I need an outline for a literature review for my Applied Linguistics class. I already have a thesis and data analysis completed, and now need to write a literature review. It needs to be a 3-4 page double spaced essay that focuses on my argument/thesis and uses literature references to support it and provide context. I have attached my proposal and data analysis to give a background of what my study is about. I’ve also attached my raw data. I need legitimate scholarly articles, preferably from Google Scholar or Jstor. I already have a few but I need around 4-5 references. I’ve attached 2 possible articles. Remember that this is a LITERATURE REVIEW.Be sure to know exactly how to do this before you bid. If you have questions about the details/concepts about my study, private message me.All I need is a detailed outline and structure, not a full paper.When you finish the outline, send me a screenshot of it, not the original text file.24 June 2014, 11th International Academic Conference, Reykjavik
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Eskisehir Osmangazi University, Turkey
The aim of this paper was to emphasize the importance of teaching fillers to students in ESL / EFL
classrooms, and investigate whether students use fillers after they have been taught and if so,
which fillers they tend to use and why. Although there might be no teaching issue for acquisition of
fillers, being spoken discourse markers, the aim was rather increasing the learners’ awareness of
fillers when they hesitate in the foreign language, which is actually the very nature of speaking.
Two speaking session recordings were conducted with 7 elementary-level preparation class
students at Eskişehir Osmangazi University in the autumn semester of 2013/2014 academic year.
Fillers were taught in between the sessions, and the filler use of students was investigated before
and after teaching. The whole process was conducted in 5 week-time. Through voice recordings and
related transcriptions, the results basically revealed that the students used fillers in the second
session after they were taught and were provided related activities to practise fillers. Although
what fillers they tended to use in the second session speaking and what they would use generally
differed at certain points, they generally preferred the fillers uhm / ehm, well and how to say / how
can I say.
Fillers, speaking, voice recording, transcription, uhm / ehm, well, how to say / how can I say.
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“If a foreign language learner says five sheeps or he goed, he can be corrected by
practically every native speaker. If, on the other hand, he omits a well, the likely reaction
will be that he is dogmatic, impolite, boring, awkward to talk to, etc. but a native speaker
cannot pinpoint an ‘error’.”
(Svartvik, 1980, p. 171)
1. Introduction
In a conversation, people utter some sounds as well as words, especially if it is
a daily talk. A daily talk is of differences from a well-prepared lecture in many ways, as
Swerts pointed out (1998, p.485). However, one of the most obvious differences is
that a daily talk contains disfluences while a well-prepared lecture is aimed to be
fluent. Daily talks, which form the ‘speaking act’ in a true meaning, contain pauses,
ideally filled pauses, for the native speakers as well as the non-natives. In fact, many
spontaneous speakers of various languages have pauses, and there are certain
pause fillers that those speakers resort to when needed. English speakers are no
exceptions. There are a number of discourse markers either the English-speakers or
the non-natives use for different purposes. “Well, Ehm, Uhm, How to say” are only
some of them when they want to ‘buy time’ during their speech. As Khojastehrad put
(2012, p.10), very few of the speakers speak completely fluent without any sort of
disfluency-creating pauses, hesitations, words and sounds. Thus, a spontaneous
speech naturally includes some disfluencies.
2. Review of the Literature
Being a key concept, hesitations are pauses with varying length, which are not
usually left unfilled. They occur when the speakers are in the need of words or when
they plan their next utterance. Speakers do this by stretching sounds, repetitions or
fillers (Rieger, 2003, p.41). As for another key concept, disfluencies; they can be
defined as phonema which interrupts the flow of speech. Disfluencies are about silent
pauses, fillers, false starts, grammatical errors and hesitations. As hesitations and
disfluencies are inevitable and in fact, natural, some speakers prefer to resort some
filler words or pause fillers. What a speaker wants to convey while using fillers may be
actually a signal showing that he is in a cognitive process; in other words, he is
thinking. As suggested in O’Connell and Kowal (2005), Chafe (1980) claimed that the
main reason for hesitating is the creation of speech production. According to Chafe,
hesitations do not interfere with the speaking; on the contrary, “pauses, false starts,
afterthoughts, and repetitions do not hinder that goal, but are steps on the way to
achieving it.”
Wiese conducted a study in which he focused on the fact that L1 and L2
production are different processes, and proposed that L2 speakers need more time to
plan their speech than L1 speakers do, and thus have less automatization
(Khojastehrad, 2012, p.12). This may mean that hesitation occurs to the non-native
speakers more often than the native ones.
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Discourse Markers
The studies on discourse markers were rooted in discourse analysis. The
popularity of discourse markers has increased within the last two decades. Scholars
started to focus on these markers and analysed them from various aspects. A lot of
studies have been conducted to see whether discourse markers contribute to
pragmatic and communicative competence, and if they do, in what ways. In fact, the
popularity of the topic to do research on discourse markers has even created
fuzziness in terminology (Aşık, 2012, p.16). According to Aşık, different researchers
gave different names to the phenomenon. To give some examples, Schiffrin (1987),
Blakemore (1987), Halliday and Hasan (1992), Fraser (1993), Andersen (2001),
Aijmer (2002), Trujillo Saez (2003) called the phenomenon as discourse markers,
Fraser (1999) as pragmatic markers, Schiffrin (1987) as discourse marker, Schourup
(1985) as discourse particles, Blakemore (1987) as discourse connectives, Knott and
Dale (1994) as cure phrases while some others as interactional signals, pragmatic
extressions and so and so forth.
Discourse markers are words and phrases used to mark boundaries in
conversation between one topic and the next (Carter and McCarthy, 1997, p. 13).
They could be words or phrases such as right, OK, I see, I mean, you know, like, etc.
and help the speakers in a conversation negotiate their way of thinking. As Carter and
McCarthy put (ibid), discourse markers indicate whether the speakers want to open a
topic or close in the conversation, whether he agrees with the interlocutor or
disagrees, and the like. While in informal talks, the discourse markers such as like
may be more appropriate, in general conversations the ones such as you know or you
know what I mean may be used to ‘check understanding, to soften and personalize
the interactive style and keeping the listener involved.’ However, discourse markers
have been regarded as examples of careless or lazy speech, probably because they
do not basically carry information or propositional content.
Discourse markers are grammatically optional and semantically bleached; but
they are not pragmatically optional. If the markers are omitted, “the discourse is
grammatically acceptable, but would be judged ‘unnatural,’ ‘awkward,’ ‘disjointed,’
‘impolite,’ ‘unfriendly’ or ‘dogmatic’ within the communicative context” (Brinton, 1996,
2.1.1. Pragmatic functions of Discourse Markers
According to Castro (2009), discourse markers have two main pragmatic
functions as textual and interpersonal. The functions, types and related examples are
the following:
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Textual Functions
To initiate discourse,
including claiming the
attention of the hearer
To close discourse
To aid the speaker in
acquiring or relinquishing
the floor
To serve as a filler or
delaying tactic used to
sustain discourse or hold
the floor
To indicate a new topic
or a partial shift in topic
To denote either new or
old information
To mark sequential
To repair one’s own or
others discourse
Opening frame
so; okey; now
Closing frame
(Turn givers)
ok; right; well
um; eh; and
(Turn keepers)
okey; well; now
Topic switchers
and; because; so
Repair markers
so; then; and then;
well; I mean; you know;
well; I mean; you know;
Response /
reaction markers
yeah, oh; ah; but; oh
yeah; well; eh; oh really?
Interpersonal Functions
Subjectively, to express a
response or a reaction to
the preceding discourse
including also backchannel signals of
understanding and
continued attention while
another speaker is having
his/her turn.
Interpersonally, to affect
cooperation or sharing,
including confirming
shared assumptions,
checking or expressing
understanding, requesting
confirmation, expressing
difference saving face
mhm; uh huh; yeah
Back channel
agreement marker
okey; yes; yeah; mhm
but; no
ah; I know; yeah; mhm;
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The first resarchers who studied on fillers, specifically on Uh and Um, were
psycholinguists. Maclay & Osgood (1959), Goldman-Eisler (1961), linguist Stenström
(1990), Kjellmer (2003), Gilquin (2008), being the names who conducted corpusbased studies on the topic, pointed out that they are filled pauses (Tottie, 2011,
p.174). Clark & Fox Tree (2002) called them fillers while Corley & Steward (2008)
referred to them as hesitation disfluencies. The definition or categorization of fillers is
seemingly a vague issue. However in this paper, the term filler will be used.
Fillers are discourse markers speakers use when they think and/or hesitate
during their speech. Clark and Fox Tree (2002, p.97) claimed that fillers served a
communicative function, having a place in the speaker’s vocabulary. Nonetheless,
they are not for primary message in a communication. They rather convey collateral
messages. In other words, the use of a filler only helps the meaning. It’s not the
meaning in the communication. Nevertheless, according to Clark and Fox Tree (ibid),
fillers can be used to convey a variety of interpersonal messages such as ‘holding the
floor’. However, according to Corley and Stewart (2008, p.592), considering fillers in
the sense of communication function is not that certain. Fillers are used when the
speaker is uncertain about his next utterance or he has choices to make in his
utterance, but this does not prove that the speaker signals there will be a delay in his
speech due to a uncertainity. In fact, it may be hard to determine why a speaker
hesitates by using some fillers. Seemingly, considering such a complex process in his
brain during the speech, being certain about why he hesitates is not quite possible. If
this process is working in the brain of an L2 speaker, things may be even more
According to Tottie (2001, p.174), however, linguists or psycholinguists
indicated that fillers are often treated as flaws in speech. This way of thinking is not
different from one of some scholars in that discourse markers are the signal of ‘lazy
and careless speech’. On the contrary, though, some scholars stress the positive
aspects of fillers. Spontaneous speech is often a better communication means than
fluent, read speech as Swerts pointed out (1998, p.486). Swert also put that some
scholars had presented evidence of fillers’ information value.
3. Statement of the Problem
Several studies have shown that discourse markers are of a place in language
teaching, yet the majority of those studies were related to the native speakers’ uses of
discourse markers. Some researchers like Müller (2004), however, focusing on the
American and German students’ use of well, stated that non-native speakers use
discourse markers more than native ones. The length of the hesitation for the nonnative speakers explains the reason why they may use the discourse markers more
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Teaching how to hesitate in speaking has been a neglected part of teaching
L2. Although some wise students try to be exposed to the language outside the
classroom via watching films, listening to music, playing some computer games and
chatting with international friends, and thus acquire many aspects of language
including how to hesitate in L2, the number of those sort of students are a few. Some
of the students are even not aware of hearing or maybe using a discourse marker, to
be specific, a filler. As Crytal and Davy (1979) mentioned (cited in Khojastehrad, 2012,
p.10), very first thing to learn in a foreign language is how to hesitate. Teaching, in this
respect, is a significant matter for such learning. Furthermore, according to Nakatani
(2008, p.78), it is reasonable to underline the importance of raising learners’
awareness of strategies to raise their oral proficiency when they encounter problem in
communication. Fillers are no exceptions as a strategy.
4. Significance of the Study
There are a growing number of researchers who study discourse markers, but
there are only a few who studied specifically fillers. In Turkey, although there are some
studies concerning discourse markers, studies on fillers, especially teaching issue in
such a study, has not been found yet. It is the truth that non-native speakers hesitate a
lot when they are speaking in L2. If they are elementary-level English learners, like in
the context of this study, the hesitation may be much bigger. If hesitation is an
inevitable thing for the above-mentioned learners during their speech, to teach them
how they can hesitate in a more native-like way would make sense and is worth
teaching. This study was initiated with such a consideration, and it emphasizes the
importance of teaching fillers even to elementary-level learners of English.
5. Limitations of the Study
As it is a case study, the replication of this study would not result in the same
way if it was done with different participants in different times. The methodology and
the results are unique to this study. The duration between teaching and the second
session could have affected the filler use of the participants in the way that the
participants might have been exposed to fillers outside the class. However, the fact
that this typical and uncontrollable time-related factor may become visible in such
studies with treatment is not uncommon.
6. Research Question
Do the students use fillers after being taught? And if so, which fillers do they
tend to use and why?
7. Methodology
This study aims to find whether the students use fillers after they are taught.
Finding which fillers the students tend to use in their speech and for what reason is the
other purpose of the study. This is a qualitative study, which contains discourse
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Considering the participant number and the relatively long time of its
application, this study can be taken as a case study. It is also a teacher researcher
type of case study.
Seven students of an English language preparation class at Osmangazi
University participated in the study. Being three females and four males, and forming a
homogenous group, the students’ age were between 19 and 20, and they were from
different parts of Turkey. Their departments were International Relationships, Electric
and Electronic Engineering, Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. All of
them were native speakers of Turkish. They took the Michigan Test conducted at the
beginning of the autumn semester of the 2013-2014 education years, and started the
same school semester as Beginner level students. By the time the study was done,
the students had reached Elementary level, having received 24 hours of English
instruction a week via the same course book, from the same four teachers in the same
class. The reason why those seven students were chosen for the study was that they
had shown a lot better performances in the language than their classmates. The
researcher and her three partners in that class together decided that those seven
were the competent language users in the class, thus were the ones who would speak
in English and handle with the filler words taught.
Participants’ recorded voices during their first and second speaking sessions
are one of the instruments in this study. The others are filler teaching; the questions
asked by the researcher and the pictures the participants talked during the sessions;
and the interview questions asked in Turkish language at the end of the second
Data Collection
Every student in the study was recorded for about 20 minutes first. Each
student spoke with the teacher alone so that being in the crowd would not affect their
performance adversely. The researcher did not examine the seven students in one
day. She divided the participants’ speaking sessions into days. The students were not
given the information of the recording. The researcher hid the recorder, which was
Sony ICD-UX 533, during the conversations so that the students would not feel
uncomfortable because they were being recorded. They were not informed about the
fillers, but they knew that it would be a speaking examination. For this reason, they did
their best to speak well. This speaking examination was conducted in four phases. In
the first phase, the students were asked some general questions such as introduction
of themselves, being a university student in Osmangazi University and Eskisehir,
comparison of Eskisehir and their hometowns, their hobbies, their dreams, studying
and learning English. In the second phase, they picked a picture among the others,
which were taken from their two course books they had covered. These pictures were
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rather critical pictures at various units of the book while the other group of pictures
were smaller; perhaps a little detailed pictures from the units. Those other grouppictures were about the third phase of the examination. The students chose one from
each picture groups and spoke about them. From time to time, the researcher, being
the interlocutor in the conversation, asked some questions to elicit responses from the
students. In the last phase, the students had to choose one word from 30 words taken
from their books, and describe the word by also giving some examples related.
After the completion of the first recordings, the researcher, being also one of
the teachers of the classroom, taught the students some fillers. The fillers focused on
were ehm / uhm, well, how to say, kind of, like, you know, actually and I mean.
In the teaching process, the researchers first played some examples of native
speakers’ uses of fillers during their hesitations. The book Pronunciation in Use
published by Cambridge and related tracks in the book were used for the teaching.
Teaching was done in one lesson, which lasted for 50 minutes. It was rather an
awareness-raising lesson about fillers. 20 minute-durations at the end of 5 lessons,
which means 2 weeks, were used for practise. The teacher conducted various
speaking activities for the students to practise fillers.
After the teaching, the students were recorded one more time. The questions
asked and the tasks for the second recording were no different from the ones in the
first session. The aim of this was to control every parameter as much as possible, and
only focus on the change in the hesitations. Just like in the first one, the students did
not know they were being recorded. For about 20 minutes for each, they were asked
the same questions and given the previous pictures and words they had chosen in the
first recording. As a difference, this time, the students were interviewed in their native
language about the fillers at the end of the session. They were asked if they believed
the importance of using fillers in their speech, and which fillers mentioned in the
classroom they would like to use and why.
Data Analysis
The recordings were listened and analysed, and transcripts were made by the
researcher during two weeks.
For the first session, the hesitations in speeches were determined with the
pauses ‘eh’. The hesitations were specified with dots and the ‘eh’s were underlined
and written in bold forms. All recordings were listened for a second time for checking.
For the analysis of the second session, hesitations and ‘eh’ uses were
determined in the same way, yet this time, the fillers used by the participants were
taken into consideration and highlighted.
The numbers of hesitations, ‘eh’ uses and fillers were counted, the answers
given to the interview question were evaluated, and the research question of this study
was aimed to be answered.
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8. Results
Table 1
Numbers of hesitations, ‘eh’s and fillers uttered by the participants in the first
Participant Name
Table 1 displays the numbers of hesitations, ‘eh’s and fillers the participants
uttered in the first session of speaking. Hesitations meant in the table were the ones
uttered at the word-basis, as in the example of when I.. when I was a.. child, but… In
other words, hesitations before and after ‘eh’s , for instance, yesterday eh I studied
eh.. English were not included.
As can be seen form the table, Bardick hesitated for 74 times in the total
speech of his while he uttered 38 ‘eh’s. In the first session, he did not utter any kind of
fillers. Bendall hesitated for 21 times, yet his ‘eh’s were a lot more than his silent
hesitations. Just like Bardick, he did not utter any fillers. Gwen’s situation was no
different from Bendall’s. While there is a big difference in the numbers of hesitations
and ‘eh’s of Bendall, he rather preferred saying ‘eh’ instead of silent hesitations. Gwen
did the same. No fillers were used, either. Melville’s sitation was similar to Bardick’s in
the way that he more hesitated silently and less uttered ‘eh’.
Ian’s situation was an interesting one, because he was observed to use fillers
ehm / uhm even before the teaching. In this sense, Moreen and Vanessa did not do
something different – they utterred fillers in the first session. However, Ian was
interesting in the way that, even though he hesitated, he did not use any ‘eh’s but
some fillers.
Moreen hesitated for 34 times, and she used 94 ‘eh’s in addition to the
mentioned hesitations. On the contrary to Moreen, Vanessa hesitated more and used
‘eh’s less. Nevertheless, both of these participants used some fillers in the first
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session. Considering the number of their hesitations and ‘eh’s; the fillers, which are
ehm and uhm, may have been naturally used during the speech.
Table 2
Numbers of hesitations, ‘eh’s and fillers uttered by the participants in the
second session
Participant Name
Regarding the two tables together, before and after teaching fillers, there is an
increase in the numbers of fillers used and decrease in the numbers of ‘eh’ use for the
participants except Ian. Thus, it may be safe to say that as the participants used fillers,
they less preferred the traditional hesitation sound for them, which is ‘eh’. What,
however, is striking is that except Moreen, participants hesitated more in the second
session in the comparison with the first one. Although the researcher asked the same
questions and the participants talked about the same pictures and words in two
sessions, the duration of the participants’ speech in the sessions is not the same. In
addition, the interlocutor may have changed the nature of the participants’ speeches
with the questions she asked, thus it may not be proper to evaluate each participant’s
hesitations, ‘eh’ use and filler use in one way of thinking. However, Ian being
exceptions, for the rest of the participants, fillers were learned. Thus the first part of
the research question of this study can be replied with a ‘yes’: Students use fillers after
being taught.
As for why the majority of the participants increased the hesitations meanwhile,
it might be because the second session created a kind of stress on them. Seeing
tasks were the same with the first one, they must have understood that the interlocutor
expected them to use fillers as a difference in the second session. This deduction
might explain the reason of the increased hesitations. However, it is an unexpected
result, so it was not foreseen by the researcher.
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In the second part of the research question, the fillers participants tended to use
were aimed to be found.
Table 3: The numbers of filler types which participants used in their speech
How to say
/ how can I
I mean









When looked at Table 3, it can be seen that the majority of participants tended
to use uhm / ehm and well as fillers in their speech. How to say / how can I say was
found to be the next popular filler.
However in the semi-structured interview right after the second session, the
participants were asked in their native language which fillers they would prefer and
why. The answers and reasons varied, and at certain points, they were different from
the results in Table 3.
Based on the interview with the participants, the following fillers were found to
be preferred with certain reasons. Almost every participant stated more than one filler,
so the total number below does not form 100 %.
How can I say / How to say
6 out of 7 participants uttered they tended or would tend to use how to say / how
can I say as fillers, because;
It is the same filler in Turkish in the meaning of “Nasil denir / Nasil diyebilirim?”
How can I say sounds nice.
How to say or how can I say can be used to resort to the help of the interlocutor
when one is stuck with words.
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(For one participant) It is uttered without any specific reason even when she
talks to herself in English.
(For one participant) To use it is like a habit from high school. His teacher
taught him that he could use how can I say when he is in need of finding words.
But to him, how to say is shorter and maybe more functional.
Uhm / Ehm
4 of the participants uttered they would use uhm / ehm, since they are;
easy to remember,
alternatives to the hesitation sound in Turkish, which is “eh”.
3 of the participants uttered that well would be one of the fillers they tended to use,
It sounds cool.
People use it quite often in the TV series.
It is an alternative to “şey” in Turkish and has the same function and meaning,
so easy and comfortable to use.
It is short, so one can concentrate the main meaning of the sentence after using
it without getting lost.
1 participant stated he tends to use, thus would use like because;
It sounds cool, and
The participant heard it in TV series a lot, especially when people get slower in
I mean
1 participant stated he might use I mean as fillers as;
It is uttered quickly.
Conclusion and Discussion
McCarthy (1998, p.60) stated that there seems to be no obvious reason why the
discourse markers for a language should not be part of the teaching issue, for they
are, in fact, very useful items and lexically quite simple and straightforward. Any
teacher wishing to incorporate insights in the spoken language has to decide the
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status of discourse markers in his classroom (ibid), since the spoken language is
closely about the discourse markers.
This study was aimed to highlight the importance of teaching fillers, which is a
discourse marker, to students. For some, teaching fillers is not possible or purposeful,
because people acquire them when they are ready or their language level develops.
The researcher’s point in this study, though, was to show that teaching fillers, thus
raising the awareness of the students in the issue, matters even at the elementary
level. Eslami-Rasekh (2005, p.199) noted that teaching the pragmatic aspects of a
language is teacher responsibility. Discourse markers are no exception in this
pragmatic side. If the students are unaware of fillers’ existence, they do not know how
to hesitate in a foreign language in spite of the fact that hesitating is something they
do quite often during their speech. As Kormos and Dénes cited (2004, p.160), there
are certain situations in which native speakers frequently hesitate. Considering even
the natives hesitate in their unprepared, small, daily-talks, the fact that non-natives
hesitate is highly natural.
Although the results for this study are unique to this study, it might not be wrong to
state that when the students are taught fillers, they use fillers. They have difference
preferences in using fillers and they have their reasons, though. According to the
findings, ehm / uhm, well and how to say / how can I say are the three markers that
present the highest range of functions either during the participants’ speeches or in
their general preference.
It would not be wrong to say that there is a gap in literature about teaching fillers.
Although there are lots of studies conducted on the specific fillers, for instance, which
fillers the natives or non-natives prefer and maybe why, there is no study conducted
about teaching fillers to students. It might be either because fillers are seen as flaws in
speech or because they are not believed to be taught.
This study aimed to fill the gap in literature, even though there were certain
limitations. The results may not be generalised, yet, it supports the notion that fillers
should be taught by drawing learner attention to their existence, and that non-native
learners of English language are able to use different fillers according to their
tendency to use. What language teachers need to do is not neglecting this issue and
to integrate fillers in their speaking lessons. In this way, they can help learners sound
more authentic in L2 speaking as Moreno, Chambers and O’riordan (2006, p.99)
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Aşık, A. (2012). Discourse Markers And Spoken English: Nonnative Use in the
Turkish EFL Setting. PhD Dissertation, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey
Brinton, L. J. (1996). Pragmatic markers in English: Grammaticalization and
discourse functions. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Carter, R. ; McCarthy, M. (1997). Exploring Spoken English. Cambridge University
Press, the United Kingdom.
Castro, C. (2009). The use and functions of discourse markers in EFL classroom
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Clark, H. H. ; Fox Tree, J. E. (2002). Using Uh and Um in spontaneous speaking.
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Corley, M. ; Stewart, O. W. (2008). Hesitation disfluencies in spontaneous speech:
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Eslami-Rasekh, Z. (2005). Raising the pragmatic awareness of language learners.
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speech of second language learners. System, 32, p. 145-164
McCarthy, M. (1998). Spoken Language and Applied Lingistics. Cambridge University
Press, the UK.
Moreno, C. P. ; Chambers, A. ; O’riordan, S. (2006). Integrating a corpus of
classroom discourse in language teacher education: the case of discourse
markers. ReCALL, 18 (1), p. 83-104
Müller, S. (2004). ‘Well you know that type of person’: Functions of well in the speech
of American and German students. Journal of Pragmatics (36), p. 1157–1182
Nakatani, Y. (2008). The effects of awareness-raising training on oral communication
strategy use. The Modern Language Journal, (89), p. 76-91
O’Connell, D. C. ; Kowal, S. (2004). The History of research on the filled pause as
evidence of The Written Language Bias in Linguistics (Linell, 1982). Journal of
Psycholinguistic Research, 33(6), p.459-475
Rieger, C. (2003). Disfluencies and hesitation strategies in oral L2 tests. Gothenburg
Papers in Theoretical Linguistics, (90), p. 41-44
24 June 2014, 11th International Academic Conference, Reykjavik
ISBN 978-80-87927-03-8, IISES
Svartvik, J. (1980). Well in conversation. In: Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey,
Svartvik, Jan (Eds.), Studies in English Linguistics for Randolph Quirk. Longman,
London, p. 167–177.
Swerts, M. (1998). Filled pauses as markers of discourse structure. Journal of
Pragmatics, 30, p. 485-496
Tottie, G. (2011). Uh and Um as sociolinguistic markers in British English.
International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 16:2, p.173–197
Selcen Erten was born in Turkey in 1989, and completed her Bachelor education in
ELT Department at Akdeniz University, Turkey in 2011. She worked as a language
assistant in a school in Sweden for one year right after her graduation. Upon her return to
Turkey, she started her career as an English language instructor at Osmangazi University
and an MA student in ELT at Anadolu University. She is pursuing her profession and
Master education at the universities mentioned. Her interests include languages, Foreign
Language Acquisition, Phonetics, Discourse Markers, travelling, reading and writing travel
materials, dubbing, Rock Music, and North.
Profile Issues in Teachers` Professional Development
Print version ISSN 1657-0790
profile no.11 Bogotá Jan./Apr. 2009
The Use and Functions of Discourse Markers in EFL
Classroom Interaction
Los usos y las funciones de los marcadores del discurso en la
interacción en el aula de inglés como lengua extranjera
Claudia Marcela Chapetón Castro*
Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Colombia,
Email:cchapeton@pedagogica.edu.co Address: C/. Colli Vehi 95 p. 302 (08026),
The aim of this paper is to investigate classroom interaction in the context of English as a
foreign language being the teacher a nonnative speaker of the language. One specific
aspect of classroom interaction and language use is the focus of attention, namely
discourse markers (DMs). Using data from an EFL class, this study describes the
occurrences and frequencies of DMs. It also provides an account for the main functions of
DMs as they were used by a nonnative teacher of English and five adult students of EFL.
A qualitative analysis reveals that discourse markers fulfill a number of textual and
interpersonal functions which may contribute greatly to the coherent and pragmatic flow
of the discourse generated in classroom interaction.
Key words: EFL classroom interaction, discourse analysis, discourse markers, nonnative
teacher, adult EFL students
El artículo que aquí se presenta intenta investigar la interacción que ocurre en el aula de
inglés como lengua extranjera cuando el profesor de inglés es nonativo. Un aspecto
específico de la interacción en el aula y del uso del lenguaje es la presencia de los
marcadores del discurso (MD). Con base en datos empíricos, este estudio pretende
describir las ocurrencias, la frecuencia y las funciones principales de los MD. El análisis
cualitativo de los datos revela que los MD cumplen funciones tanto textuales como
interpersonales que pueden facilitar y contribuir al flujo coherente y pragmático del
discurso generado en la interacción de aula.
Palabras clave: Interacción en el aula, análisis del discurso, marcadores del discurso,
profesor de inglés no nativo, estudiantes adultos de inglés como lengua extranjera
English is considered as the major international language in various areas such as
science, communications, business, entertainment, and even on the Internet. Knowledge
of English is required, at least at a basic level, in many fields, professions, and
occupations throughout the world. Consequently, English language teaching is
increasingly taking place not only in Englishspeaking countries, but in the student’s own
country. Teaching English as a foreign language usually occurs inside the classroom
which is a setting that has particular contextual characteristics that deserve special
One common characteristic of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms is that the
teachers may be nonnative speakers of the language they are teaching. From my
experience as a nonnative teacher of English as a foreign language and, as a
studentteacher educator, I consider that research on classroom interaction based on an
analysis of the discourse can be very illuminating for two main reasons: First, it may
contribute to gaining a better understanding of what happens inside the EFL classroom
and second, it provides a valuable possibility to examine and describe the language used
by nonnative teachers and students of EFL. Of course there has been research on this
issue. A seminal publication on classroom interaction by Sinclair & Coulthard (1975)
provides a comprehensive review, traced back to the late 1940s, of the considerable
amount of research on the language used by teachers and pupils in classroom practices.
An important contribution on discourse analysis for language teachers was made by
McCarthy (1991) who provided not only a sound theoretical framework and descriptions
based on research but also practical activities which sensitized teachers towards the
language used inside their own classrooms. On the same line, CelceMurcia & Olshtain
(2000) propose a discourse and context based perspective on language teaching and
learning to redefine the roles for teachers, learners and materials. With the exception of
the notable work by Llurda (2005) who explicitly addresses and puts together the
research conducted in different EFL settings such as Catalonia, the Basque Country,
Hungary and Brazil, the language used by nonnative Englishspeaking teachers and
students remains largely unexplored.
The aim of this exploratory study is to investigate classroom interaction in the context of
English as a foreign language being the teacher a nonnative speaker of the language.
One specific aspect of classroom interaction and language use is the focus of my
attention, namely discourse markers. Therefore, the occurrences of discourse markers
will be explored and described both quantitatively and qualitatively with a grounded
approach method in mind. Thus, I did not formulate, and seek to validate, hypotheses
but rather took simple statistical analyses as a starting point for a qualitative analysis of
the functions served by discourse markers in this particular classroom setting.
The research questions guiding this smallscale study are:
• How frequent are discourse markers (DMs) in the EFL classroom discourse sample
under scrutiny here?
• Which DMs occur? How frequently do they occur?
• Which DMs are used by the teacher?
• Which DMs are used by the students?
• What are the prevailing functions of the DMs employed in classroom interaction by the
teacher and by the students?
The next section will present a brief literature review on the main concepts which are
central to this study followed by a description of the characteristics of the participants
and setting, the instruments and procedures for data collection and the analysis of the
data. The article finally closes with a discussion of the results and the conclusions.
Literature Review
According to van Dijk (1997) discourse is a form of language use which includes the
functional aspects of a communicative event. It means that people use language in order
to communicate ideas, beliefs or emotions in social events and situations such as an
encounter with friends or a lesson in the classroom. This also suggests that in these
communicative events, the participants do not limit themselves to using the language or
communicating: they interact. As Douglas (2001) points out, discourse analysis is the
examination of language used by the members of a speech community which involves
looking at both language form and language function. In this study language is viewed as
social interaction that takes place within a classroom community, among adult students
and a nonnative teacher of EFL. As mentioned earlier, one specific aspect of classroom
interaction and language use is the occurrence of discourse markers. This literature
review deals with the two central concerns of this study: discourse markers (DMs) and
studies on the discourse of nonnative EFL teachers.
Discourse Markers: Definition, Characteristics and Functions
In her influential work on discourse markers Schiffrin operationally defines them as
“sequentially dependant elements which bracket units of talk” (1987, p. 31). She
suggests that DMs are used in discourse because they provide “contextual coordinates for
utterances”. That is, they contribute to building the local coherence which is jointly
constructed by speaker and hearer in their discourse structure, context, meaning and
action during interaction. They serve to show how what is being said is connected to what
has already been said, either within a speaker’s turn or across speakers’ turns. In her
research, she focuses on eleven discourse markers: oh, well (particles), and, but, or, so,
because (conjunctions), now, then (time deictics), and you know, I mean (lexicalized
clauses). In the relevant literature, there are studies which deal, whether generally or
specifically, with a wide scope of DMs, however, difficulties arise as there is no agreement
among scholars when they refer to their terminology, classification and functionality 1.
Brinton (1996) points out that DM has been the most common name suggested for
“seemingly empty expressions found in oral discourse”, however, she proposes the term
pragmatic markers, as pragmatic “better captures the range of functions filled by these
items”2. Although Brinton acknowledges the fact that there has been little agreement on
the items that can be called pragmatic markers, she compiles an inventory of thirty three
markers3 that have received scholarly attention and proposes a broad number of
characteristics typical of these words. Those characteristics were later taken up by Jucker
& Ziv (1998) who reordered them to combine features that pertain to the same level of
linguistic description: phonological and lexical, syntactic, semantic, functional and
sociolinguistic features. Some characteristics of DMs, according to Brinton (1996) and
Jucker & Ziv (1998) are:
a. DMs are predominantly a feature of oral rather than of written discourse.
b. They appear with high frequency in oral discourse.
c. They are short and phonologically reduced items.
d. They may occur sentence initially, sentence medially and finally as well.
e. They are considered to have little or no prepositional meaning, or at least to be difficult
to specify lexically.
f. As DMs may occur outside the syntactic structure or loosely attached to it, they have
no clear grammatical function.
g. They seem to be optional rather than obligatory features of discourse. Their absence
“does not render a sentence ungrammatical and/or unintelligible” but does “remove a
powerful clue” (Fraser, 1988, p. 22 as cited by Brinton, 1996, p. 34).
h. They may be multifunctional, operating on the local and global levels simultaneously
though it is difficult to differentiate a pragmatically motivated from a nonpragmatically
motivated use of the form.
The different studies of DMs distinguish several domains where they may be functional, in
which there are included textual, attitudinal, cognitive and interactional parameters.
Accordingly, as stated by Jucker & Ziv (1998) DMs have been analyzed as textstructuring
devices that serve to mark openings or closings of discourse units or transitions between
them. Also, they serve as modality or attitudinal indicators, as markers of speakerhearer
intentions and relationships, and as instructions on how given utterances are to be
processed or interpreted. Thornbury & Slade (2006) argue that DMs and other
interactional signals such as response elicitors (right?, Ok?) and attention signals (hey!)
are crucial to the collaborative organization that takes place in conversation as streams of
talk are segmented into “loose topically coherent” macrostructures:
Topics are broached, commented on, developed, extended, replaced, retrieved… and all
this conversational flux is continuously shaped and negotiated by interactants. Crucial to
this collaborative organizational “work” is the inserting of discourse markers and other
interactional signals into the stream of talk. (Thornbury & Slade, 2006, p. 57)
As Brinton (1996) claims DMs are grammatically optional and semantically empty but
they are not pragmatically optional or superfluous, instead, they serve a variety of
pragmatic functions. She presents an inventory of ten functions which she groups into
two main categories (based on the modes or functions of language identified by Halliday,
1973). First, the textual function which is related to the way the speaker structures
meaning as text, creating cohesive passages of discourse, using language in a way that is
relevant to the context. And second, the interpersonal function which refers to the nature
of the social exchange, that is, the role of the speaker and the role assigned to the
hearer. Table 1 presents my understanding of the inventory of functions devised by
Central for the development of this study is Hellerman & Vergun’s (2007) approach to
DMs as they incorporate pragmatic functions in their definition. As these authors state,
DMs are words or phrases that function within the linguistic system to establish
relationships between topics or grammatical units in discourse, that is words such as so,
well, and then. DMs also serve pragmatic functions, as a speaker uses them to comment
on the state of understanding of the information about to be expressed using phrases
such as you know, I mean. They may also be used to express a change of state, such as
the particle oh; or for subtle commentary by the speaker suggesting that what seems to
be the most relevant context is not appropriate e.g. well. Thus, the DMs are understood
in this paper as lexical items that serve textual, pragmatic and interactional purposes.
And, as Schiffrin (1987) and Brinton (1996) claim, their usage is optional, not obligatory
as DMs could be taken out of an utterance without altering neither its structure nor its
propositional content. Research on DMs has abounded since the 1980s4. Studies include
analyses and descriptions of their use in different languages. DMs have also been
examined in a variety of genres and interactive contexts, and in a number of different
language contact situations as pointed out by Schiffrin (2001), who provides a rich
discussion on the three different perspectives to approach DMs and summarizes recent
studies that have contributed to understanding how DMs work.
Müller (2005) analysed the use of seven DMs in conversations of native and nonnative
speakers of English in Germany and USA.
Regarding the study of DMs in classroom settings, Chaudron & Richards (1986)
investigated the comprehension of university lectures by nonnative speakers of English
living and studying in The United States, that is, in English as a Second Language (ESL)
contexts. Chaudron & Richards (1986) made use of four different versions of the same
text with different categories of discourse markers (baseline, micro, macro, or
micromacro versions). Overall results showed that macromarkers produced better text
recall than micromarkers. It was hypothesized that micromarkers do not provide enough
information to help in making content more salient. Implications for the teaching of
listening skills in ESL settings were discussed as well.
De Fina (1997) analysed the function of the Spanish marker bien in classroom
interaction. She argued that bien has two main functions: a transitional and an evaluative
one. Transitional bien is used to signal upcoming transitions between or within activities,
while evaluative bien is used to signal a positive response by the teacher in the feedback
move of an initiation/ response/feedback cycle. She compared the use of this specific DM
in classroom discourse to its use in conversation and discussed both similarities and
differences of situational variations.
In their aim at determining if consultation of a corpus of classroom discourse can be of
benefit in language teacher education, Amador, O’Riordan & Chambers (2006) examined
the uses of discourse markers in French and Spanish. A quantitative analysis showed the
low number of occurrences of DMs in both a French class and a Spanish class while a
qualitative analysis described the main functions of DMs identified in classroom discourse.
These functions were categorized into five groups considering mainly the role of the
teacher in the classroom: To introduce a new topic or activity; to motivate or encourage
the pupils; to call the pupils’ attention; to recap or clarify what has been said; to
rephrase what has been said.
In a recent research Hellerman & Vergun (2007) investigated the frequency of use and
some functions of three particular discourse markers, well; you know; and like in
classroom interaction and inhome interviews. 17 adult learners of English as a second
language at the beginning level, provided the data of this 5year research project. Their
results suggest that the students who use more discourse markers are those who are
more acculturated to the US and use them outside their classroom. After this overview on
discourse markers, a brief account on research regarding nonnative EFL teachers
discourse will be presented.
NonNative EFL Teachers
To address this issue, it would be perhaps important to refer to what is meant by native
speaker of English. In this study, a native speaker of English would be a person who
speaks only English, or a person who learned another language later in life but still
predominantly uses English as L1.
The teacher participating in this study is a nonnative English speaker as his L1 is Spanish
(as it will be later dealt with in section 3.1). The language used by nonnative teachers in
the EFL classroom has been addressed by relatively few scholars. By applying standard
discourse analysis procedures, Cots & Diaz (2005) studied the nonnative teachers’
classroom performance looking mainly at the construction of social relationships and the
way linguistic knowledge is conveyed.
Their analysis suggested that teacher talk might be a continuum that locates teachers’
discourse somewhere between a discourse of power and a discourse of solidarity and that
gender variables may be more relevant than nativeness in order to understand
interactional styles in the EFL classroom. Frodden, Restrepo, & Maturana (2004)
conducted a research project on foreign language teachers’ discourse and practices with
respect to assessment in two Colombian universities. Their main aim was to contribute to
the improvement of nonnative English teachers’ assessment practices. Pineda (2004)
examined how adult EFL students and nonnative teachers constructed meaning in the
classroom when dealing with critical thinking related tasks, the metacognitive processes
involved, the types of interactions built around the tasks and how they influenced
language competence and critical thinking. Chang (2004) explored the relationships
between five EFL nonnative teachers’ identities and the impact on their teaching practices
in Taiwan. The study proved that the five participants’ knowledge of multiculturalism and
language awareness, their Chinesecentered education, and their educational and personal
experiences were evident in their teaching. As Müller (2005) asserts little is known about
DMs usage by nonnative speakers and, as I see it, even less is known about their usage
by nonnative EFL teachers.
The Participants
The participants in this study are adult male and female students of English as a foreign
language, and one male nonnative EFL teacher. The total number of students in this class
is five. There are two male and three female students. Their ages range from 19 to 22.
They live in Spain but they come from different places: three of them come from
Catalonia, having Catalan and Spanish as their first languages. Another student is from
Italy, his mother tongue is Italian. The other student comes from a LatinAmerican
country and his first language is Spanish. They are in their fourth year English course and
their current proficiency level, according to the classification parameters of the institution
where they currently study, is upperintermediate. They attend EFL classes every
Saturday morning from 10:00 to 13:15 during each academic semester.
The teacher is a 27 yearold man. He is from Colombia and his native language is Spanish.
He has been a nonnative English teacher for seven years, both at school and at university
levels. He holds a Masters Degree from Kent State University, Ohio, in the United States
and he is currently a Doctorate Student in Barcelona. Last year he participated as one of
the speakers in a congress in Manchester University in England. He has been a member
of a research group in Colombia and a research assistant in the USA.
The Setting
The EFL class analysed to develop this study was located at a language center functioning
in the city of Barcelona, Spain. It is a language school with 15 years of experience in
language teaching. They offer reduced groups with a maximum of eight students and a
communicative approach to the language with the purpose of helping their students
achieve a good command of both spoken and written English. Teachers monitor the
students’ progress by means of regular exams, attendance records and pedagogical
advice. There are EFL classes scheduled during week days and also on Saturday
mornings. Every session on Saturday morning lasts three hours.
Instruments and Procedures for Data Collection
The class recorded was the first session after Christmas holidays and the students talked
about what they had done during their holidays. Participants talked about the traditions
to celebrate Christmas in their countries: Spain, Italy and Colombia. After that, they
talked about “worstcase scenarios and ways to prepare for disasters” which is a topic
developed in their textbooks as part of the initial program of the course. This classroom
activity combined reading with speaking practice; that is, with oral interaction.
Two different instruments were used to gather the data. First, I designed a questionnaire
in order to collect background information of the course and to create a profile of the
students. This form, used once with the group of students under scrutiny, was filled in by
the teacher and consisted of two main sections: information regarding the nature of the
course and students, and, a second section in which a brief description of the particular
tasks developed in this class was required. This instrument was really important as it
provided valuable information which contributed to a better understanding of the
interaction that took place in the classroom.
Audiorecordings were also used. As the data were collected in an indoor setting, the type
of recording equipment was selected accordingly. With the consent of the participants, a
light, portable audiorecorder of professional quality was tested before the recording
session and used to record the participants’ oral interaction. Following Calsamiglia &
Tusón’s (1999) suggestions on how to deal with oral data for discourse analysis, the
quality of the recording was verified at the end of the session in order to make sure that
it was intelligible. Once the recording session had been completed, a digital copy was
made and kept for backup. Then, an initial process of transliteration of the audiorecorded
class began. Afterwards, a 25minute fragment of the session was taken as the main focus
of attention in order to develop this paper. The fragment was chosen because it
constituted the most representative and richest section in terms of oral interaction among
the participants. This selected fragment was transcribed using specific transcription
conventions which were very useful in providing the maximum transmission of contextual
information and to ensure accuracy. The audio recording was transcribed directly into a
computer file using the Sound Scriber program created by Breck (1998) at the University
of Michigan, which aides in the transcription of digitized sound files and has several
userconfigurable features. Occasional speech errors made by participants were not
corrected; instead, they were transcribed as they had actually occurred. An instrument
for the transcript was designed including information about the date, site, and key issues
regarding the participants, context and the sample transcription.
Data Analysis
Bearing in mind the research questions posed to develop this smallscale study, I aimed at
quantitatively and qualitatively relevant results. The quantitative side of the analysis was
performed by the use of descriptive statistics. It consisted of simple statistical analyses
such as lexical size and frequency counts in order to show the occurrences and
distribution of discourse markers in the discourse. Taking Brinton’s (1996) inventory of
33 items that can be considered DMs, I developed the quantitative analyses using the
latest version of a computerresearch tool called AntConc, a freeware multipurpose corpus
analysis toolkit designed by Laurence Anthony at Waseda University.
The qualitative analysis consisted of the identification and description of the pragmatic
functions of discourse markers. To complete these tasks, I based my analysis mainly on
the functions proposed by Müller (2005), Brinton (1996) and Schiffrin (1987).
Results and Discussion
Regarding the first research question posed to carry out this exploratory study, I first
analyzed the general lexical size and frequency. As shown in Table 2a, the total number
of words in the sample taken for the development of this paper (of transcribed oral data)
is two thousand one hundred. The most frequent word of this sample is the definite
article the, with 93 occurrences accounting for 4.43% of the data. It was followed by the
nominative pronoun I with 90 occurrences (4.28%). The fourth most frequent word is the
DM and with 74 occurrences (3.52%). This information may be unsurprising. Words such
as the, I, and and are highly frequent in spoken communication. To give an example,
McCarthy & Carter (1997), who used a far bigger sample (330,000 words), identified the,
I, you and and as the four top words used in spoken English. However, a distinction
between content and function words might be relevant. Thus, Table 2a shows the
distribution of content words and function words in this sample of EFL classroom talk.
Most of the highfrequency words are function words which consist of the 66% of the
whole sample, while content words represent 34% and comprising words such as family,
day and have, the first to appear with 19 occurrences each. McCarthy & Carter (1997)
also found that over sixty percent of their data consisted of function words. A closer look
at the data reveals that DMs occur 398 times. These occurrences correspond to 19% of
the total corpus and to 30% of function words as shown in Table 2b.
Concerning the occurrence and frequency of DMs, Brinton’s (1996) inventory of 33 items
was considered as a basis. Using the concordance lines provided by the AntConc
computer program, I analyzed each one of the instances in which DMs occur. Since some
items from Brinton’s inventory may also serve other functions different from their use as
discourse markers, it was relevant to distinguish DMs from those cases. I made a
distinction between nondiscourse marker and marker functions based on the list of
features given in Table 1. The following extracts from my data illustrate that a) some
items function as discourse markers and, therefore, were included as part of the analysis
and b) some cases in which the items were serving as nondiscourse marker functions
were excluded:
Excerpt (1) shows the use of well as a discourse marker: In line 107, the teacher asks S3
a question which is answered in line 112. “Well” has been previously used by the student
to mark his/her response (in line 110). Here, well is used as a response marker by the
student, thus, it was included in the analysis.
b) (2) 50 S2: So. ah: () I don’t remember very well
In this example, well collocates with very and is an adverb. It is not fulfilling any
discourse marker function. Therefore, it was excluded.
Excerpt (3) shows that so is used by the teacher to initiate a new stage in the classroom
discourse and to get the attention of the students. So, here, is therefore working as an
opening frame marker.
In this case, so is qualifying the adjective cheap. It was excluded because it was used as
an adverb of degree or manner.
In this case, if was excluded because it was used as a conditional.
The above excerpts (1)(5) illustrate that the use of lexical items is dependent on the local
context and sequence of talk in classroom interaction. Thus, these are two important
factors to consider when making decisions on what to exclude or include as a discourse
marker in the analysis. Table 3a shows the occurrences and frequencies of DMs in this
study. The most frequent DM (and) occurs 74 times. Among other very frequent DMs we
have uh huh / mhm (44 occurrences), ok and so (23 each), followed by but (19
occurrences). It is interesting to see that some DMs occurred only twice (now, and
stuff/things like that, sort/kind of) or once (actually, just). In addition, some other
markers from Brinton’s inventory did not occur (after all, almost, anyway, basically, go
“say”, if, mind you, moreover, say, therefore, you see).
Based on the characteristics assigned to DMs by scholars such as Schiffrin (1987),
Brinton (1996) and Jucker & Ziv (1998), I identified three more items that served as
discourse markers in this sample taken from classroom interaction. Table 3b shows the
occurrence and frequencies of these three DMs. The most frequent items are um / e with
50 occurrences. Yeah occurs 42 times and eh? only once.
As stated by Thornbury & Slade (2006) and by Schiffrin (2001), DMs often become
combined. In my data, I found combinations such as and then (7 occurrences), ok and (3
occurrences), oh yeah, oh really, mhm and, well but, well um, and well, ok well, yeah
mhm, well now, yes I know, ok so, ah ok, ah yeah, like yeah and so ah.
Summarizing, the occurrences and frequencies of thirty six discourse markers were
analysed as shown in Tables 3a and 3b. The most frequent DM was and with 74
occurrences. Among other very frequent DMs we have um / e (50 occurrences), uh huh /
mhm (44), yeah (42) ok and so (23 each). Few or zero occurrences of about 16 markers
were also accounted for.
Discourse markers were used differently by the participants in this study. In relation to
the third and fourth research questions posed to develop this study, Table 4 shows two
categories in which DMs were classified according to whether they were used by the
nonnative teacher (TT) or the adult EFL students (SS). The total number of DMs used by
the teacher was 244 (61%) while students used them 154 times (39%).
The fact that students used 39% of the total DMs may confirm De Fina’s (1997, p. 337)
concern on the “dominant role of the teacher in the classroom”. However, these results
contradict those obtained by Amador, O’Riordan & Chambers (2006, pp. 9091), who
found that pupils “use hardly any discourse marker” (3%) being the teachers the ones
who used 97% of the DMs identified in classroom interaction. Regarding the use of DMs
by the teacher, this study shows that this nonnative teacher uses a great deal of DMs
once, and some DMs are repeatedly used, as shown in Table 4. In contrast, Amador,
O’Riordan & Chambers (2006) found that “the four native speaker teachers use a
relatively limited number of DMs (9, 4, 10, 8)”. The total number of DMs used by the
teachers in Amador, O’Riordan & Chambers’ study came to 253, accounting for 97% of
the total (ibid.). Though this raw number (253) is very close to the occurrences identified
in the discourse of the nonnative teacher participating in this smallscale research (244), it
instead accounts for 61% of the total. This may suggest that the nonnative teacher’s role
might not be as “dominant”, in De Fina’s words, and thus may allow a slightly more space
for students to participate in classroom interaction.
However, differences in the quantity of DMs used by native and nonnative teachers and
students in classroom interaction may be related to a variety of factors and
methodological issues. In Amador, O’Riordan & Chambers’ study, the classes recorded
were “intended simply as examples of classroom interaction” (2006, p. 86), but no clear
details were given on the kind of tasks or activities developed while recording. In
contrast, as explained in section 4.3, the particular sample analysed to develop this paper
consisted of 25 minutes in which students were asked to talk about a recent experience.
Although this activity was proposed and guided by the teacher, it was mainly
studentcentered and pupils were free to participate, intervene and express themselves
using the target language. This issue may explain the high number of times in which
students use DMs like and, um/e, yeah, mhm, no and well as shown in Table 4.
After having looked at the occurrences, frequencies and distribution of DMs, I decided the
following section of this paper would address the last question related to the general
functions of DMs in classroom interaction. In order to identify and describe their main
functions, I analyzed each discourse marker in its context of use; that is, I considered
both the local context and the sequence of talk in which they occurred during classroom
interaction. The initial twenty two lines of the whole transcript are included in Table 5 in
order to illustrate the qualitative analysis that was performed on the entire dataset. As is
shown in Table 5, a variety of DMs are present to aid the speakers in the construction of
their discourse and meaningmaking during classroom interaction. The functions I
identified are both textual and interpersonal.
The textual functions of markers are more related to the construction of discourse
coherence. For instance, so, in line one is used by the teacher in order to initiate his
discourse. So is also used by the teacher in cases 4 and 8 as a result marker and with the
purpose of emphasizing and structuring his discourse coherently. He also uses a couple of
fillers such as um to fill a momentary hesitation probably occasioned by “the demands of
realtime processing pressure” (Thornbury & Slade, 2006, p. 56). In line seven, the
teacher uses and then to signal continuity and to mark the temporal connection and
sequential dependence on the discourse. Student 1, in line 10, takes the turn and
volunteers to interact by using the DM yeah. The teacher assigns the turn using the DM
ok. S1 uses the filler um, in lines 12 and 20, as a delaying tactic to fill a momentary
hesitation, to sustain discourse and to hold the floor. Most of the uses of the DM and in
this extract are related to its textual function of showing continuity and adding new
information (cases 17, 21 and 27). However, and, in case 25, is used by the student not
only to mark continuity and thematic connection but also as a turn keeper showing that
even though she has been interrupted, she still holds the floor. The use of because in line
16, as a marker of cause, not only has the textual function of introducing new
information (exams at the university) but also provides an explanation or reason
connected to the previous information (“I tried to study”) which, as I see it, contributes
to the coherence of the discourse as it expresses the relation of relevance between the
preceding utterance and the context. Case 30 in line 22 shows the way the student
indicates the end of her turn. However, she uses the lexical phrase “that’s all” which is
not considered a DM by any of the scholars previously referred to. Another example that
illustrates this issue is observable in the following excerpt:
(6) 127 TT: Yyou (bis) went to VISIT your family.
128 S3: si.(.) yes. to visit ↓yes. ↓and no more.
129 TT: uh. ↓cool. and what about you Ester?
130 S4: e: well I: I sleep a lot.
Student 3 closes her turn using the expression “and no more” as shown in line 128 of the
transcription. The student’s indication of the end of her turn makes the teacher assign a
new one (line 129) to student 4 who uses the discourse marker well preceded by a filler
as a turn taking signal. The analysis of the data showed that relinquishing the floor is
sometimes unmarked; that is, sometimes students do not use any DMs to indicate a close
but instead, it is the teacher who closes their turn by using DMs such as ok or well.
The interpersonal functions of DMs are precisely more related to the reactions, responses
and relations built by the participants during interaction, that is, to the role of the
speaker and hearer during the social and communicative exchange. Interpersonal
functions of DMs are revealed in the following examples as shown in the excerpt in Table
5: In line 2, the teacher uses right, and also ok (in lines 3 and 9), both with rising
intonation, in order to check understanding and seek the students’ agreement on his
proposed activity. Student 1 responds in line 8 using ok to express understanding and
agreement. It is interesting to see that the teacher uses mhm (cases 15, 16, 18 and 22)
as a backchannel signal, thus, providing permanent feedback to student 1 “signaling that
the message has been understood and confirming that communication is on course”
(Thornbury & Slade, 2006, p. 58) while S1 continues to hold the floor. Cases 23 and 24,
yeah and ah, are examples of DMs used by the interactants as response markers. As I
see it, the teacher uses ah also to confirm his previous assumption which had been
expressed as a question in line 17 (at the university?). The combination of two DMs as in
case 28, oh yeah, is used by the teacher as a reaction marker which also has the
interpersonal function of conveying agreement. He agrees with the student about the
common act of eating a lot during Christmas.
The following excerpts (7), (8) and (9) taken from the data further illustrate the textual
and interpersonal functions of DMs in the interaction of this EFL class:
(7) 38 TT: Try to: remember, you said you forgot but=
39 S2: …………………….=it wwas u:m
molto good
40 TT: []
41 S2: because I: traveled to my island, u:m the twenty two of December, and then
42 I come back the e: the 26th [so, it was
43 TT: ………………………….[You went to] to your what? e:
44 S2: [eh?]
45 TT: to your ISLAND?
46 S2: yeah. I’m from (.) e: Sardegna
47 TT: ↑Oh really? [Oh] I thought you were from (bis) the main land, from Italy=
48 S2: ………………………..[yeah]=No, no (bis). I stayed in my island, it is in the
49 TT: yeah, I know
Excerpt (7) shows that participants use DMs such as um (lines 39, 41) and e (lines 42,
43, 46) as pause fillers to indicate they keep holding the floor. In lines 41 and 42, the
student uses three DMs that aid in the construction of his discourse: because indicates
the inclusion of new information; and then marks temporal connection and so is used as
a sequential marker. In line 44 the DM eh? fulfills an interpersonal function: it is used by
the student to express a reaction to the preceding question of the teacher, signaling his
lack of understanding and his need to listen to the question again. The teacher also uses
reaction markers in line 47: Oh really, with upward intonation, is both expressing a
response (of surprise) and requesting confirmation from the student. In lines 46 and 48
the student uses yeah as a response and confirmation marker of the ongoing discourse.
The DM oh used by the teacher in line 47 as a reaction to the confirmed information
overlaps with the students’ response marker yeah.
Excerpt (8) is preceded by a communicative event in which student four is mainly
narrating what she did during Christmas and on her birthday at the beginning of January.
S4 is interrupted by S2 who says that his birthday was also at the beginning of January.
In line 148, student 2 tells the participants that his mom’s birthday was on the same day:
(8) 148 S2: ((like my mother)) the same day.
149 S4: ↑u:h nice. a:nd
150 TT: and MY birthday was the 13th (.) =of January=
151 S1: …………….when?=………..=↑u:h
152 S2: congratulations!
153 SS:
154 TT: ↓OK
155 S4: a:nd I invited my friends to: to lunch (.) no (.) to dinner.
156 TT: To have dinner, mhm.
In line 149 student four responds with the DM uh and, in her attempt to regain her turn,
she uses the DM and to signal her willingness to continue with her narration. As shown by
the transcription conventions, S4 is interrupted by the teacher who takes the floor also
using the DM and. Student 1 shows his response to the ongoing discourse about
birthdays by using the reaction marker uh in line 151. After some natural laughing, the
teacher uses the DM OK, in line 154, as an explicit turn giver which aids student four in
acquiring the floor. The DM and in line 155 signals that S4 still holds the floor even if she
has been interrupted (turn taker and turn keeper) and it also shows continuity, thematic
connection and the addition of new information. Finally, in line 156, the teacher uses the
DM mhm after providing some corrective feedback to the student.
This DM was used many times by the teacher as a backchannel signal. Moreover, mhm
was also used by students, as illustrated by the following example:
(9) 175 TT: What about you (.) Carlos?
176 S5: Well, the same of mmy partners here [ I (bis) ate a lot,
177 S1: ………….[mhm ]
178 S5: and I worked [also On the kings’s day [I ↓worked until six or seven[
179 TT: …………….[mhm]………….. [mhm]……..[mhm]
In line 177, student one interacts with student 5 by using mhm as an agreement marker
while the teacher uses mhm to provide permanent feedback and as a confirmation
marker that the communication is on course.
As the analyses reveal, discourse markers fulfill a number of textual and interpersonal
functions which contribute greatly to the coherent and pragmatic flow of the discourse
generated in classroom interaction. The above described functions of markers such as so,
because, and, ok and yeah are examples of “their apparent multifunctionality” (Schiffrin,
1987, p. 64). As previously shown, DMs may be used simultaneously in several different
ways. Research has revealed, as Müller (2005) argues, that generally the discourse
markers studied by scholars fulfill more than one function or at least have subfunctions
as is the case here. I do agree with Schiffrin on her assertion that DMs are
contextdependant so that they “can gain their function through discourse” (2001, p. 60).
These and other examples from the data illustrate how DMs function. Table 6 summarizes
the functions of DMs used by participants in this specific class sample. Again, it is clear
that they can be multifunctional and that they serve both textual and interpersonal
Nevertheless, it is important to point out that sometimes it was difficult to classify the
function of the DM. For instance, the case of the DM like, which was used mainly by the
teacher, fulfilled three main functions which coincided with those previously identified by
Müller (2005): to introduce an example (6), to search for the appropriate expression (7),
and, also, to mark an appropriate number or quantity (8).
(10) 70 …special dates, the holidays like the: 24th (.) 25th
(11) 242 …that is a very (.) like (.) the most important DAY of the holidays in Colombia,
(12) 253 and then I spent, a month, less than a month, like yeah twenty some days um
As regards the distinct functional uses of discourse markers, it was observable that both
the students and the teacher made use of these items to fulfill textual and interpersonal
functions in the EFL classroom. Generally, students mainly used DM to serve textual
functions. Specially, they made great use of pause fillers and turn keepers (e.g. um, and,
e) and of the DM and to signal new information and continuity. In relation to
interpersonal functions, cooperation and agreement markers were the most commonly
used by the students (e.g. yeah). Textual functions of DMs were highly used by the
teacher as well. In the construction and organization of classroom discourse, the teacher
used the DM and to indicate sequences, continuity and new information. OK was often
used as an opening and closing frame marker and it was very useful in the organization
and assignment of turns during interaction. The teacher also used a variety of DMs that
fulfill interpersonal functions such as backchannel signals, checking understanding
markers, response and reaction markers and confirmation markers. On the whole, the
prevailing uses of the discourse markers identified and analyzed in this smallscale study
fulfill textual functions that aid the participants in structuring the classroom discourse
Finally, there was another element present in classroom interaction worth mentioning:
laughter. Even though it is not considered a DM, it has attracted my attention; first,
because it is very frequent; it appears 32 times and also, because it is used both by the
nonnative teacher and the five adult EFL students. In agreement with Coates (1997), I
consider that laughter was used by the participants to signal their constant presence, a
way to say “we are here, we are participating”. Laughter also occurred to signal
amusement and surprise, but as I see it, one of the most important functions of laughter
in classroom interaction may be to release tension and to create a relaxed, comfortable
atmosphere in which everyone is welcome to participate. That is, the joint creation of a
relaxed setting where the main goal is not only the exchange of information but the
construction and maintenance of good social relations.
DMs have been widely studied by researchers even if discussions on terminology and
definable issues are still unresolved. However, there seems to be general agreement on
the fact that the production of coherent discourse is an interactive process that requires
speakers to draw upon communicative knowledge and pragmatic resources. The fact that
most of the studies on DMs have focused their attention on native (or bilingual) speakers
of English who acquire this pragmatic competence in their childhood might be an
indicator of the need to further explore and systematically investigate the language used
by nonnative English teachers.
One of my goals with this exploratory study was to describe the occurrences and
frequencies of DMs in EFL classroom interaction with the teacher being a nonnative
speaker of the language. Results showed that DMs occurred 398 times, which
corresponds to the 19% of the total sample of recorded and analyzed classroom data. It
was also found that most DMs were used by the nonnative teacher (61%) while students’
use of DMs accounted for 39%. It was also observed that and was the DM most
frequently used by both the teacher and the students and that some DMs such as say,
therefore, you see or anyway were never used.
I also aimed at providing an account for the main functions of DMs in classroom
interaction. In general, DMs were used by the nonnative teacher and the five adult
students of English as a foreign language to serve structural, pragmatic and interactional
purposes. As I see it, and in agreement with Müller (2005), DMs contribute to the
pragmatic meaning of utterances and thus play an important role in the pragmatic
competence of the speaker. As Schiffrin (2001) explains, DMs tell us not only about the
linguistic properties (semantic and pragmatic meanings and functions) and the
organization of social interactions, but also about the cognitive, expressive, social and
textual competence of those who use them.
This smallscale study showed that DMs were effectively used by the nonnative teacher to
organize his discourse in the classroom and to fulfill interpersonal, pragmatic functions as
well. These findings might be useful to nonnative EFL teachers and practitioners. On the
one hand, increased awareness on the textual functions of DMs could facilitate the
structuring and organization of the practitioners’ lesson as they work as signals of the
main segments (e.g. frame markers) and perform a number of organizational functions
such as floor management (e.g. turn takers and turn givers). On the other hand,
teachers might find the pragmatic uses of DMs useful since they help to establish more
interpersonal relationships in the classroom and may help to create a more inviting
atmosphere for active participation.
Even though the adult EFL students from this smallscale study used less that 40% of the
total DMs, they in fact used them with several textual and interpersonal purposes as
previously discussed in the analysis. However, this might be an indication of the need to
conduct further research in order to make informed decisions about the implicit or explicit
teaching of DMs in the EFL classroom. Studies along this line might be an important
contribution to the development of the pragmatic competence of the learners.
Though this exploratory study may not allow for generalizations on the discourse
particularities of the nonnative speaker community, it might serve as an awareness raiser
for the need to consider further research along the line of nonnative speakers of the
language and mainly on EFL classroom interaction. It is true, as Llurda (2004) points out,
that the transformation of English as an international language has brought with it many
changes to the teaching profession which should not be overlooked. Further research on
the differences and similarities between native and nonnative teachers’ discourse might
help us identify and characterize those changes Llurda refers to. More specifically,
research on DMs and classrooom interaction may be illuminating, first, because the
functions and contexts of DMs are so broad and are part of the basic tools through which
discourse can be understood and, second, because this kind of research agenda may
throw light on the multifaceted reality in which the English language is used both by
nonnative teachers and learners.
For a comprehensive review on a whole range of terms, definitions, features and
functions assigned to discourse markers by different scholars see Brinton, 1996; Jucker &
Ziv, 1998; González, 2004; Müller, 2005.
Brinton (1996, pp. 3031) presents a detailed examination of the various definitions
given to DMs in relation to the different functions identified as central and therefore
assigned to DMs by different scholars.
The complete list will be shown later on (Table 3a) as it served as the basis for the
quantitative data analysis of the present study.
For a summary of the most significant research see Schiffrin (2001, pp. 5467) who
addresses the most remarkable authors and their focuses on research regarding DMs.
Amador, C., O’Riordan, S., & Chambers, A. (2006). Integrating a corpus of classroom
discourse in language teacher education: The case of discourse markers. ReCALL, 18(1),
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Teachers: Perceptions, Challenges and Contributions to the Profession (pp. 85106). New
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Coates, J. (1997). The construction of a collaborative floor in women’s friendly talk. In T.
Givón (Ed.), Conversation: Cognitive, communicative and social perspectives (pp. 5590).
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
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used in foreign language teaching. Íkala, Revista de Lenguaje y Cultura, 9(15),
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Hellerman, J., & Vergun, A. (2007). Language which is not taught: The discourse marker
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Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
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Llurda, E. (2004). Nonnativespeaker teachers and English as an International Language.
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McCarthy. (Eds.), Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy (pp. 2039).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Müller, S. (2005). Discourse markers in native and non native English discourse.
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All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is
licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Ciudad Universitaria
Departamento de Lenguas Extranjeras.
speaker will tend to use fillers differently than non-native speakers. Language proficiency can be
Title: Difference in Filler Word Usage Between Native and Non-Native English Speakers in
demonstrated by how well a speaker is able to express his ideas and explain certain things, and
Spoken Conversation
use of fillers aids this process. Hence, the way that a speaker uses fillers can also show how well
Purpose: The purpose of this research is to distinguish the differences in filler word usage
a speaker is able to convey themselves.
Methodology: This experiment will use interviews for both native and non-native speakers, with
between non-native and native English speakers and to then analyze the meanings that these
differences have in demonstrating varying levels of language proficiency. Different fillers have
the same structure and questions for both. The type and frequency of each kind of filler word
different purposes in language use and the usages of these different filler words can demonstrate
would be observed, as well as the differences between filler word usage between the native and
varying levels of proficiency in the language in which it is being used.
non-native speakers.
Background: Filler words, or discourse particles, are used quite commonly in spoken language,
for both native and non-native speakers. They allow the speaker to pause to form their thoughts,
Problems: Some possible limitations of this research include personal differences in usage of
language and language proficiency within the native and non-native groups of speakers. These
differences would be difficult to account for. Another possible limitation might be differences
while at the same time preserving their position in the conversation. “Um” and “uh” serve no
other purpose other than to fill silent pauses while the speaker is thinking. “You know” might be
caused due to the context or environment that the speaker is in, rather than language proficiency
used when the speaker is asking the listener to make inferences about the conversation or to
differences. However, previous research indicates that individuals tend to use fillers in formal as
confirm that the listener understands the conversation. “Well” and “like” are usually considered
well as informal settings, so the implications of this limitation may not be too severe.
to be a more meaningful way to fill pauses than “um” or “uh”. There are differences in the ways
Čermáková, K., Rotschedl J. (2014, July 8) Teaching English Filler Words And Students’ Usage
of Them: A Study Conducted at Osmangazi University Preparation School. International
that native speakers use filler words compared to non-native speakers, and these differences can
reflect the varying levels of proficiency in that specific language, as well as the way that the non-
native speaker has progressed in learning that language. It is possible that since non-native
speakers are not as competent in the language as native speakers that they tend to use fillers that
Institute of Social and Economic Sciences (USES)
allow them time to think and form thoughts, rather than fillers that reinforce different aspects of
the conversation.
Significance: Fillers are quite an important part of conversation discourse, and it can therefore
demonstrate varying levels of language proficiency among non-native speakers, since a native

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