Filled pauses in Japanese, Chinese, and English @ Academia Sinica

[Note: This post was published in August 2015 but has been dated in order to reflect the actual timing of the events described here.]

I went to Taiwan in December 2014 where I had the opportunity to join in a workshop on the cross-linguistic study of filled pauses. This was actually connected to a research project I'm engaged in that's being led by Kikuo Maekawa at the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL) in Tokyo. The project is aiming to formalize a typology of filled pauses in Japanese and I'm part of the project to bring in a comparison to English filled pauses. We met in Taiwan with a collaborator there (who brings in a comparison to Chinese filled pauses) to further the research plan and also gave a workshop at the Academia Sinica in Taipei.

There were several good talks, but one very interesting result was presented by Shu-Chuan Tseng on the use of filled pauses in Chinese. Like many other languages (but not English), Chinese filled pause forms coincide with phonetic forms for demonstrative pronouns. One question has been how to distinguish one use from the other. The results of her corpus analysis show that the acoustic prosody (especially F0 contour shapes) differs between the two.

In my own presentation (slides here), I tried to tie together several different threads and observations from different methodologies in research on filled pauses in English. I mostly drew from corpus data, but from widely varied corpora: speech and monologue, first and second language, and spoken vs. written. The core point I tried to argue for is that the evidence for a usage difference between uh and um remains slight and inconclusive at best: Differences can be observed, but they are limited in scope.