LINGUIST List 2.705

Fri 25 Oct 1991

Disc: Prosody and Pauses

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Nick Campbell, 2.692 Phonology, Pauses, R-linking
  2. David Powers, Re: Syntactically filled pauses

Message 1: 2.692 Phonology, Pauses, R-linking

Date: Wed, 23 Oct 91 13:49:07 +0900
From: Nick Campbell <>
Subject: 2.692 Phonology, Pauses, R-linking
Richard Ogden (in reply to Jim Scobbie's claim that 'there
are sophisticated, systematic, non-univeral rules of
phonetic implementation.`) maintains that
	' French doesn't sound like English in any way, nor does
	German, or any other language. Why? because the 'low level'
	phonetics is just different.'
and asks
	' if each language has a different interpretation of 'the
	same' feature, what are the constraints on what might
	constitute an interpretation of that feature so that you
	recognise it as 'the same'?'
Perhaps he should have gone further here, beyond languages,
to consider the differences between individual speakers. At
ATR we are implementing speech synthesisers for both
Japanese and English, and certainly have to set the duration
parameters differently for each language, but also for each
dialect, and for each speaker. But in every case these
parameters are set from consideration of the same linguistic
factors (`stress` is not absent from Japanese, just
prioritised differently) with context-specific defaults.
In asking
	` What then does it mean to say that certain phonological
	features are 'the same' when their interpretation in
	different languages is different? or when the features they
	stand in relation to in different languages is different?'
Richard is addressing the basic issue of invariance in
speech. Phonetics does not yet have an answer, but humans
don't typically assume that two speakers are using different
rules just because of (for example) differences in voice
quality - we generalise over such differences as phonation
type and vocal tract length. Does this abstraction require
different interpretation rules or just a different set of
settings for the same set of rules? In listening to speaker
A or language B, can we not just posit a shift in the
weighting of the defaults?
Nick Campbell
P.S. After the XIIth International Congress of Phonetic
Sciences, we set up a mailing list to discuss issues related
to prosody. In light of recent postings it may be better to
address replies or comments to PROSODYPURCCVM. (Subscribe
requests should be sent to LISTSERVPURCCVM instead).
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: Syntactically filled pauses

Date: Wed, 23 Oct 91 11:23:46 GMT
From: David Powers <>
Subject: Re: Syntactically filled pauses comments:
> Bulgarian has a well-developed system of pause fillers:
> _tova_ (proximal demonstrative, neuter) for definite NP's,
> _takova_ (demonstrative adjective/pronoun,neuter, "such") for indefinite
> NP's, and
> _takovam_ (conjugated as a verb of the a-class) for verbs.
> Let me also point out a definite advantage that similar pause-fillers have
> over _um_, _e:_ and the like: you can actually go on speaking, even if you
> have forgotten much of what you were going to say.
I would like to point out that the _um_ in English does extend to
such syntactic fillers: i.a. _thingummy_ (adj/verb?), _thingummygig_
(noun, common or proper - cf Mrs Thingummygig or Mrs Thingo). I think
I have even heard thingummy or thingo used and conjugated as a verb:
_He umm thingoed with High Distinction, uhh graduated._
It's certainly in my family's dialect, primarily _Educated Major
City Australian_, but I'm pretty sure some variant occured
frequently during my school education in South-East London.
The noun _thingummy_ is clearly primary, _thing_ being a normal
placeholder for an unspecific object and _um_ marking that the
indeterminism arises from tompting (the Tip Of My Tongue
phenomena). The verbs are least likely to be handled this way, and
in fact a generic is likely to be substituted:
_The customs umm ex- umm umm charged a umm what-d-y-call-it charge
for storing the packet._
In German the final verbs are often either dropped and left
understood, or filled in, possibly generically, after a pause, with
a filler which may be a rounded interminate or simply end of
sentence prosody. The form with the omitted verb is in some
context regarded as quite acceptable:
_Englisch aber kann ich nicht (sprechen/verstehen/lesen/schreiben)._
_However I can't (speak/understand/read/write) English._
This is not just contextual elision (_englisch_ is an adverb here):
_Kannst Du englisch?_
_Can you (speak) English?_
I would expect that in all languages there was some way of achieving
syntactic filling which allows said advantage that:
> you can actually go on speaking, even if you
> have forgotten much of what you were going to say.
in English there are stacks, including proper words, and
combinations with words (e.g. _whatever_ or _the umm whatever_).
David Powers
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue