Zurich: A new study reveals that speakers hesitate or make brief pauses filled with sounds like 'uh' or 'uhm' mostly before nouns. Such slow-down effects are far less frequent before verbs. Researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) have done this study on various languages.
To find out how such slow-down effects work, a team of researchers led by Frank Seifart from the University of Amsterdam and Prof. Balthasar Bickel from UZH analyzed thousands of recordings of spontaneous speech from linguistically and culturally diverse populations from around the world, including the Amazon rainforest, Siberia, the Himalayas, and the Kalahari desert, but also English and Dutch.
"We discovered that in this diverse sample of languages, there is a robust tendency for slow-down effects before nouns as compared to verbs," explain Bickel and Seifart. "The reason is that nouns are more difficult to plan because they're usually only used when they represent new information."
This discovery has important implications for our understanding of how the human brain processes language. At a more general level, the study contributes to a deeper understanding of how languages work in their natural environment. Such an understanding becomes increasingly important given the challenges that linguistic communication faces in the digital age, where we communicate more and more with artificial systems - systems that might not slow down before nouns as humans naturally do.
(Materials provided by University of Zurich)