Friday, May 29, 2009

English Grammar and Spoken English

Until recently, items and structures most typically found in spoken communication have not been fully described. Most grammars of English have had a bias towards the written language. It is only recently that advances in audiorecording and associated technology have made it possible for sufficient quantities of spoken language to be used for analysis.

This chapter focuses on spoken English in its own right. Most chapters of this grammar book include mention of differences between spoken and written grammar and aspects of context that affect choices of grammar. Those chapters give more detailed examples of items and structures described in this chapter. It is difficult fully to represent spoken grammar in a written book.

Although the corpus used as the source of examples in this book provides useful evidence of spoken usage, the corpus has not been systematically coded for phonetic and prosodic features. Variations in stress, intonation contour, voice quality and other aspects such as loudness and tempo, rhythm and length of pauses are not indicated. And the citations from the corpus are presented in written form so that there always remains an underlying bias towards writing in the transcription itself.

This bias towards written language also means that appropriate terms for describing special features of spoken grammar are not always available in existing grammatical frameworks. In some cases new terminology has to be introduced. An example is the use of the terms headers and tails in 96-97.

The chapters on spoken English in this book are constructed on the basis of four main features of spoken language:
1 Spoken language happens in real time and is typically unplanned.
2 Spoken language is most typically face to face.
3 Spoken language foregrounds choices which reflect the immediate social and interpersonal situation.
4 Spoken language and written language are not sharply divided but exist on a continuum. The four features overlap. For example, the very fact that spoken language typically occurs face to face means that it is usually unplanned. It should also be acknowledged that written language involves social and interpersonal choices, for example in the writing of personal letters or emails, or in constructing persuasive arguments.

by mann

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