Speech Features

Utterance: a segment of speech, or a turn.  We don’t talk about ‘sentences’ in speech, since we often speak in units which are not grammatically sentences.

Pauses & micropauses: pauses are measured in seconds; a micropauses is less than a second.  Be careful about saying these show hesitancy – with no pauses, we’d never understand each other (or breathe!)

Fillers: words used to fill a gap.  Non-verbal fillers or voice-filled pauses are noises (like er) used to fill a gap.  They don’t have semantic meaning, but can sometimes tell us something about the speaker’s attitude or status.

Hedges: words used to soften (or play down) what’s being said (e.g. Kinda)

Discourse markers: words or phrases used to signal a shift in topic (e.g. anyway)

Adjacency pair: a pair of utterances spoken by different people which have a natural relationship (e.g. question/answer, greeting/greeting)

Three-part exchange: a pattern of ABA speech between two people with a natural relationship (e.g. question/answer/feedback)

Interruption: an utterance at the same time as someone else is speaking, with the intention of stealing the turn or changing the topic,  A competitive move

Overlap: an utterance at the same time as someone else is speaking but without breaking their speech (e.g. mistiming the start of a turn or providing support)

Support/backchannel: utterances which encourage the speaker to keep talking by indicating listening or interest (e.g. Really)

Monitoring device: word or phrase used to elicit feedback or to check people are listening (e.g. y’know)

Tag/tail: extra word/phrase at the end of a turn, sometimes repeating information already established (e.g. I really like her, Sophie – where “her” = Sophie)

Tag question: extra question tagged after a declarative statement where the verb is the same or a dummy auxiliary (e.g. He likes that, doesn’t he – note the polarity swaps as well, so a positive statement has a negative tag and vice versa)


Don’t forget to use terms from other frameworks too – grammatical terms will gain you marks in speech analysis as well.