Sunday, April 20, 2008

Filling column inches

No, not another spam email about "manhood enhancement", but a quick piece about fillers. You know, like...err fillers yeah? Ha ha, can you see what I did there? Sorry...

Anyway, The Daily Telegraph (which is normally really good on language stories) has this terrible non-story about how English language speakers use loads of fillers and how this reflects a lack of care for our language. According to Phillip Hodson, speech expert and Fellow for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (who may have been selectively quoted, it has to be said):

It seems to me that the Anglo Saxon countries - Britain and America - are the worst for using these filler words to pad out our conversations. I think it is because unlike other countries like France we do not protect our language. There is little teaching of best practice. Some say that fillers are a sign of intellect, used to consider what to say next. However, research shows that if your speech is full of padding, you’re harder to understand, which makes listeners tend to tune out.

Erm, not exactly true though is it? Fillers are just normal parts of our spoken language; we use them as a form of punctuation for the most part, and it's not really true that we associate fillers with padding and a lack of clarity. In fact, this piece of research suggests that fillers, hedges and indirect constructions actually make us more convincing in some situations, more human and likeable even.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

10 comments:

Dessy said...

when you think about it, is "er" and "erm" part of any language? i know a lot of French people that use them too, so it's not technically "English" is it?

Dan said...

No, you're probably right, although I don't know for certain. I've heard them in lots of languages, although some French people tend to go "berr" rather than "err". Or maybe that means something rude and I didn't understand!

Beth Kemp said...

You've corrected in your quote! (Or is it different in print?) It could be considered a tad ironic that the online version has "unlike other country's like France we do not protect our language."

Dan said...

No, you're right; I corrected it. It's a terrible mistake for a paper to make!

Dessy said...

how do you spell the plural of country? i thought it was -tries???
tut tut tut telegraphj what do you say we write them and ask if they would like to set up an institution that protects our grammar from stupid prescriptivists who don't even know how to use the language they're protecting.

do you think it'd be rude to comment this article??? never mind, i'm gonna do it anyway.

Dan said...

Yep "countries". Ironic, as Beth has said!

Dessy said...

darn it unfortunately there is no "comments" button. i would've loved to inform the guardian of what my English teacher and i think of prescirotivists who can't spell.

Dessy said...

interestingly, imagine we got an article like that in the exam, where the writer was clearly a prescriptivist worried about the "decay" of our language, and then gest his grammar wrong, would we get marks for commenting on that, or should we just do it for the fun of it?

Dessy said...

*prescriptivists

Dan said...

Oh yes, that would be the right thing to do... so long as you spelt *prescriptivist* correctly yourself, and didn't do what an anonymous student did a few years back and complain about a writer "using alot of bad grammer".

D'oh!