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Features of spoken English

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3630 words Published: 5th May 2017

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Task 2 Spoken discourse

It is broadly accepted that spoken English has some features different from written English. Some scholars have generalized these characteristics. For example, Leech (2000) has put forward linguistic characteristics of the grammar of spoken English. Cornbleet and Carter (2001) also analysed certain features of spoken English. With the examples from the provided text1 and text2, some of these characteristics can be found and examined.

Leech mentions one of the characteristics of the spoken language grammar: the use of personal pronouns which appears in both the two texts. Within the first text there are the first person “I” and the third person “he” frequently used; whereas the frequent pronouns are the first person “I” and the second person “you” in text 2.

The use of substitutes and ellipsis also embody in the texts. In text1 line4 and line6, “he” can be viewed as a substitute of “Doc Timm”. Example of ellipsis can be found in text1 as well: in line 7 “and I always remember putting that ether on me”, the sender of giving the action of putting ether in the clause is omitted. Same ellipsis occurs in the next line.

The sixth characteristic given by Leech, vague meaning can be seen in text2. “Like that” in line5 and line7 and “that bit” in line12 are rather vague expressions.

Yet the lack of variety in word choice and the use of questions and imperatives are both distinct characteristics of spoken English. For example, in text1 the speaker uses “took” twice, “putting” and “put” respectively once. Text2 seems to be more obviously lacking the word variety: “loop” three times, “twist” twice, “pull” three times, which are frequently used and repeated with few alternatives. As for the imperatives and questions, many examples can be found in text2 as well. The speaker C keeps asking questions like “That one?”, “Twist it?” and so on, while speaker R answers with many operatives, for instance, line2, “Then make it smaller…” in line6, “Do a loop” in line11, “And then put your fingers out…” in line14.

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The eleventh one indicates that the discourse markers, response forms, and greetings are used in spoken English. As Cornbleet and Carter (2001) say “discourse markers mark the beginning of a turn and the end of it” (p.65). From text1, we can find that the speaker begins his monologue by a discourse marker “So”. A response form “Yeah, that’s it” in line6 can be found.

Subordinates, modals, adverbs are frequently used in spoken English. This characteristic is echoed by the examples from text. In line1 text1, “who” is in the clause as a subordinator. A lot of adverbs can be found in text2 as well. “And then” occurs all together seven times. Others include “there” in line4, “just” in line2.

Hesitation, pauses, fillers and repeats are also common in spoken English. Pauses seem to be frequent in text2. In line2, there are two pauses. And others appear in line4, line6, line7, and line11. In line6 text2, “Then make it smaller by pulling the string…by putting your fingers like that” seems contain a hesitation between “by pulling the string” and “by putting your fingers”.

From Cornbleet and Carter’s view, spoken English has a common feature that is deixis, which is used to orient the conversation and the listener (2001). The speaker C from the txet2 is trying to make sure his operation is right before move on through “like that” in line5 and line13 while this phrase would make a different sense outside this context. In text1, there is deixis as well. “That ether” appears in line7 and line9 specifying the unique item to the speaker.

What is more, Cornbleet and Carter say that back-channelling signs in conversation indicate speakers’ attention. In the text2, Speaker C asks short questions in line5, line7 and line10 to ask for speaker R’s clarification and explanation.

In spoken English, incomplete clauses and simple clauses are frequently used. Simple clauses such as “I always remember” in text1 and “so it’s like crossed” in text2 are commonly seen. Meanwhile, an incomplete clause “so it’s…” can be found in line2 of text2.

Task 4 Grammar

  1. The analysis is problematic in the eighth sentence which can be divided differently by two means. The difference lies in how to deal with the preposition phrase “at the next full moon”. It can be divided into the previous clause, or be divided as a separate adverbial. The meanings are subtle: for the former, we might start waiting and looking forward from now; but for the latter, it means that we may just start waiting for something to happen at that certain time, the next full moon.
  2. In a traditional EFL grammar, verbs are examined and discussed a lot. Swan (1995 p. 606) claims that “different verbs can be followed by different kinds of word and structure”. Some structures can be found in those given sentences. For example, some verbs can be followed by other verb structures. “Jack seems to have been killed” in sentence 5 embodies that structure: the first verb “seem” does not show the subject “Jack” does, while the following verb infinitive gives the real information. About the passive voice, sentence 2, 3 and 5 can be used as examples.
  3. Moreover, the first sentence is a good example of showing the relation of apposition which is common between two noun phrases in which “David Kessler and Jack Goodman” is the appositive. And within sentence 7, a relative clause “that attacked them” is embedded in the first simple sentence of this compound sentence.

  4. According to Hopper, there is a tendency of verbal dispersal in discourse grammar. One of the expanded verb expressions in English formulation is like this: “one of a small set of common verbs with a noun denoting an action” (1997 p. 97). “Makes a terrifying visit” in sentence 6 can fit this, containing a common verb “make” with a noun “visit” illustrating the action. There is also a preference for extended verbal expression (Hopper, 1997). For example, “are backpacking around” in sentence1 and “seems to have been killed” in sentence 5, “may fall prey to” in sentence 7. In those eight sentences few have solitary verbs, except sentence4 containing a single verb “sees” following the inanimate subject “morning” seemingly de-personalized.

Jackson values the notion ‘pattern’ which “is important to our conception of grammar and especially when we consider the syntactic cooperation of individual words” (Jackson, 2003 p. 156). According to Hunston and Francis, “a pattern is description of the behavior of a lexical item, or one of the behaviours of that item, as evidenced in a record of large amounts of language use” ( Jackson, 2003 p. 156, reprinted from Pattern Grammar: A corpus-Driven Approach to the Lexical Grammar of English (2000) ). There are two aspects which pattern grammar explores: each different syntactic structure of a word is associated with a different meaning; and words with similar syntactic structures tend to have related meanings.

With regard to the first aspect, examples can be found in the given sentences. In sentence 2, the first “welcoming” appears in a preposition phrase followed by “Yorkshire inn” which is a place name; whereas the second one is followed by “locals” referring a group of people. Within different syntactic structure, their meanings differ: the first “welcoming” means not friendly to someone who is visiting or arriving, yet the second one means unattractive and discomfortable to be somewhere. Thus their slight difference can be seen. Similarly, another example, “sees” in sentence 4 is used after an inanimate subject of time “morning” and before an object modified by a preposition phrase which indicates a event; “see” in sentence 8 appears in a verb phrase after “wait” and before a nominal clause which indicates something in future. Their meaning difference also exits: the first “sees” means to be the time when something happens while the second “see” referring to figuring out something by waiting.

Task 6 Lexis

According to Lewis, “a collocation is a predictable combination of words” and he judges that “some combinations may be very highly predictable from one of the component words” (2000 p. 51). Moreover, as he mentions that “all collocations are idiomatic and all phrasal verbs and idioms are collocations or contain collocations” (2000 p. 51).

Some examples from the given text can support his view to a large extent. In line 1, the collocation “at the age of twelve” is an example. People can easily tell which kind of words should be after “of”, because it is predictable as the existed rest parts, especially the noun “age”. Some place names as set combinations are highly predictable. For instance, “Gold Gate Park” in line 12 and “Speckels Lake” in line 11 and “San Francisco” in line 16 are predictable particularly to those local people who are familiar with the places. To most people, it is also easy to predict one of the collocation “willow tree” and “park bench” in line 19.

Many other collocations are viewed “so common that they hardly seem worth remarking upon” (Lewis, 2000 p. 51). A lot of common collocations can be found in the given text, like “look back” in line 6, “a pair of eyes” in line16, “look(ed) up” in line 21, “early-afternoon sun” in line 12. These common collocations are abundant in people’s daily speaking and are regarded as natural combination or gathering.

According to Lewis’s suggestive way, collocations basically can be divided into several types, many of which can be seen in the text: adjctive+noun, like “a frigid overcast day” in line 1; noun+noun, for instance, “willow tree” in line 19; verb+adjective+noun, like “remember the precise moment”; verb+adverb, like “look back” in line 6; verb+preposition+noun, like “propelled by a crisp breeze” in line 13.

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With regard to metaphor, it is defined as “understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain” in the cognitive view (K?vecses, 2007 p. 4). The two domains are known as “the source domain” and “the target domain”. Knowles and Moon give us the definition which examines the language use of “resemblance or make a connection” between the “literary meaning” and its figurative meaning (2006 p. 3).

As an excerpt from a literature work, this text contains several metaphors. For instance, “Because the past claws its way out.” in line 6 falls into the category of metaphor. The writer compares his past to an animal, endowing his past experience and memory some characteristics of living creature so that them can “claw its way out” which they originally cannot. In line 14, “red with long blue tails, soaring in the sky” is also a metaphor. The writer compares the kites to certain animals perhaps birds so that it has “tails” and can soar. The next long sentence is full of metaphors. In “They danced”, he compares the kites to human beings enabling them to dance which is traditionally used for human. “Floating side by side like a pair of eyes looking down on San Francisco” also contains metaphors. Here “looking down” indicates that the writer compares the kite to a living creature with eyes so that they would be able to “looking down”. From a holistic view, it is natural to conclude that the metaphors in this excerpt tend to associate the “kite(s)” with the domain of living things.

Sinclair illustrates the idiom principle as “language user has available to him or her a large number of semi-preconstructed phrases that constitute single choices, even though they might appear to be analysable into segments” (1991 p. 111). He also shows that it is complementary to the open-choice model for explaining how meaning arises from language.

“Many phrases allow internal lexical variation” is one of the features of the idiom principle according to Sinclair (1991 p. 111). Examples from the given text can be found. “glanced up” in line13 and “looked up” in line21 seem to be close both in form and meaning with little space to choose between them. There is also little to choose between “I became what I am today” in line1 and the phrase “made me what I am today” in line23.

Another feature of the idiom principle is “many uses of words and phrases attract other words in strong collocation” (Sinclair, 1991 p. 112); for instance, “look back” in line6, “look down” in line16, and “look up” in line 21 show that “look” has this feature. And repeated appearance of “a pair of”:”a pair of kites” in line14 together with “a pair of eyes” in line16, demonstrates this phrase also has this feature.

What is more, according to Sinclair (1991 p.112) “many uses of words and phrases show a tendency to occur in a certain semantic environment”. For example, the phrase “peek into” is often associated with some secret scenes and in this text it does connected with this scene “the alley near the frozen creek” or “the deserted alley” where something miserable happens.

Task 7 Register and genre

It is generally believed that “variation based on the use of language” and “variation based on the user of language” are two main types of language variations (Gregory 1967, cited in Ghadessy 1994 p. 288). Register, to be exact, here stands for the “variation based on the use of language” (Ghadessy, 1994 p. 288). Halliday (1978, cited in Ghadessy 1994 p. 288) terms register with three variables known as field, mode and tenor:

Types of linguistic situation differ from one another, broadly speaking, in three respects: first, as regards what actually is taking place; secondly, as regards what part the language is playing; and thirdly, as regards who is taking part. These three variables, taken together, determine the range within which meanings are selected and the forms which are used for their expression. In other words, they determine the ‘register’.

Painter describes that the field can be seen as “the cultural activity or subject matter with which the speaker/writers are concerned” (2001 p. 173). The given text concerns introducing and crucially promoting selling a town house which is non-technical. This field to a great extent determines the used vocabulary and some grammatical features of the language. The text producer needs to persuade his potential customers to buy the house therefore a friendly and unbiased manner is popular and demanded. The inanimate subject sentences are used throughout the whole text, together with short phrases like “marked by” and “Cricketers Green, Yeadon”. In this way, the text producer seems to be objective in his persuasion; meanwhile language is concise and clear with those short phrases. Certainly, many house related words are used in this text, like “vestibule”, “kitchen”, “garden” and “parking place”.

Tenor refers to “the social relations between the interactions in any discourse” (Painter, 2001 p.174), which determines the level of formality and the level of technicality of the language to a great extent. In terms of the tenor, the given text involves the advertisement producer/marketing person and his potential customers; they are in a relationship of persuading and to be persuaded. His language is not casual but formal. It can be seen from the imperative mood “Phone the agent” which seems commanding and cold. This is relatively formal because their social distance is not short: the advertisement producer who has already known most information about the house whereas readers have not. The marketing person needs to inform and persuade others who have not the same common share with him. Meanwhile, there are almost no technical words within the text which can cause barriers in readers’ understanding as most are common words.

Mode is deemed as “the medium of communication, in particular whether it is spoken or written, which will have far-reaching effects on the language used” (Painter 2001 p. 175). Obviously, the mode of this given print text is written not spoken. The use of inanimate subjects in sentences, like “The accommodation incorporates a number of attributes…”, is a feature of written language.

According to Allison, genre which “traditionally serves to indicate different kinds of literary and artistic works” has been introduced and expanded to “identify classes of language use and communication in all areas of life” (1999 p. 144).

Swales (1990) put forward some important features of examples of genres; some of them are worth mentioning here. For instance, the given text belongs to the category of advertisement in terms of specific name for genre. The purpose of the text can be identified as informing and prompting a sale of the house to potential customers. It is connected with certain discourse community, here referring to the community of people who are looking for a property.

Bhatia (1998) advances seven moves within a structure used by writers for product promotion in business settings. Further, he develops a specific move structure in advertisements (2007). A series of the feature structure moves can be found within this text. Although it is short, the schematic structure of this text is clear and straightforward to readers. A striking headline which specifies the name, location and price of the house to be sold in bold tells makes people notice it is relevant with estate sales; a companied photo demonstrating the appearance of the house can be seen as a move of offering product, moreover, the eye-catching photo may also stimulate readers to read more or even consider to buy; the following part seems equivalent to soliciting response which lists the marketing person and the contact details including the agent phone number in strikingly bold which is necessary for getting potential customers’ response as well as for the advertisement producer to achieve his final goal to sell the house; the last part, product details as well as the positive evaluation, which contains the detailed introduction of the house is for readers’ consideration thus can be regarded as essential detailing and indicating values of the offer in introducing the offer phase.


  1. ALLISON, D. 1999. ‘Genre’, ELT Journal, vol. 53 no 2, pp 144.
  2. Bhatia, V. K. 1998. Analysing Genre: language use in professional setting, London & New York: Longman
  3. Bhatia, V. K. 2007. Words of Written Discourse, London: Continuum.
  4. Cornbleet, S. & R. Carter. 2001. The Language of Speech and Writing. London: Routledge.
  5. Ghadessy, M. 1994. ‘Key concepts in ELT: Register’, ELT Journal, vol. 48 no 3, pp 288-289.
  6. HOPPER, P. J. ‘Discourse and the category ‘verb’ in English’. Language and Communication, vol.17 no 2, pp 93-102.
  7. Jackson, H. 2002. Grammar and Vocabulary: a resource book for students. London & New York: Routledge.
  8. Knowles, M. & R. Moon. 2006. Introducing Metaphor. London & New York: Routledge.
  9. K?vecses, Z. 2002. Metaphor: a practical introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  10. LEECH, G. 2000. ‘Grammar of Spoken English: New outcomes of Corpus-Oriented Research’. Language Learning, vol.50 no 4, pp 675-724.
  11. Lewis, M. ed. 2000. Teaching Collocation: Further Development in the lexical approach, Hove : Thomson Heinle Language Teaching Publications.
  12. Painter, C. 2001. ‘Understanding Genre and Register: Implications for Language Teaching’ in A. Burns and C. Coffin (Eds), Analysing English in a Global Context: a reader (167-179). London: Routledge.
  13. Sinclair, J. 1991. Corpus, Concordance, Collocation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  14. Swales, J. 1990. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  15. Swan, M. 1995. Practical English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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