Hesitations and Silences

Breaking Down Hesitations and Silences

We sometimes pause and hesitate in the middle of conversation when we run out of thoughts or are not sure the right words to say.

We all use the occasional “uh”, “er”, “well”, and “you know” to indicate that we are searching for the right word.

Hesitation can be broken down into:

  1. filled pauses, also known as vocalized pauses such as “um”, “er”, “ah”, and “uh”; and
  2. empty pauses, which consist of silence.

Silence is also a component of paralanguageOpens in new window that conveys meaning.

Silent hesitation and Pauses belong to the component of paralinguistic system of language.

They play a significant role in identifying speech units and in making sense out of them.

Making a decision as to how to say something is connected with silent hesitation.

Knowing when to pause is a critical skill. When nervous or tense, we may exhibit a tendency to fill all pauses, often by inserting meaningless sounds or phrases such as uh, you know, or okay in the effort to fill voids.

Some experts also include to the list some speech mannerisms such as ‘by the way’, ‘incidentally’, ‘honest’, ‘before I forget’, ‘believe me’, ‘curiously enough’, etc. There are also feedback signals such as ‘good’ and ‘really’.

Hesitations occur within the speech utterance, as well as at the beginning and at the end. These pauses allow the speaker to collect his/her thoughts and also serve as signals for turn-taking within a face-to-face interaction.