be watching the extinction of "uh" from our lexicon.

So would Dr Fruehwald miss the word "uh"?

"I do not have a really strong emotional connection to either of these," he admitted. "Although based on my age demographics, I am likely a high 'um' user. So maybe that is where I should throw my loyalties."

By BBC, mypaper,, Published on Feb 09, 2015