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Ums, likes and y’knows get no respect – but they’re vital to conversation

If you’ve ever listened to a recording of yourself speaking, the frequency with which you used fillers such as ‘um’, ‘uh’, ‘like’ and ‘y’know’ might have grabbed your attention – and perhaps your scorn. Indeed, these verbal hesitations have been viewed as undesirable since the days of ancient Greece and, more recently, the American linguist Noam Chomsky characterised them as ‘errors’ irrelevant to language. But could there be more to these utterances than initially meets the ear? In this short animation from TED-Ed, Lorenzo García-Amaya, assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Michigan, reveals how ‘filled pauses’ can give conversation partners important context clues, communicate emphasis, help tether related thoughts together, and so much more.

Video by TED-Ed

Writer: Lorenzo García-Amaya

Animator: Yael Reisfeld

10 May 2021

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