A few days ago ("Fillers: Autism, gender, and age" 7/30/2014), I noted an apparent similarity between male/female differences in UM/UH usage, and an autistic/typical difference reported in a poster by Gorman et al. at the IMFAR 2014 conference.
This morning I thought I'd take a closer look at the patterns in a large published conversational-speech dataset. Executive summary:
- There is a large sex difference in filled-pause usage, favoring males by about 38%
- There is an enormous sex difference in UM/UH ratio, favoring females by about 310%
- These sex differences are mainly driven by the difference in UH usage, which favors males by about 250%
- Older speakers use UH more and UM less, resulting in a large decrease of UM/UH ratios
The general pattern of gendered filled-pause usage in English has been at least partly replicated in several other datasets, including the spoken part of the British National Corpus, but the details are sometimes quite different. (See my earlier post, and planned future posts, for some discussion.) But all the important questions remain open, for example:
- Are the sex effects due to functional, iconic, or physiological differences between UM and UH, or are they arbitrary gender markers?
- Do the age effects reflect a change in progress, or a life-cycle effect (e.g. due to changes in sex hormone levels)?
- Are the patterns the same or different across geographical, socio-economic, and ethnic varieties of English?
- Are there analogous phenomena in other languages?