Friday, August 30, 2013

Kazakh Constitution Day: The Languages Of Kazakhstan

Today marks Kazakh Constitution Day, just as yesterday marked the Slovak National Uprising. In honour of this Kazakh national holiday, we'll be honouring the country with a look at the languages spoken there. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan isn't a massively well-known country in the West and the majority of westerners' knowledge is made up from fallacies portrayed in Sacha Baron Cohen's film Borat.

Though we can still enjoy the film knowing that the country was purposely picked because many viewers had never heard of the place, today we'd prefer to at least dispel some of the myths garnered from the film that was better at exposing American ignorance than insulting Kazakhs.

The Parliament of Kazakhstan in Astana, the capital.
The country of Kazakhstan is the world's ninth largest country and the largest landlocked country, meaning it has no coastline, in the world. While this may be disappointing for you beach dwellers, it should be noted that the country is subject to an interesting linguistic landscape.

The country's two official languages are Kazakh and Russian. The principal official language, Kazakh, is spoken by around 11 million people worldwide. Though the majority of its speakers reside in Kazakhstan, it is also spoken in China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Iran.

Of the 11 million speakers of Kazakh, 10 million of them live in Kazakhstan, making this Turkic language principally found in today's country of interest. In Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the language is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, though in China it is written using an abjad derived from Arabic.

From roughly 1813 to 1907, Kazakhstan was under the rule of the Russian Empire. It was during this time that the Russian language was introduced into Kazakhstan in an official capacity, particularly in schools, where it was somewhat resented. That said, the Russian language still holds official capacity in Kazakhstan and though it isn't the language of the state, it is still expected to be used in official documents and other important-sounding stuff.

A large number of Russian immigrants began arriving in the late 19th century leaving Kazakhstan with a large Russian-speaking population. Following the rule of the Russian Empire, it only took until 1920 before Kazakhstan was then under rule by the Soviet Union, albeit as an autonomous republic, which left the country with Russian influences.

On December 16, 1991, Kazakhstan was the last nation to become independent from the Soviet Union and though the nation is just over 3 months from celebrating its independence, we much preferred the idea of celebrating August 30, 1995, when Kazakhstan approved its constitution, outlining "freedom, quality and concord."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Slovak National Uprising: The Languages Of Slovakia

On this day in 1944, Slovaks under the rule of Nazi collaborator Josef Tiso rose up in an armed insurrection. Unfortunately, the insurrection failed and would not be over until the arrival of the Soviet Army towards the end of the war in 1945. Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia for almost fifty years afterwards and eventually became the independent nation of Slovakia in 1993. In honour of one of the most important days in Slovak history, we're looking at Slovakia's linguistic environment through languages spoken in this beautiful and interesting nation.

Gerlach Peak, the highest peak in Slovakia.
Of course, Slovak is the most commonly spoken language in Slovakia. It is spoken by 4.6 million out of Slovakia's 5.4 million citizens. Slovak has around 5 million speakers total, meaning there are less than half a million speakers outside of Slovakia residing in countries such as the United States, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Poland, Ireland, Romania, Austria, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Hungary, and Ukraine.

The other languages spoken in Slovakia include Bulgarian, Czech, and Russian. This is principally due to immigration. Rusyn is spoken in the northeast of the country, while Hungarian is found in the southern regions which border with, you've guessed it, Hungary.

One of the most impressive things about Slovakia is the level of multilingualism in the country. Nearly 70% of the population aged over 25 speak two or more foreign languages, making Slovakia the second best country in the European Union when it comes to foreign language ability.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Día De La Independencia: The Languages Of Uruguay

This weekend we've been lucky with independence days, with yesterday being Ukraine's and today being Uruguay's. As per usual, we felt it only fitting to honour Uruguay's national day with a look at the country's linguistic landscape.

Of course, Día de la Independencia means "Independence Day" in Spanish, and today was the day Uruguay declared its independence from the Brazilian Empire in 1825. It wasn't until 1828 that Uruguay's independence would officially be recognised on August 28th.

Maldonado, Uruguay
Uruguay, as a nation, is not as linguistically diverse as one may think. Though several other countries in South America feature many indigenous languages, Uruguay does not. There are very few descendants of the native peoples, and sadly Uruguay is thought to have no surviving indigenous languages.

However, the Spanish utilised in the country of Uruguay is particularly interesting. A large number of Italian immigrants have helped shape the Spanish language employed in the area. The mixture of Spanish and Italian used in the region is known as Cocoliche and makes use of hybrid words and mixed vocabulary.

English has a significant presence as a second language, as it does in many parts of the world. Recently it is becoming more and more common amongst younger Uruguayans and those in business.

Given that Uruguay was previously part of the Brazilian Empire, it should come as no surprise that Portuguese is also spoken in parts of the country, especially the areas nearer Brazil.

In border areas, the language of Portuñol is prominent. It is a mixture or pidgin of Portuguese and Rioplatense Spanish, a particular type of Spanish that is spoken principally in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Grande do Sul in Brazil.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Independence Day: The Languages Of Ukraine

Although the declaration of sovereignty took place on 16 July 1990 with the first actual celebration on the same date in 1991, today's date now celebrates Ukraine's independence from the USSR in 1991. In honour of this day we've decided to celebrate by taking a look at the languages of Ukraine.

The Crimean Peninsula
Major Slavic Languages

Ukrainian is the official language of course, with around 65% of the population speaking it. Russian, however, is spoken as the native language of nearly a third of Ukrainians. Though it holds no official status, many more people speak it as a second language, since it is often used for communication across large portions of the country.

Aside from these two main languages that make up the significant majority of the population, there are several other languages with a significant number of speakers such as Polish, which has over 1,000,000 speakers.

Germanic and Romance Languages

Ukraine is home to the largest number of Eastern Yiddish speakers in the world, over 600,000 in total. As a result, the language held official status in Ukraine for a period of three years between 1918 and 1921.

Romanian boats over 600,000 speakers as well and is another of the languages spoken in Ukraine with more than half a million native speakers.

Beautiful wheat fields in Ukraine.
More Slavic Languages

Rusyn, a language that is considered by some to be a dialect of Ukrainian, also has over half a million speakers, though that really depends on whether it's a language or a dialect. It is also spoken in parts of Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Romania. 

Ukraine also has over 400,000 speakers of Belarusian, which unsurprisingly is also a language of Belarus.

The Turkic Language

Perhaps the most interesting language spoken in Ukraine is Crimean Tatar, which has just over a quarter of a million speakers. Crimean Tatar is considered a native language of Ukraine and is quite sporadically spread across the globe. It is a Turkic language that currently enjoys official language status in a regional capacity in both Ukraine and Romania.

Do you plan to celebrate Ukraine's Independence Day or know any festive terms in these languages? Let us know in the comments below.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Conlangs: Interlingua

Over the past week or so we've had a look at Esperanto as well as Ido, a constructed language that came from Esperanto reformists. Today we're rounding off with the last of the the three most popular conlangs, Interlingua.

Interlingua takes its name from the Latin words inter and lingua, effectively meaning "intermediary language". Unsurprisingly, in Interlingua, these words also mean exactly the same thing. Interlingua is younger than Esperanto and Ido, having been created between 1937 and 1951. The language has a similar number of speakers to Ido, having never really garnered as much support as the significantly more popular Esperanto.

Europe, home to the languages used to create Interlingua.
The vocabulary of Interlingua is based principally on a set of control languages which include the EFIGS languages (English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish), as well as Portuguese and Russian. However, as long as an international usage can be shown within these seven languages, vocabulary can also be taken from any language. As a result, Interlingua also features vocabulary from Japanese and Arabic, for example.

What makes Interlingua different from Esperanto and Ido is the way that it adds words to its vocabulary. As we have already said, it can borrow almost any word that is understood internationally. On top of that, Interlingua retains the spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of any words it adds to its vocabulary, unlike Esperanto and Ido, which prefer to change the word's spelling to conform to their rules. However, if loanwords feature a diacritic that does not affect pronunciation, they are removed.

Due to the aforementioned conventions, Interlingua is considered a naturalistic auxiliary language, as it takes vocabulary and loanwords much like naturally-occurring languages and, as a result of this, is the world's most widely-spoken language of this type.

The main criticism of Interlingua is its purpose as a Eurocentric auxiliary language. Due to its reliance on its control languages, it is fairly easy to learn amongst speakers of those languages. Interlingua is generally considered to be more expressive as it maintains elements from its control languages, in comparison to Esperanto which is more restrictive in its construction.

So while Interlingua is far from being as popular as Esperanto, it's not particularly fair to compare the two due to their different functions and constructions.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

5 Signs You May Be The Grammar Police

We, like many others, are somewhat fond of being correct when it comes language. We also thrive on correcting people and that sense of smug self-satisfaction that comes with telling someone they're not only wrong, but that you have taught them something.

The Grammar Police don't get cool hats or horses, sadly.
Today we're looking at a few tell-tale signs that you are part of the most obnoxious level of grammatical prescriptivism, known as the grammar police. Below we have listed the most commonly found symptoms in those who have an acute case of headuparsium, which is a word we just made up.

1: Did you find our made-up terminology offensive?

If you winced or your body convulsed at the sound of headuparsium, then the odds are that you're the worst kind of grammar police. W're talking about those who are incapable of realising that language is a tool for communicating messages and ideas and instead dwell on tiny details, effectively killing any conversation they are involved in.

2: Do you stop people mid-sentence to correct their grammar or word usage?

You're such an obnoxious follower of the rules that you won't even let somebody finish speaking before you need to inflate your own ego by correcting them.

3: Do you continue to correct their grammar after the conversation has ended?

As if spotting their mistakes and correcting them wasn't enough, you feel the need to chastise the culprit long after they've made their grammatical error and the conversation has already been ended by your input.

4: Do you correct pronunciation even if the speaker is pronouncing it correctly in their dialect?

Perhaps one of the rudest and most obnoxious ways to correct somebody is to indicate that their pronunciation, due to their regional or international dialect, is wrong. 

It's that there thing for digging!
5: Do you correct or ignore regional lexicon and word usage?

Not everyone calls a spade a "spade", some call it a "shovel" and others may call it "that there thing for digging". If the word is mutually intelligible, why waste your breath telling them that's not what it's called?

How many of these questions did you answer "yes" to? Add up the numbers and check your results below.

0: Well done! - You are as liberal as can be when it comes to linguistic diversity. This doesn't mean you don't know grammar, just that you are happy to accept that everybody may not master it as well as you.

1: Not bad! - A few things still annoy you linguistically, but you manage to get on with your life.

2: Acceptable. - It's good to make sure things are done right, but you don't dwell too much on it.

3: Welcome to the dark side! - You are on your way to joining the cause of the grammar police. Tread carefully.

4: Terrible! - You make people feel awkward and ruin conversations with your observation and snobbery.

5: Disgusting! - Your obnoxious behaviour and strictness when it comes to grammatical rules make people wish they never met you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is TEFL For You?

Nowadays there's a huge demand for English lessons as the world becomes more connected everyday and globalisation has made the English language more important than ever before. Of course, many naysayers will claim that Mandarin Chinese is the world's most important language. Whilst it may be wise to learn Mandarin for the future, learning English now is very important for everyone.

If you have been lucky enough to have been born in an English-speaking country or even just to have had the opportunity to learn English, teaching it can be very rewarding and, in some cases, very lucrative.

Whilst there are multiple ways to become an English teacher to foreign speakers, we will not be covering that today. What we're aiming to do is clarify whether or not you'd be ready to take that first step into teaching English as a foreign language.

You never know what you'll find abroad. In
Spain you might see these works of art known
as fallas explode in pyrotechnic glory while
learning the Valencian language!
Do you love languages?

If you love languages, you're probably already giving this some thought. Teaching English as a foreign language is a way to share languages with everyone. In many countries, both children and adults are looking to learn English so you will have a choice.

After all, your principal goal as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher is to impart your wisdom and knowledge of the English language onto those who have to, and in certain cases, want to learn English.

Do you love travelling?

If you love travelling, then moving to another country for TEFL can open doors to you. Obviously there aren't many opportunities to teach English as a foreign language in English-speaking countries. That said, there still are some jobs like this around.

Do you love learning languages?

If you are in a foreign country teaching English, you can definitely make the most of your time there learning a language yourself. You can make the most of your time by taking classes or even just spending time with locals because, as we've said before, immersion is one of our favourite ways to learn foreign languages.

Do you love teaching?

This is definitely the most important question you have to ask yourself before setting off on your TEFL journey. At the end of the day, you are teaching, and if teaching isn't for you then it renders all the other answers redundant. If you answered "yes" to all these questions, then you best get started!

Do you teach or have you taught English as a foreign language? Do you have any advice for budding EFL teachers? Tell us below in the comments!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Language Of Law

If you've ever read a contract, had the horrendous misfortune to deal with bureaucracy, or had a run-in with the law, you'll have come across the wonderful linguistic minefield that is legal language and jargon. Today we'll be looking at legal English as it has been used in the United Kingdom.

Once the Romans conquered England, Latin became the de facto language of the law in the country. Though it was later on that Latin would noticeably change day-to-day English, it did take root in the legal system earlier since it was the Romans who ruled and enforced the law.

The opening page of the Law of Æthelberht
After the Romans left England, the Anglo-Saxons brought their own rules and, as a result, law was discussed, explained, and enforced using Anglo-Saxon or Old English. By the beginning of the 7th century, it was the Law of Æthelberht that established the rules of the Kingdom of Kent. These published rules were indeed written in what is now known as Old English. This was the first example of published law in a Germanic language, and one of the earliest examples of written Old English. With the arrival of the Normans, the language of the legal system in England took a turn. Anglo-Saxon was removed and Anglo-French became the language of legal proceedings. Though records were still kept in Latin, English terms managed to find their way into the lexicon of law. In terms of style, since words of French and Latin origin were considered to be of a higher register than those of Germanic origins, French and Latin words were often preferred in a legal setting over their Germanic counterparts. That said, lawyers would still provide word pairings from both etymological roots in order to make things clearer.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ido: Reforming Esperanto

A few days ago, we covered the constructed language of Esperanto. As a result, it got us thinking about constructed languages and international auxiliary languages. As we said, Esperanto is the world's most popular constructed language. Ido, however, is not.

The flag of Ido
Ido was created in the early 20th century following complaints about Esperanto. The language was designed to address the flaws in Esperanto and to correct them. The Ido movement never really garnered much support, and it wasn't until the age of the internet that Ido actually gained any momentum. Even now, it only has a couple hundred speakers and still lacks support.

The first of Ido's changes to Esperanto was removing all diacritics from the alphabet. Ido's alphabet is identical to the Latin alphabet as used in the English language. The 26 letters represent 26 individual sounds. There are also three digraphs, ch, qu, and sh, which are used.

The phonology of Esperanto always used a stress on the penultimate syllable. Ido, however, does not always follow this rule, instead opting to change the stress for verb infinitives to the last syllable. In terms of vocabulary, Ido prefers to retain nouns as gender-neutral rather than defining words such as occupations as gender-specific.

Even though constructed languages are man-made inventions, one could say that they are still subject to evolution and even revolution.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 4

Over the last few days we've been looking at Esperanto, the world's most popular conlang. We've seen the formation of the language, its use in the world, and the way it sounds, or its phonology.

Today we'll be concluding our look at Esperanto with the grammar and lexicon, which we feel will bring the whole language together nicely. Of course, the grammar and lexicon of a constructed language can be identical or completely different to those of naturally occurring languages, which can evolve and borrow words from other languages. It's all really up to the creator and the users of the language.

The man behind the language,
Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof.
Zamenhof's dream of Esperanto being an international auxiliary language intended to foster peace meant one thing when it came to grammar, regularity. Esperanto grammar in comparison to other languages is designed to be highly regular, with as few grammatical irregularities as possible.

The main principal utilises suffixes, with certain suffixes dictating specific grammatical elements. For example, words ending in -o are nouns and those that end in -a are adjectives. As a result, it can be very simple for learners and even those who are fluent in the language to easily distinguish word types.

When it comes to the conjugation of verbs, the suffix -i indicates the infinitive, whereas -is indicates the past tense in the indicative mood, -as is the present indicative and -os is the future indicative. There are no individual conjugations according to the subject as the subject is already mentioned. Simple, right?

Speakers of Esperanto have been permitted to borrow words from other languages, given that only the most international of words are used and that they are adjusted to utilise the same rules that govern all word types in Esperanto.

Since the rules that govern the roots of words in Esperanto come from either Greek or Latin origins, Esperanto fails on its goal of being an international language. While many of those who speak a language of Indo-European origins will find the lexicon to be fairly self-explanatory, speakers of other languages will not find the lexical roots so obvious.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Monday, August 12, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 3

Over the past two days we've looked at the creation and history, and then the application and usage of Esperanto. Now that we've set the scene, we'll be having a look at how Esperanto is put together.

As a conlang, Esperanto can't really be classified as belonging to any other language families. Instead, Esperanto is classified as an International Auxiliary Language. Though the language was heavily influenced by Indo-European languages, taking on the phonemic properties of Slavic languages and the lexicon of Romance and Germanic languages, Esperanto has drawn heavy criticism for being too Eurocentric.

La Espero, a poem known as the
"hymn of Esperanto".
When speaking Esperanto, the stress is usually on the penultimate syllable, much like Italian and in poetry. The phonology is particularly interesting as the relationship between letters and phonemes is direct, meaning that every letter used in Esperanto has only one phoneme that it could represent. This was particularly important to Esperanto's creator, L. L. Zamenhof, who declared the rule as "one letter, one sound".

The phonology is also very similar to Polish and Belarusian, which is wholly unsurprising given that Zamenhof himself was born in Bialystok, where most of the population spoke Yiddish and were either Poles or Belarusians.

The relation between letters and phonemes is as closely related to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as possible. The language currently features 23 consonants, 5 vowels, 2 semi-vowels, and 6 diphthongs. This is reasonably low given that, depending on the dialect, English speakers can have up to 20 vowel sounds.

Having covered the phonology of Esperanto, tomorrow we'll be continuing our evaluation of Esperanto by looking at the Esperanto grammar and lexicon.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 2

Yesterday we began discussing the history of Esperanto, a constructed language or conlang that was created by L. L. Zamenhof. We left off yesterday  mentioning how the US army used Esperanto in their training exercises and drills.

The main reason that the US army made this decision was that Esperanto has no nation of its own, so it would be very difficult for any other nation to take offence at the military practices in the US. It was also useful as it was fairly unlikely that any of the troops taking part in the drills would have learned Esperanto before.

A map of European Esperanto groups in 1905.
It would seem that given its political neutrality, Esperanto would be the ideal language for everybody to learn, wouldn't it? It turns out that the ideal of the language of peace wouldn't be as readily adopted as Zamenhof would have liked.

Though UNESCO recognised Esperanto in 1954, to date no country has recognised it as an official language. Esperanto has an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 speakers, though some estimates reach as high as 2 million. Esperanto also has around 1,000 native speakers. The lion's share of these are children born to parents who met through Esperanto and as result their children were born into an Esperanto-speaking household. Almost all of these children are raised bilingual due to most of the outside world speaking a language other than Esperanto.

Since we've looked at the history and use of Esperanto, tomorrow we'll be continuing our look at the language with an analysis of its linguistic construction.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 1

For those of you who don't know about it, Esperanto is a language, but not like you would think of in the traditional sense. Esperanto was the brainchild of L. L. Zamenhof, a linguist and doctor in the 19th century who had the idea of creating a language that could unite the world.

In its simplest form, Esperanto is a tool that was intended to transcend political boundaries, nationalities, and ultimately, foster peace throughout the world. The idea was that if everybody had the same language, one that was easy enough to learn, then people would eventually stop fighting. You certainly couldn't doubt Zamenhof's ambition.

Esperanto has its own flag but not its own country.
Zamenhof went ahead and created his language, which is known as a constructed language or conlang. Though phonemically-inspired by Slavic languages, the lexicon takes inspiration from mainly Romance languages, and to a lesser extent Germanic languages. Esperanto uses the Latin alphabet and the same diacritics as several other Slavic languages.

In Nazi Germany, the language was singled out as being a tool for Jewish conspirators. Since Zamenhof was Jewish, this led to the language not only being mentioned in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, but also led to Zamenhof's family being targeted.

Fascist Italy was not particularly against Esperanto though, as it shared a lot of phonetic similarities with Italian and was even permitted at the time. However, this was a rare case as Esperanto was viewed by most as the language of spies since Esperanto doesn't hold official language status in any country and could easily be used as a tool to secretly communicate.

The American army even used Esperanto in war games and training exercises in the 50s and 60s, though we'll have more on that tomorrow.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Indonesia And The Philippines

As we've already had a look at Europe, Canada, the US, Mexico and the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and the Middle East and Africa, we thought that given the huge number of languages spoken in Southeast Asia that Indonesia and the Philippines deserved their own post.


Batam - The Indonesian city of Batam is home to the Indonesian, Batak, Minang, Javanese, Hokkien, and Teochew languages. It's also around the same size as Singapore. Having grown in what was once a forested area, Batam became an important harbour, industrial zone, and a bit of a tax haven. Unfortunately for Batam, it has recently been exposed as a facilitator of the ivory trade.

A fountain in the city of Balikpapan, Indonesia.
Balikpapan - Located on the east coast of the island of Borneo, the seaport city of Balikpapan has five major languages in the form of Indonesian, Banjar, Javanese, Lawangan, and Bugis. The city is home to a booming oil trade and as a result was an important target for both sets of belligerents during the Second World War.

Makassar - Indonesian, Bugis, and Makassarese are the languages spoken in the provincial capital of South Sulawesi in Indonesia. As a former precolonial fort, the city is now principally a port and major centre of the fishing industry in the region.

Medan - The capital of North Sumatra, Medan has a significant number of languages spoken in its streets every day. These include Indonesian, Batak, Javanese, Medan Hokkien, Tamil, and Minang, to name a few. The city is also the largest city in Indonesia outside of Java.

Surabaya - Indonesian, Javanese, and Madurese are spoken in Indonesia's second largest city and the capital of East Java. It's known as the "city of heroes" owing to its participation in the Indonesian National Revolution.

Currently the city, like many in Indonesia, operates principally as a port and is famed for being the first city in the world to breed orangutans in captivity.

Now that we've finished our look at multilingual cities in Indonesia, it's time to head over to Philippines.

The Philippines

A Spanish style street in Vigan, Philippines.
Vigan - In the Philippine city of Vigan, different languages can be heard everywhere, from Ilokano to English, Tagalog, and Spanish. Due to its Hispanic architecture and being one of several notably Spanish-looking cities in the Philippines, it holds a World Heritage Site status.

Baguio City - English, Tagalog, Ilokano, and Ifugao are the main languages spoken in Baguio City. Despite not being one of the largest cities in the world as it is only home to around 300,000 inhabitants, Baguio City is a centre of commerce, business, and education.

Are there any great multilingual cities that you feel we've left off our list? Let us know about them in the comments below.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thingamajigs And The World Of Seemingly Useless Words

Sometimes you can't find the words to say what you mean, and we don't mean in the lovey-dovey mushy way. You'll find that spoken language is completely full words and sounds that have no real meaning other than to convey that you don't actually know what you're about to say.

Listen to a recording of yourself speaking and you'll quickly find that there is in fact a multitude of nonsensical sounds that you make as you speak. Our brains are tuned to omit these sounds and words as they serve no purpose other than to buy the speaker time as their conscience formulates the remainder of the sentence.

These verbal fillers include uhm, er, eh, ah, and anything else you tend to use whilst you find the words you actually want to use. They are incredibly important in spoken language. Without them, we could lose track of what we were saying, have awkward pauses, and generally look like idiots.

This is an actual Whatchamacallit, a Hershey candy bar.
For a while they had a bar called the Thingamajig too!
Clearing your throat, extending the end of words to fill the gaps, and general phrases such as "like", "you know?", and the ever popular Canadian phrase "eh?", though seemingly useless, are actually very helpful when it comes to enabling us to talk.

This phenomenon of being linguistically forgetful is so common that we even have words for words that we can't remember. Thingamajigdoohickey, doodad, wotsit, and whatchamacallit are all excellent examples that the wonderful human race has created to facilitate the fact that sometimes you just can't remember what the hell you're talking about. So don't worry about it.

Do you have any other examples of pointless words that describe the undescribeable? Tell us about them in the comments below.