Filled pauses from a multimodal perspective. On the interplay of speech and eye gaze.

Publication date: 2019-09-11


Jehoul, A
Brône, G ; Feyaerts, K


This project offers a novel, integrative approach on filled pauses, the elements 'euh' and 'euhm' in Dutch. Insights on filled pauses from various research traditions are united to obtain a comprehensive overview of their form and function. Starting from a cognitive-interactional framework, our analysis relates formal variation in filled pauses to the functional variation. We show that formal differences in filled pauses, such as the difference between 'euh' and 'euhm', the difference in duration, the presence of surrounding silences and the speaker's eye gaze behavior, are associated with functional variation. In the study of the function of filled pauses, earlier studies can be distinguished in two approaches: the filler-as-symptom approach and the filler-as-signal approach (Clark & Fox Tree 2002, De Leeuw 2007). The filler-as-symptom perspective interprets filled pauses as symptoms of cognitive difficulties, for example when the speaker is uncertain or has trouble producing an utterance (e.g. Siegman & Pope 1965, Goldman-Eisler 1968, Christenfeld 1994). In the filler-as-signal perspective, a signaling function is attributed to filled pauses. Filled pauses are, amongst other things, claimed to signal the speaker's intention to continue the turn (Maclay & Osgood 1959), mark a delay in speech (Clark & Fox Tree 2002), structure the discourse (Rendle-Short 2004) and exit a sequence (Schegloff 2010). In this project, however, we show that filled pauses cannot be distinguished into cognitive and discursive filled pauses, but rather, that in most of their functions, these two dimensions are connected. There is an association of the complexity of the cognitive processing, and the scope of the discursive force. Both complex cognitive processing and a broad scope are reflected in the form of the filled pause: a longer duration of the filled pause, more pauses, the use of 'euhm' (instead of 'euh'), and the speaker's gaze aversion.