NPR

Um, Uh, Huh? Are These Words Clues To Understanding Human Language?

Tiny filler words in human rapid-fire conversation hold the key to understanding how language is unique, according to a new book. But anthropologist Barbara J. King raises some questions.
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Has anyone — a parent, teacher, or boss — told you to purge the words "um" and "uh" from your conversation?

When these words creep into our narrative as we tell a story at home, school, or work, it's natural to feel that we can do better with our speech fluency.

In How We Talk: The Inner, hitting shelves Tuesday, University of Sydney linguist rescues those words (and everyone who uses them) from censure. In so doing, he exposes the fascinating and intricate workings of what he calls the human conversation machine: "a set of powerful social and interpretive abilities of individuals in tandem with a set of features of communicative situations — such as the unstoppable passage of time — that puts constraints on how we talk."

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