Monday, November 16, 1998 at 13:28:28
I, uh, actually just have a few questions. I started thinking about filled pauses when I was taking a foreign language class in Spanish for teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (I am a formerly bilingual teacher, which does not mean, of course, that I am no longer bilingual, but instead that I can no longer teach in that style due to the recent passage of Proposition 227). I noticed a very weird idiosyncrasy from one of the members of the class: she would be speaking in (intermediate level, not mastered) Spanish, but would use filled pauses in ENGLISH--namely, "like." It would go something like the following (I don't know if you know Spanish): " Yo quiero ir al parque y, LIKE, quiero caminar sobre el pasto." Again, this was a native English speaker learning Spanish. I want to say that I have also heard native Spanish speakers at my school who have a strong mastery of English also doing the same thing, in addition to doing code-switching. I think I have heard at least one of them use "like" in the context only of other Spanish words. However, I could be wrong about that. My question for you, then, is this: Have you ever heard of this type of phenomenon before, of using one or more filled pauses from one's native language while speaking a foreign language? Would this be more common among people who have not yet mastered the second language, or could it also be possible (and even common) among true bilingual speakers? To take the issue further, would certain languages--such as romance languages--be more compatible for code-switching in these filled pauses? Would this even be a case of code-switching, technically? I have another realm of filled pauses I'm curious about. I am baffled by the ability of some people to use the filled pause "like" so frequently in their speech (originating, of course, in the dialect of Los Angeles called "valley girl-speak"). For example: "Like, ohmigod, I am, like, totally stoked about my date with Larry. He's, like, the coolest guy and, like, I can't believe he's going out with me." How is such frequent pause-filling possible? Are there any other known occurrences like this, or are valley girl speakers unique? Finally, have there been any historical studies on filled pauses, or, rather, attempts to trace how they have spread geographically? Again, taking the example of valley girl-speak, the use of the filled pause "like" seems to have permeated every corner of the United States... I'd appreciate any answers you could provide me, or any references to people who might have answers. I don't have any formal training in linguistics other than a couple college courses, but I'm fascinated by certain aspects of language.
Basically you asked about three different phenomena: 1) intrusion of L1 hesitation devices when using L2, 2) high-frequency hesitation, and 3) historical studies. With regard to the third, I have no idea. Perhaps some historical study might be done starting with Bloomfield's or Mencken's descriptions of the "American Language" in the early 20th Century but I have not come across any as yet. As for the first two I can comment on each as follows.
Intrusion of L1 Hesitation Devices when using L2
An interesting study by Voss (1979) demonstrates that L2 speakers have difficulty comprehending the hesitant sections of speech given by native speakers, often confusing FPs for words or parts of adjacent words. A potential corollary of this consists of my assertion that when a speaker uses L1 hesitation devices when using L2, the listener may have difficulty in comprehension. Here in Japan, where I teach, some of my students are prone to insert 'e-to' (a common Japanese FP) in their English speech. The first few times that I heard this I was a little confused and racked my brain, trying to understand what *English* word they were trying to say: "it", "eat", or "eight"? So, I often encourage my EFL students to try to use FPs which are indicative of the language they are studying. However, at present I am not aware of any research which directly supports this assertion.
Research suggests that several factors play a part in the occurrence of FPs: cognitive load (e.g., choosing the next word or words), situational anxiety, predispositional anxiety, as well as such sociolinguistic factors as politeness. However, one factor which I hypothesize is significant (although I again confess that I have no scholarly evidence to support it...yet) is solidarity. I believe it may yet be shown that just as slang and other forms of popular speech are vehicles for peer-group identification, so is excess hesitation in the form of 'like', 'you know', and so on a means of expressing solidarity with a social group. However, while solidarity may indeed provide the momentum for such a phenomena to continue, it is not necessarily its genesis.
To throw in my two cents worth of the nonlinguist's perspective, I think the subject area you've chosen is both quirky and extremely important. Some of the philosophical implications are really worth exploring, I think. For example, the frequent occurrence of pauses in speech could be a serious blow to the conception of language as a tool of reason, a tool best exemplified by careful, logical writing. Just as walking is really merely controlled falling, so might natural, informal speaking be viewed as a conglomeration of short utterances and not some smooth, fully rational and articulate process. Writing could, consequently, be seen as a very unnatural use of language. At the same time, some might argue that writing, in contrast to informal speaking, would reflect humankind's ability to organize its piecemeal utterances into a more coherent, less pause-ridden format. I don't mean to imply that I enjoy seeing humanity debased further to the level of higher functioning primates, but I think there are serious implications for the existence of such frequent pauses in speech that have yet to be explored, at least from the philosophy of language that I have been exposed to.
You pose some stimulating questions to which I will not dare to pretend I know the answers . However, I would like to question the analogy you posit between walking and talking. "Walking", you note, "is really merely controlled falling." (I can accept this notion, pro tempore, although I sense it is an oversimplification). Thus, you suggest, "informal speaking might be viewed as a conglomeration of short utterances and not some smooth, fully rational and articulate process." If walking is controlled falling, then that is true at the 'unit' level of walking, that is, for each step. I mean that at the beginning of each step we lean over to the point that we begin to fall forward and then control the fall by catching ourselves on an outstretched foot, hence a step. However, such an account of walking does not address the 'global' aspects of walking such as direction and destination. In this respect the analogy above is false. Talking might be viewed as controlled voicing (perhaps the analogy you intend). However, similar to walking, this statement is true only at the phonemic level and does not take into account the global aspects of speech such as meaning and discourse which require rational decisions. In this view, pauses occur at moments when we are faced with such decisions, just as one might slow one's walking pace when faced with a choice between alternate routes to one's destination.
This criticism does not, however, address the more crucial question you pose: what relevance do pausological theories have on the conception of writing as the idealization of rational communication? I shall have to begin such a study. Please visit the FPRC again in about ten years or so for the answer...
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