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When someone is telling you a very long and detailed story he usually wants to hear some "confirmations" (or response) that you are listening to his story. In Russian we often use something like "tak" (which has a meaning of "ok" and "well, proceed further"), "a-ha" or "uh-huh".

What word serves the same purpose in English and American English?

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A lot of the time you'll hear people saying things like "ok", "uh-huh", "a-ha", etc.... :-) –  Hellion Feb 21 '13 at 15:07
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You may care to have a look at The Reticence of Lady Anne. –  Brian Hooper Feb 21 '13 at 15:19
    
Japanese too has a special word for these: aizuchi. I think in English they would fall under the more general category of phatic expressions. –  Robusto Feb 21 '13 at 16:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The use of such verbal and non-verbal markers has a name (backchannelling), and has been the subject of studies ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backchannel_(linguistics) ).

They form a subset of discourse (better, pragmatic) markers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discourse_marker ), obviously of the 'oiling the wheels of discourse' variety - though they grade into replies containing semantic feedback ('I see!' 'Never!').

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+1 I was sure there was a term for this, but couldn't find it by surfing Wikipedia -- thanks for this answer! –  JAM Feb 21 '13 at 17:49

There are many words and noises that English speakers make to indicate that they're still listening. Yes, ya, uh-huh, m-hm, right, OK. Also nods and eye contact.

Edit.

This subject is discussed a little more here. Look especially at:

  • Use encouraging words to show you are listening.
    • "Mmm, hmm"
    • "I see."
    • "Right."
    • "Uh, huh."
  • Use nonverbal actions to show you are listening.
    • relaxed posture
    • head-nodding
    • facial expression
    • relaxed body expression
    • eye contact
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Thanks for your answer! What is the most common of them? –  ezpresso Feb 21 '13 at 15:08
    
I would say that OK is probably the least common. If the story is going on and on, the listener probably wants to use a few vocalizations so that it doesn't get too monotonous. Yes and uh-huh are probably the most common, but I'm just basing that on my experience, not any formal research. –  JAM Feb 21 '13 at 15:11
    
Though the eye contact and occasional nod convey interest more strongly than any of the verbal interjections. One can say "uh-huh" while being completely preoccupied with some other task. –  dj18 Feb 21 '13 at 15:34
    
For a really animated story, "really?" and "wow!" are also more energetic fillers that match the enthusiasm of the speaker. :-) –  Kristina Lopez Feb 21 '13 at 15:44

If you're looking to use this information in practical speech, then yeah and OK coupled with genuine and positive (but not over the top) body language is your best bet.

I think this, although simple and obvious, is certainly the most commonly used in informal conversation in Britain and equivalent to your talk example.

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