A Look At, Uh, How We Talk

Air Date:
Heard On The Morning Show
Two women talking
Didriks (CC-BY)

According to our guest, one of out every 60 words we say is “um” or “uh” – and contrary to popular belief, he says that’s not a bad thing. We discuss the inner workings of conversation, and how he says seemingly innocuous details like pauses, intonation and filler words are fundamental to human language.

Nick Enfield, a linguistics professor at the University of Sydney and the author of “How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation,” says the use of “um,” “oh,” “huh,” “like” and “mm-hmm” keep us from talking over each other. In addition, it serves as a sign we’re paying attention and keeps the rhythm of conversation on beat. Without those small yet often unconscious mechanics, Enfield argues that conversation would be impossible.

Do you get annoyed when people use, um, filler words or pauses? Do you catch yourself using them and try to stop? What questions do you have about how people talk? Let us know at 1-800-642-1234 or ideas@wpr.org. You can also tweet us @wprmornings or post on the Ideas Network Facebook page.

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Bill Martens Producer
  • Nick Enfield Guest

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