C H I L D E S What are 'Fillers'?

As children move from the 'one-word' to the 'two-word' stage, some of them incorporate unglossable syllables into their utterances, e.g.

Such syllables have  been called 'placeholders' (Bloom 1970) , 'presyntactic devices' (Dore, Franklin, Miller & Ramer 1976); 'fillers' (Peters 1977), or 'phonological extensions' (Macken 1979; Peters 1986).

Reasons fillers have not been integrated into theories of language acquisition:

  1. They do not fit neatly into linguists' notions about 'modules' of language because they straddle preconceived boundaries, such as those between phonology and morphosyntax, and between pragmatics and lexicon.
  2. The perceptual characteristics of languages that seem to lead to filler production are closely tied to prosody, particularly rhythm and melody, and this is the aspect of language for which we have had the least adequate descriptive and analytical tools.
  3. They do not appear uniformly: although they have been observed in a wide array of languages, a 'filler strategy' may be more common among learners of some languages than others, and even when language is held constant, children vary immensely as to whether they actually produce fillers.
  4. Different children may use fillers at different stages of language development.
  5. They constitute a moving target, in that their characteristics change with the stage of language acquisition that is being passed through.

Goals of this page:

  • to exemplify fillers, including the major types that have been observed and the major functions for which learners seem to use them;
  • to suggest criteria for identifying them.

Characteristics of fillers at different stages

Examples with AUDIO for Premorphology

Examples with AUDIO for Protomorphology

Some references  


Ann Peters's homepage

Brian MacWhinney's homepage