What is Automatic Speech?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Also known as embolalia, automatic speech is the verbalization of different words or phrases that occur without the conscious effort of the individual. This type of speech component often serves as verbal filler during the middle of a presentation or conversation. In many cases, these fillers indicate to listeners that the speaker is not yet finished, and more will be shortly forthcoming. However, the speech can sometimes be present due to other factors and not really indicate that more comments are on the way.


There are several different types of automatic speech. One type is relatively universal, often transcending differences in language and to some degree culture. Simple fillers like “uhm,” “uh,” or “er” are used by many different people in many different settings. For the most part, these types of fillers are considered innocuous, and are often overlooked by listeners, as long as they are not utilized so often that they overshadow the remainder of the conversation.

Other forms of automatic speech are ingrained within specific cultures, and in fact are sometimes considered an identifying characteristic of people who share a particular religion, or live in a specific geographical region. Along with accents, automatic speech of this type is sometimes considered colorful and somewhat entertaining. Writers often make use of this type of speech to give the characters in their writings additional personality, helping to make them unique.

However, not all forms of automatic speech are considered appropriate or harmless. There are examples that lean more toward the offensive. One example would be the use of anything considered to be profanity within a given culture.

In this form, the speech is usually the insertion of swear words within the sentence structure used to convey various ideas. At times, this use of automatic speech comes about due to the individual being greatly distressed or angry. However, there are situations where swear words are inserted unconsciously even if the individual is extremely happy. When the use of swear words is called to the attention of the individual, he or she may not even have been aware of the usage.

While automatic speech can serve as a useful cue that more is to come, some people do develop an unconscious dependence on these filler words. When this is the case, taking steps to become aware of the usage and make a conscious effort to avoid them is in order. Speech coaches can often help an individual reprogram their command of the language to eliminate excessive use of automatic speech, often by training the person how to make more efficient use of other verbal strategies. As the individual gains confidence and is less apt to have a need for filler words, the predilection toward automatic speech often fades.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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