Disfluencies Signal Theee, Um, New Information

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, Volume 32, Number 1, p.25-36 (2003)




disfluency, information status, language processing, reference comprehension


Speakers are often disfluent, for example, saying "theee uh candle" instead of "the candle." Production data show that disfluencies occur more often during references to things that are discourse-new, rather than given. An eyetracking experiment shows that this correlation between disfluency and discourse status affects speech comprehension. Subjects viewed scenes containing four objects, including two cohort competitors (e.g., camel, candle), and followed spoken instructions to move the objects. The first instruction established one cohort as discourse-given; the other was discourse-new. The second instruction was either fluent or disfluent, and referred to either the given or new cohort. Fluent instructions led to more initial fixations on the given cohort object (replicating Dahan et al., 2002). By contrast, disfluent instructions resulted in more fixations on the new cohort. This shows that discourse-new information can be accessible under some circumstances. More generally, it suggests that disfluency affects core language comprehension processes.