The History of Research on the Filled Pause as Evidence of 'The Written Language Bias in Linguistics' (Linell, 1982)

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, Volume 33, Number 6, p.459-474 (2004)




disfluency, filler, hesitation, interjection, orality, spontaneity, word


Erard's (2004) publication in the New York Times of a journalistic history of the filled pause serves as the occasion for this critical review of the past half-century of research on the filled pause. Historically, the various phonetic realizations or instantiations of the filled pause have been presented with an odd recurrent admixture of the interjection ah. In addition, the filled pause has been consistently associated with both hesitation and disfluency. The present authors hold that such a mandatory association of the filled pause with disfluency is the product of The Written Language Bias in Linguistics [Linell, 1982] and disregards much cogent evidence to the contrary. The implicit prescriptivism of well formedness—a demand derived from literacy—must be rejected; literate well formedness is not a necessary or even typical property of spontaneous spoken discourse; its structures and functions—including those of the filled pause—are very different from those of written language. The recent work of Clark and Fox Tree (2002) holds promise for moving the status of the filled pause not only toward that of a conventional word, but also toward its status as an interjection. This latter development is also being fostered by lexicographers. Nonetheless, in view of ongoing research regarding the disparate privileges of occurrence and functions of filled pauses in comparison with interjections, the present authors are reluctant to categorize the filled pause as an interjection.