Specializations > Sociolinguistics

How to stop being, like, so annoying


I saw an article a friend of mine (a speech language pathologist) posted on Facebook.  It's about how to stop saying the word 'like' as a filler in speech, and the resultant discussion in the comments was between him and some friends about the various ways they encourage their children to not say 'like' (usually snarky retorts, of the kind I used to receive in school days when you asked "Can I go to the bathroom?" and the teacher would reply "I don't know, CAN you?" with the self-satisfaction of 'getting one over' on a poor little 7 year old that has to pee). Or a strange one I've come across in Britain, some crazies think it's rude to say 'she' (...but not 'he'?) - and the pedantic annoying phrase used to bully children is, "Who's 'she', the cat's mother?"


This really bothered me, especially as this guy is trained as a linguist.  Wouldn't he, more than anyone, appreciate that forcing certain types of speech on your little one is likely to either 1) not matter 2) they'll only do it when they're around you, or 3) the worst scenario, they pick up your arcane rule and go around sounding completely non-standard (the website suggests 'pausing' before you say like - to prevent you from sounding unsure of yourself apparently!).

Opinions?  Are there any annoying phrases people use to 'correct' so-called uses of completely natural and common language that, like, bug you?

There's a difference between dialectal variation and the ability to present oneself. It would be very unlikely that someone who spoke, like, like this, like, all the time, would be elected, like, president!

Recognizing and respecting variation is important, but that doesn't mean there's no social use for standard forms, or more importantly, well-presented speech.

Metalinguistic awareness is, I think, actually quite important socially. Say whatever you want, but know why you're saying it, and be able to say it differently if it is socially advantageous.

There are two reasons:
1. Society is not as understanding as linguists. However legitimate a form may be, if it is stigmatized, then there really is a practical reason to avoid it in certain circumstances. There are plenty of implications of that to be worked out, but there's nothing wrong with an individual who wants to behave in a certain way to be perceived well by a certain group.

2. Across languages and dialects there is quite a bit of variation between speakers regarding who could be considered a good conversationalist or a good public speaker, or for that matter a good writer. This is one area where I'm more sympathetic to prescriptivism, or at least something that borders on prescriptivism-- metalinguistic awareness.

Anyway, remember this is about fillers. I say "um" too much (so I've been told), and I don't see anything wrong with eliminating that from my speech, or with a speech therapist who would work on that. "Like" appears to be both more lexically and socially significant, but it's not-- it's just like "um", and it's fine for both to be eliminated. It can become a habit that fills what should be natural pauses or just is associated with searching for a next sentence-- a bit awkward, certainly not beneficial for anyone.
If, on the other hand, this speech therapist is specifically targetting "like" but not "um", then that's dialectal discrimination, of course. In that case, only my point #1 applies, which isn't the worst argument-- "um" is a fairly neutral/subtle filler, while "like" is ambiguous with a content word. But I'm guessing this speech therapist isn't only working against that one dialect :)

I don't personally use "like" in that way, but I've come across plenty of people who do. It's fine once in a while. In excess, it can be very distracting and really fill a lot of the speech signal. It's sort of like some people who insert swear words every 4th word in every sentence "f'ing this, f'ing that" without any emphatic or negative force behind it. Seems somewhat problematic to me, certainly uncontrolled.
But I do use "like" as an expanding filler sometimes, in the same way that I'd use "I mean...", and I see that as fine because it adds some content to the message.


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