Fillers (discourse markers and co.) and Backchannels


Spoken language is not inferior to written language, in fact quite the opposite. Words are more than just ink on a page and many of the intricacies surrounding them can only be conveyed when spoken outloud, prosodic and proxemic features, that cannot be replicated in written language.

Spoken language is charactresied by certain structural phenomena related to the topic, genre and role of the participants in the exchange. When this language is written down, we polish it and so it loses its real-life quality.

In conversation, a narrative is often used which gives the coversation a recognisbale structure. Graphological, lexical, syntactic and discourse devices all help to make the narration more vivid and interesting. The reason narration exists is so that the speaker's point is put across and helps in the building of a collaborative conversation.


FILLERS: spoken words or sounds that are used to fill gaps in conversation

  • different languages have different characteristic sounds that are used as fillers such as 'er' and 'um' being the most common in English.
  • there are 4 types of fillers that have been identified:
    • filled pauses (FP)
      • hesitation sounds that imply uncertainty or a wish to remain in control
      • do not edit the meaning of what is being said
      • do not add anything to conversation
      • can occur anywhere
      • some speakers may adopt an idiosyncratic filled pause noise that does not appear on the above list
      • be aware that they could have other purposes such as a questioning response


  • dicscourse markers (DM)
    • word or phrase that functions primarily as a structuring unit for spoken language
    • signals the speakers intention to mark a boundary in the discourse
    • active contributions
    • signal activities such as change in speaker, taking…


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