Soap Vox Lecture | Wed 30 January | Robin Lickley

at 18:00 in Appleton Tower

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Dr. Lickley is a Reader in Speech and Hearing Sciences at the School of Health Sciences at Queen Margaret University. He is interested both in the production processes behind disfluencies and in the effects that they have on the listener, his URL is:

Fluency and Disfluency

Abstract:  Linguistics has traditionally been most concerned with describing the regularities that can be found in language. The focus has been on linguistic competence, rather than performance. With this view of language, there is little need for a concept of ‘fluency’: If the rules work, the output will be fluent by default. Yet, when linguistic performance is the focus of study, it seems very difficult for researchers to specify and agree upon a clear definition of ‘fluency’.

In everyday speech, fluency breaks down, with great regularity. Hesitations in a number of different forms, repetitions, error-repair sequences and other interruptions cause breaks in fluency with great regularity. Whatever the word means, everyday speech is rarely ‘fluent’ for long.

When people learn a new language, fluency in that language may become their ultimate goal. Yet the definition of ‘fluency’ in the second language learning world is not universally agreed.

In clinical areas of speech and language pathology, fluency can break down in several different ways, as a result of stroke, or in verbal dyspraxia or so- called ‘disorders of fluency’ (stuttering and cluttering). The fact that terms like ‘fluent aphasia’ and ‘disorders of fluency’ are commonly used, might suggest that clinicians have a clear view of what ‘fluency’ is. They don’t.

When fluency breaks down, a variety of terms are in use to describe the resulting speech; hesitation, pausing, non-fluency, dysfluency and disfluency to name but a few. In research on problems in typical speech, the term ‘disfluency’ is increasingly used and abused. But it is not universally accepted and has no universally-agreed meaning. In second language learning, ‘non-fluency’ may be preferred to ‘disfluency’. In speech pathology, ‘disfluency’ is often replaced by ‘dysfluency’.

In this talk, I discuss some of the ways that the word ‘fluency’ and its negative forms are used abused and confused in all of these fields.
I ask what’s happening in the speech production mechanism when fluency breaks down. And I discuss why typical disfluency could be a learning goal for language learners and a therapy goal in clinical cases.


Entry is £1 and FREE to active members. Membership can be purchased on our EUSA profile ( or otherwise at that night.

The talk will start at 6:00 p.m. and last about 1 hour. It will be followed by a Q&A session (about half an hour). We will then go to a pub for food and drink with the speaker.

Our talks are public lectures open to all, regardless of whether you are a student or not or what or where you study if a student. We aim for all of our events to be accessible to all; please feel free to contact us beforehand if you require assistance or further information.

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