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Written versus spoken Englishfeature analysis

EXAM TITLE: What are the differences between Written English and
(a) Spoken Prose (b) Conversation?

Written English
It is first necessary to define what sort of Written English. Semi-formal
Written English is in one sense less and in another sense more redundant
than the spoken forms of the language.
Repetitions and duplications are usually avoided to a greater extent than in
conversation, though a semi-formal style may still render some examples.
Intonation contours, stress patterns, junctures (transition and boundary
features) and tone of voice are absent in Written English. But spelling, word
boundaries and punctuation are present.

Spoken Prose
Spoken prose may consist of a speech, a sermon, a taped report or a radio
broadcast scripted in advance and in the form of a monologue. It may be
read or recited almost anywhere, but the speaker may equally be within
visual contact of an audience.
It is not created spontaneously in the same way as Conversation is born, but
the speaker may nevertheless make conscious or incidental use of
expressive features such as tone of voice, gesture and facial expression.

Conversation
Because of its spontaneous creation, Conversation can be related more
closely to the extra-lingual context and the responses of the listeners.
Speakers may be prompted to vary the speed of speech within segments, to
lengthen pauses and to repeat words or add modifications according to the
apparent degree of comprehension or momentary inattention on the part of
listeners.

Conversation usually involves more than one party actively taking part and
having the possibility to interrupt. It therefore tends to be more intimate and
more personally relevant than other spoken forms.
Applying the criteria set out by Joos in "The Five Clocks", the description of
"casual style" and "consultative style" help to illustrate some of the
characteristics of Conversation in the most likely contexts in which it can
occur.
When the dialogue involves family or close friends (usually "casual style"),
little or no information is given which is not known to the participants. Wellknown formulae are used with great frequency.
When the conversation involves strangers (usually "consultative" style) all
necessary background information is supplied and more elaborate politeness
procedures are added to the well-known formulae for requests, questions,
orders, suggestions and acknowl
In such situations where there is a large information gap and a need to be
explicit through the language, a rarer but more formal style of language may
be witnessed, bridging the gap between certain aspects of Conversation and
Spoken Prose.

Analysis of sample of conversation - not


transcribed on this page
With reference to the sample of conversation given, the style of language (on
Joos' scale) could be described as "casual". Although questions are asked,
they are for the most part rhetorical in so far as they perform a social
function.
They do not relate to much of an information gap. The generation of
utterances is largely dependent on either the extra-linguistic situation or the
preceding contribution.
Rupert offers very little in response to Malcolm's assertions about the
funniness of the play. Malcolm therefore feels obliged to modify each of his
preceding remarks.
First he asserts that the play was "terribly funny", then that it was "really
pretty funny"; this is reduced to "bits of it were quite funny". Desperate for
Rupert's accord, he finally decides that it "wasn't all that good".

Accomplished playwrights pay considerable attention to the psycholinguistic


features of Conversation, to provide insights into their Characters. Similarly,
most major novelists recognise the importance of dialogue.
Prose on its own, whether spoken or written, is a blunt instrument for most of
their purposes.

Linguistic features of [ spoken ] English


conversation
Studies of the pronunciation of ordinary spoken English using transcripts of
real-life conversations reveal the following characteristics:
(a) Loss of initial or final consonants e.g. the funnies(t) thing I've isn'(t) it.
(b) Assimilation of consonants c) Vowel reduction e.g. once (i)n a while (d)
Combinations of a b and c, (e) Coalescence e.g. Let me ge(t you a) drink,
what do you want? (f) Close juncture between words in rhythm groups e.g. I
don't think it's all that good. Have a good lunch. Celia darling. It's really
pretty funny.
Continuous flow of sound produced by the physical linking of one word to the
next within the phrases.
Strong contrast is often made in conversation between heavy and weak
stresses. Syllables which unsergo the process of reduction inherent in this
contrast can be rendered obscure, indeterminate or even non-existent.
Grammatical and lexical material may disappear e.g. Oh, it does you good
[ (to have a good) laugh once in a while,] doesn't it. I haven't laughed at
anything so much for a long time (Highly stressed syllables).
Since Conversation isn't scripted in advance, it rarely uses the width of
vocabulary and the complicated structures which are normally associated
with written English or more formal styles of the language.
The act of conversation sets its own challenges which include establishing
contact with the intended listener(s) and filling in time while preparing a
context for segments of the utterance containing a properly organised
message.
These functions are served through Conversation Tags and fillers,
exclamations, expletives, hesitations and even longer formulae e.g. isn't it?
My golly I think I mean You know, don't you?

In many conversations where agreable noise-making is called upon to fulfil a


social function, it is often possible to retreat from the creative challenge or
the mental discipline needed to say anything of substance.
At times when we want to relax our minds as well as on the occasions when
we need more time to organise our thoughts we tend to fall back on lines we
have rehearsed over and over again.
These include the idioms, colloquial clichs and polite formulae which are
much in evidence in utterances between friends e.g. the funniest thing I've
ever seen, terribly funny (colloquial clichs); mind you; have a good laugh
(idioms)
Word length in Conversation is generally shorter than in other forms of
spoken English. As speakers, most of us have greater familiarity with words
of one or two syllables.
Conversation is usually made up of simple phrasal and compound verbs and
the limited vocabulary used to serve the basic functions of agreement,
offering, acceptance, greeting, request-making, stating & modifying beliefs,
questioning & responding.
These areas are well-rehearsed and it is customary to use an unintimidating
vocabulary.
The creative challenge of conversation often fails to result in syntactically
perfect sentences. In this sense, sentences are not always simple. They are
sometimes loose, awkward or vague. It is not easy to use the notion of
"sentence".
Complete utterances in Conversation may be phrases which would be
regarded as fragmentary in writing or spoken prose. There is often
considerable use of contractions e.g. Haven't seen you for years. Err,
Malcolm; Celia. Err, gin & tonic please.
Note that when two people are being introduced to one another, the context
of "Err Malcolm; Celia." is provided by physical gesture and facial expression.
As sentences, conversational utterances are often "mixed" or "stringy" in
syntactic form and omission of words is fairly common. Hesitations, selfinterruptions, repetitions & false starts leave their mark on what may aptly
be called a series of segments.
e.g. Well, I mean - I mean bits of it are - bits of it are quite funny aren't they. I
mean bits of it. You know, don't you.

The arrangement of words gives more play to the intonation patterns of


Spoken English. Instead of saying " Do you like it?" Rupert remarks: "You like
it, do you?"
Utterances are constructerd so as to make way for exclamations and
question tags. Malcolm's heavy use of Tune 1 "it's funny, isn't it" elicits
strong agreement, at least from Charles. Rupert's heavy use of Tune 2 raises
a note of discord which disturbs M.
The characteristics which differentiate Conversation from Spoken Prose or
semi-formal Written English mostly relate to the nature of the interaction
(i.e.It's not monologue), the need to produce and organise spontaneously &
the social functions it serves.
Yet a knowledge of where sounds are articulated in the mouth coupled with
signals as to the directions in which speech organs are moving and whether
to expect "voiced" or "voiceless" stops, will help the non-native speaker
develop similar listening skills
It is not difficult for teachers to demonstrate the relatively short vowel and
voiceless stop in the word "seat" and to compare them with the longer vowel
and voiced stop in the word "seed".
Indirect as well as direct procedures can be practised in identifying voiceless
and voiced consonant sounds.
In this context, learners will both appreciate how simplification comes about
and develop sufficient sensitivity to the sound of "informal English" to
overcome the obstacles which features such as elision & assimilation present
to the non-native listener.

Syntax and semantics


Describe the uses of the Present Perfect Tense in English
General statements concerning the use of the Present Perfect Tense emphasize the connection
between present and past.
"a sort of mixture of present and past" (Thomson & Martinet) "past with present relevance" or
"past involving the present" (Leech)
However, broad definitions like these are of limited help. A closer analysis of the "past - present"
relation is in my view the first stepping stone to the question of use.
This would take account of meaning as given, for example, through intonation and stress or
through the presence, nature or absence of adverbials.
Every English Grammar has its system of categorization.
I have found that the categories formulated by Leech in "Meaning And The English Verb"
provide a clear understanding of the "past-present" aspect as well as indicating some important
functions of the Present Perfect Tense.

The main contexts in which The Present Perfect tense is used


in the English language:
It is used in conversations (a wealth of examples in everyday English) , letters, newspapers, radio
reports, prayers, reports. Within these contexts the Present Perfect Tense has a variety of
individual functions.

1. STATE-UP-TO-THE-PRESENT The state extends over a period lasting up to the


present moment. It may extend into the future. Normally used with an adverbial of
duration.

2., 3., & 4: EVENT VERBS I.e. verbs used to refer to events. There are three main uses
of the Present Perfect with event verbs, as follows:

2.[a] INDEFINITE PAST At least once before now. The indefinite meaning is commonly
reinforced by EVER, NEVER, BEFORE (NOW), ALWAYS and other adverbials. The
number of events is commonly unspecified. The time is unspecified.

2.[b] RECENT INDEFINITE PAST At least once in a period leading up to the present.
Associated with adverbs such as JUST, ALREADY, RECENTLY and YET.

3. HABIT IN A PERIOD LEADING UP TO THE PRESENT Used with an adverbial of


duration (+ an optional adverb of frequency) FOR FIVE YEARS / ALWAYS / EVERY
MONTH / FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER / SINCE.

4. RESULTATIVE PAST Used in reference to a past event to imply that the result of the
event is still operative at the present time. No adverbial support is needed.

5. ADVERBIAL CLAUSES OF TIME REFERRING TO THE FUTURE. I'll help you


after I've washed up.

Special attention must be paid to certain verbs which refer to the states of HAVING and
BEING since the Present Perfect Simple must be used (not the Continuous). BE,
BELONG TO, CONTAIN, CONSIST OF, COST, DEPEND ON, DESERVE, HAVE,
MATTER, OWN, RESEMBLE.

1. The Present Perfect is used with "State Verbs". Verbs normally used to refer to "states" include
BE, LIVE, BELONG, LAST, LIKE, STAND, KNOW, HAVE and CONTAIN.
"state" is undifferentiated and lacking in defined limits: e.g. How long have you lived in
Brighton? I've lived in Brighton for two years / since 1977.
Here, as in most examples of the Present Perfect Tense applied to states, an adverbial is present
and there is no suggestion that the statement may not be true of the future as well as being true of
the period lasting up to the present moment.
2. Verbs normally used to refer to "events" include: JUMP,GET, PUT, LAND, BEGIN, FIND,
HIT, FALL, GO. An "event" has a beginning and an end; it may be part of a sequence of events
or happenings, so it can therefore be viewed as a whole entity.
2.[a] "I have never eaten frogs legs, drunk port or got married." 2. [b] He has just fallen over. 3.
She has claimed Social Security for the last five years. 4. We've finished our work.
2.[a] The question HAVE YOU EVER.? Occurs frequently in conversation, in discussion about
past experiences
2.[b] is frequent in conversation where short-term memory plays a fundamental part. The
actuality of JUST & ALREADY explains why this use of the Present Perfect is especially
common in news bulletins, letters and reports & summaries used in everyday conver
Mrs T. has just arrived in Moscow. She's already met 2 of the country's leading dissidents. Dear
Lola, I've just received your card from Barcelona.
In news bulletins, Past Simple & Past Perfect are used with much more frequency than Present
Perfect. The Indefinite Past does not tell you exactly when. (at six o'clock this morning / three
hours ago .. Incompatible with Present Perfect).

Present Perfect used in criticism: The Gov't has doubled prices, lengthened dole queues.
Connection with the present - what is wrong now. Also achievements.
3. Habit in a period leading up to the present - an adverbial of duration is usually required.
"She has claimed SS as long as I can remember". Without the adverbial of duration the example
would suggest the indefinite past.
The extra addition of an adverbial of frequency is often witnessed: "My typewriter has been
serviced every year since I bought it."

Adverbials of time and their compatibility with different


English verb tenses
Leech's points of orientation - they affect the choice of adverbials. The Present Perfect relates
past time more directly to the present point of orientation "now". See Adverbials in relation to
Perfect and Past (Leech).
Adverbials occuring with the Past Simple but precluding the Present Perfect: A WEEK AGO,
EARLIER THIS YEAR, LAST MONDAY, THE OTHER DAY, YESTERDAY EVENING.
Adverbials which are most likely found in the Past Simple but can occur in an indefinite or
iterative sense in the Present Perfect: AT FOUR O'CLOCK, IN THE MORNING, ON
TUESDAY, THEN, SOON, NEXT, AFTER BREAKFAST. I've always done my HW in the
evenings.
Adverbials which may accompany the Present Perfect but not the Past Simple include FOR THE
PRESENT, FOR NOW, FOR THE TIME BEING.
Adverbials which are normally associated with the Present Perfect as opposed to the Past Simple,
are SO FAR, UP TO NOW, HITHERTO, SINCE THURSDAY, SINCE I MET HER and
LATELY & LATTERLY (recent indefinite past)
The group of adverbials which combine with either Present Perfect or Past Simple is interesting
in so far as it indicates cases where the two tenses are interchangeable as well as instances where
the actual meaning depends on the tense.
ALWAYS, EVER and NEVER can be used either with the Present Perfect or Past Simple: I've
always said / I always said. He's always been a liar / He always was a liar.
NOW & ONCE: Now I've nearly finished my tea. Now it was nearly dark (for "then). I've visited
Toledo once / Once I was innocent (at one time). Meaning change.
ALREADY, STILL, YET & BEFORE relate to point of orientation "now" when used with the
Present Perfect and "then" when used with the Past Simple.

I've already finished it (as early as now) / I was already very tired (as early as then).
Other adverbials which combine with both tenses are: TODAY, THIS MONTH, THIS YEAR,
THIS CENTURY, THIS MORNING, TONIGHT, THIS MARCH, THIS CHRISTMAS,
RECENTLY, JUST (chiefly in the affirmative), LATELY & LATTERLY.
A common worry among Advanced level students is differentiation of Present Perfect Simple &
Present Perfect Continuous tenses. Note the temporary nature of the situations which the
Continuous is used to describe. Temporariness and possible non-completion.
Note that only the Present Perfect Simple (not the Continuous tense) is used with verbs
describing states of "having" and "being".

Uses of the Present Perfect Continuous or Progressive tense


The Present Perfect Continuous can also be used in cases 1-4 (not 5) , though it is commonly
used without adverbial reinforcement in category 1 "State verbs".
It would be artificial to attempt to teach the Present Perfect with overt reference to categories 15. Happily the textbooks provide a mixed bag of Present Perfects.
There is no problem of illustration since each of the categories mentined leads directly into the
language of everyday conversation. Moreover, there is no shortage of adverbials in the English
Language.
Given the abundance of living examples of use, the key to recognition of the Present Perfect
Tense rests with the knowledge of time relations and all other aids to meaning and the ability to
harness this knowledge for purposes of differentiation.