In defence of, uhmm, filler words
"So, like, I asked him, you know, to pass me the water bottle," you overhear a voice say.
"But Sarah, he was just, like, so rude to me," the person's friend jumps in.
Subconsciously or not, you feel yourself judging the speakers. You can't help but consider them, who were so easy with the "likes" or "you knows" in a conversation, just a tad bit undignified.
Growing up, between scribbling essays about the "importance of learning English" and learning concepts from English for Today, we somehow internalised the belief that fluency in English equates to actual proficiency in the language. In that internal dialogue, there was rarely any excuse for the use of filler words.
In English, filler words are the sounds we use in between words such as "uhmm", "like", "you know," which individually might not be meaningless, but in the sentence's context usually is. Ultimately, filler words, alternatively known as crutch words, are words we use in conversations in place of a pause. The likes of these words are also used to stress or de-stress the meaning of the sentence.
Despite its harmless use in our everyday vernacular, people have an unnatural hatred for these words. After all, there is no chapter on filler words in Chowdhury & Hossain's Advanced Learner's Communicative English, is there?
As we are venturing out into the world, we are experiencing English in new avenues. The medium of our social interactions often largely happens in English. From apps we use to job interviews to public speaking, there has been a greater emphasis in our society on proficiency in English.
In this greater push for linguistic efficiency, filler words are deemed almost unseemly in what we perceive to be a professional language. In that perception, using filler words could essentially ruin our legitimacy as a proper English speaker.
However, this is where our tendency to revert to Western rhetoric about English proficiency comes to play. Not to discredit English and its many varying applications in our lives, but the fact remains – the outcry that we face when we cannot use English in its proper fluency is something that needs to be looked into thoroughly.
It needs to be understood if this disdain is coming from a genuine desire to excel at a language or is it coming from some sort of cultural guilt that has been conditioned into us every time we fumble over English?
Euphonious they may not be, but filler words are not incomprehensible. Adding a few "likes" here and a few "uhmms" there should not discredit a speaker entirely. Nor should it be undignified to use it in academic settings or presentations, despite many warnings in the contrary.
In a way, aren't we all trying to unlearn years of conditioning that "English makes us sound smart,"? So why not start believing in the idea that filler words are not our enemy?
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