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The Universal “Huh?”

October 9, 2015

Regardless of culture and language, conversations have a lot in common.



Conversation science. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Conversation is more than a series of sentences. There are “ums,” “ers,” “uh-huhs” and “huh?” University of Sydney linguist Nick Enfield finds that these conversation interruptions are similar all over the world. For example, in the journal PLOS ONE, he reports that when people chat, the li stener interrupts the speaker with “Huh?” or otherwise asks for more information about every ninety seconds.

NICK ENFIELD (University of Sydney):

Some people tend to feel that in one culture or another culture, people would be much less likely to do this kind of an interruption or request to kind of back up and fix something, but we find that that’s not the case, that people really need to maintain the sort of common understanding that’s crucial for interaction to flow in a positive way.


Instead of language differences, Enfield focuses on commonalities that reveal how humans succeed as an intensely social species. Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.