When observe people’s daily communicate and spontaneous speech, you will find an interesting phenomenon. Except for words, phrases, and sentences, our human speech production includes much pausing, such as “um” and “uh” in English or “呃” and “嗯” in Chinese. The pausing is an important indicator related to speakers’ verbal planning and self-monitoring for speech production. A new study has now uncovered the pausing strategies in young children’s story-telling.
Led by Dr. LI Su from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the research team analyzed the pausing frequency, the categories of pausing and pausing position when Chinese preschool children told stories according to a picture book without words.
In the current study, the total pausing frequency showed significant age and gender differences. 5 years old children showed fewer pauses than that of 4 years old children, and boys showed more pausing than of girls. This reflects that speech planning and production in pre-school children improve with age, and that gender differences in verbal fluency may appear early in child development.
The study identified four categories of pausing: the silent pause, the filled pause, the repair pause, and words repetitions. The silent pause was the most common pausing type, which suggested that at least at the ages of 4–5 years, children have a poor ability to coordinate and monitor the interaction between” thinking” and “speaking” in narratives.
Further, 4- to 5-year-old children produced more pauses within clauses, which indicated young children preferred to plan smaller syntactic units in their narratives. Interestingly, the study found that girls tend to produce more within-clause pauses, whereas boys prefer to produce more between-clause pauses. “It appears that preschool boys and girls employ different verbal planning strategies during the process of speech production,” said Dr. LI Su.
In addition, the current study found that children’s pausing frequency is closely associated with their verbal working memory and vocabulary knowledge. The greater the children's working memory capacity and vocabulary knowledge, the fewer pauses they had in the narratives. Children's working memory can significantly predict with-clause pauses, indicating that children's limited cognitive processing resources will affect the position of pauses in their narratives.
The study provides important empirical evidence not only for the development of language production but also as a reference for various clinical populations with language impairments, which could contribute to a deeper understanding and detection of young children’s deficits in language formulation.
This work has been published in Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research entitled "The Pausing Strategies in Chinese Preschool Children’s Narratives " on Feb. 9, 2023. This research was supported the National Natural Science Foundation of China.
Institute of Psychology
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Beijing 100101, China.