I hope this isn't obvious (although maybe it's better if it is)! I'm working with an interview transcript and I have a participant who says 'Hmmm?' in a way that I want to discuss. Unfortunately, I don't know how to refer to it. Here's an example of what he's saying (note, he's a non-native speaker):

  • Interviewer: Did you help them yourself?
  • Participant: Hmmmm?
  • I: Did you personally help them, or was it..
  • P: Oh yes, I...

And so on. I don't think it's a vocalized pause or a filler word, since he's not speaking at length, just prompting the interviewer to provide clarification. Does this type of sound/question have a name, or am I completely off track?

  • Interjection, or perhaps, hesitation device. – NVZ May 20 '16 at 16:58

I would consider it to be an interjection. — M-W

a word or cry (as “ouch”) expressing sudden or strong feeling

"a chorus of angry interjections greeted the announcement that our flight would be delayed"

Word: mmm, hmm, mhm, uhhu.. etc.
Translation: Yes
Example: "Do you think so too?" "Mhm"
Meaning: Agreement, acknowledgement

See more interjections in this link: "Dictionary of interjections"

  • Given that a gentle prompt for clarification doesn't seem to characterise a 'sudden or strong feeling', why do you still feel it is an interjection? I don't know any recognised term for it, but it's a sound I think of as a vocalised question mark, so might call it a 'questioning sound'. – Spagirl May 21 '16 at 7:40
  • @Spagirl By "sudden" I think it means an instant response without actual words. So the "mmmh?" here is an interjection with a possible meaning "sorry, what?" – NVZ May 21 '16 at 10:37
  • Collins gives 'Interjection' as 'a syntactically independent word or phrase of an exclamatory nature usually expressing strong or sudden emotion'. Your merriam webster definition includes 'words' as interjections. So if interjections don't need to be 'wordless' and a gentle prompt is hardly a sudden or strong emotion or feeling... in what sense is it an interjection? Genuinely curious as I was taught that interjections were typically brief, abrupt utterances such as might require an exclamation mark and I can't find a definition which seems to fit the example at hand. – Spagirl May 21 '16 at 10:57
  • on the other hand, I see Collins also gives 'hmm' as an interjection when the meaning is 'expressing doubt or reluctance to agree', it isn't the same meaning as I would give to 'hmm?' which is more 'please explain?', but perhaps it still covers it. Interesting to think about anyway. – Spagirl May 21 '16 at 11:09
  • 1
    @Spagirl Haha. Let's see if anyone posts a different answer. – NVZ May 21 '16 at 12:26

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