The language of Spoken Discourse: Utterances • we tend to speak in shortstretches. • Theses stretches may be, but frequently are not, accurate or complete sentences. • The word utterance is used to describe these stretches of spoken language. • Many utterances are comprised of incomplete, fragmented segments. • In conversation when segments are linked together co-ordinating devices tend to be used.
fronting • Conventional word SVO order is generally used. But especially when speakers want to stress a contrast, they frequently resort to fronting, i.e., putting the object in front of the verb: This one I can use; that one I’ve got no use for. • A very frequent form of fronting in spoken English (but rare in written English) is topic fronting. • This consists of placing a noun phrase or a noun clause in front of the grammatical subject, both of which actually refer to the same thing: That part there ’s the handle
Ellipsis Because we speak in real time, we often save time by using ellipsis: the omission of grammatical (function) words, but also of lexical words.
Ellipsis and Deixis • Lexical ellipsis often is associated with Deixis. When words or pronouns refer to something beyond the language of the text, i.e., they indicate things in the context they are described as deictic. • Deixis, can take the form of: person deixis, place deixis, time deixis. • Because deixis allows speakers to quickly refer to things that are clear from the context, it often allows them to avoid naming things explicitly, e.g., ‘him’ instead of a name ‘then’ instead of a time ‘there’ instead of the name of a place ‘these’ instead of the name of things.
orientation • Deixis is important in conversation because it is frequently used to orient the conversation (guide someone physically in a specified direction). e.g. ‘That bitthere’
Task 1 Task 1 look at the conversation on P60: a. Identify examples of ungrammatical utterances; b. Identify examples of co-ordination; c. Identify examples of topic fronting; d. Identify examples of grammatical ellipsis; e. Identify examples of lexical ellipsis; f. Identify examples of deixis used to orient the conversation; g. Identify examples of vague language; h. Identify examples of linguistic inventiveness.
Lexis and Lexicalisation The lexis of conversation in English tends to feature simple Anglos-Saxon words rather than words of Latin origin. In LSW the example isstart rather than commence. This tendency is also related to formality and issues of register. Carter and Cornbleet stress how we tend to use core vocabulary , central words in a language, rather than choosing lexis from the extreme ends of the language spectrum. However, it is a generalisation. Lexis depends on the conversation event, the participants and the context.
Lexical density of speech As a rule, spoken English has a lower lexical density that written English. This means that grammar or function words tend to be much more frequent, particularly in the form of verb phrases which occur more frequently than noun phrases.
Delexical verbs Many verb phrases are based on and built around the most common verbs in the language: • ‘go’, ‘have’, ‘put’, ‘do’, etc. • They often combine with nouns to make common phrases – ‘have a look’, ‘go for a walk’, ‘do the washing up’, etc. Such verbs are known as delexical verbs and they are more common in informal conversation and spoken discourse than their lexical equivalents from which they are formed– in this case, ‘look’, walk’, ‘wash up’, etc.,
Task 2 Look back to the conversation on p.60. compare the use of delexical verbs with the number, if any, of lexical verbs, i.e. verbs with distinct meanings.
Vague language Most face-to-face conversations feature shared knowledge of things in the context. This is why we tend to use vague, general words rather than specific terminology, which would require greater effort and might also introduce an inappropriate register, if the conversation is an informal one. Words like ‘something’ are often used in vague expressions like ‘or something’.
Lexical Creativity The example of lexical creativity is the word ‘unsolid’. This word does not exist in the dictionary and it is not officially recognised as a word. Yet it works in this context. This is partly because the root word ‘solid’ is preceded by the negative prefix ‘un’, which prefixes many adjectives in English to create negative meanings. The other participants are familiar with this principal of word formation ,so the meaning is clear
Interaction signals: back-channels Back-channels are signs that we’re interested, that we’re paying attention and in agreement with what is being said. They do not normally interrupt a turn or signal a change of turn. In English the words (or voiced fillers) most frequently used as back channels are: ‘yeah’, ‘right’, ‘OK’, ‘mm’ ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ also convey emotional involvement in what is being said. In the absence of these signs speakers are likely to infer boredom, lack of sympathy, or perhaps even antagonism on the part of the listener.
Discourse markers To indicate that a turn has ended or is about to begin speakers use another set of signals – these are Discourse Markers: words and phrases which are used to signal the relationships and connections between utterances. They are used to help the listener (or reader) follow what is being said.
Tag Questions • Tag Questions are almost exclusive to spoken discourse and fulfil a function very similar to that of discourse markers: They may indicate regular questions to which an answer would be expected, but they also have functions like seeking confirmation, encouraging someone to speak or contribute to a conversation, in other words, ‘drawing someone out. They are also used to express a range ofemotionsand attitudes, horror, surprise or disbelief, conviction, etc. Written tag questions can be difficult to interpret, because their function in discourse is connected to intonation.
Task 3 Consider how the discourse markers ‘well’ and ‘oh’ operate in the following text: A: well does Caroline like Jane(.) I don’t know to be honest(2) well no (.) she said(.) she’s cold she said(.) she doesn’t dislike (.) but they’ve never really clicked K: Cold? A: er yeah K: Jane’s cold? A: and they never really clicked (.) but she only has to work for her three days a week K: I though it was erm (.) Irene she didn’t like A: no it’s Jane she didn’t like K: oh (.) and she was saying that (.) you know you were saying why she didn’t get any men(.) in the hairdressers (.) she gets loads of offers she said (.) but they were all from married men(.) who want affairs
Well Well: 1: it signals the start of the conversation so it operates as an opener, telling the listener that this is the beginning. 2: it seems to be used to contradict a previous utterance. So: ‘Well’ can also be used to signal : • reluctance to give a clear negative after a closed question. • an opening, • modification of a challenging opinion. ‘
‘Oh’ In this conversation ‘oh’ signals : • a surprising or just remembered idea. • an attitude of enthusiasm to introduce the new topic
And Consider the use of ‘and’ and ‘but’ and how they ‘signpost’ the structure of the exchange: ‘And’ 1: it signals a new idea, joining separate ideas in a list (as in this conversation) (It can join idea or events in a temporal sequence with the meaning of ‘and then’. It can be used causally: ‘He saw his wife and ran away’) It also signals that the speaker wants to continue talking and has is not ready to give up the floor. .
‘But’ • In this conversations it seems to modify or contradict what has gone on before. In the utterance ‘she doesn’t dislike (.) but they’ve never really clicked’. Though the speaker wants to maintain that Caroline doesn’t like Jane, ‘but’ indicates that she wants to modify that previous utterance in some way.
2 the second example of ‘but’ seems again not to be simply adversative, rather it seeks to minimise or attenuate the seriousness or unpleasantness of the situation being described. • 3 the final sentence is more like a negative concession than a strain adversative.
Functions of Speech Remember when reading transcripts of conversation just as ungrammatical utterances can make perfect sense in the context of a conversation, often in spoken discourse the function of an utterance differs from it’s grammatical form.
What reads like a declarative statement on the page may actually be a question or an expression of surprise, or even a request for confirmation. Therefore the grammar may well indicate an indirect Speech Act.
Caller: I wondered if you had any free tourist literature on Rhodes • Clerk: Yes • Er (2) um(2) could (.) you send me some please • Clerk: yes (1) your addess