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B. The, ah, Truth About Natural Speech Patterns

Narrator: This is Science Today. Using ums, likes and you knows in conversation has long been looked down upon by our parents and teachers. But psycholinguist Jean Fox Tree of the University of California, Santa Cruz discovered these common, natural speech patterns actually help listeners understand speech.

Fox Tree: In our case, we studied >oh'. We looked at >oh' as it was used in repairs, so when somebody's trying to say something and then they said oh, and then they said something else. And then we measured how listeners were able to understand the speech as they were hearing it and we found that when they had the >oh' there, they understood the speech better.

Narrator: Fox Tree says keeping ums, likes, ohs and ahs in speech will also help improve voice recognition technology.

Fox Tree: These kinds of things screw those machines up because they're not built to handle these kinds of elements in naturalistic dialogue, ums and ahs and wells and I means and you knows and these kinds of things, so if you know how they're used, then you can program your machine to use them in that way as well or to know that oh, here's an >oh', something else is going to come up.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.