Colloquial English Grammar

Estonian Business School Institute of Foreign Languages GRAMMAR OF SPOKEN ENGLISH Term Paper By Maria Esko BBL-2 Supervisor: Ludmilla Podolski Tallinn 2012 Table of Contents Introduction3 Common Features of Spoken English4 Grammar Characteristics7 Clause Combination7 Position of items8 Pausing, Repeating and Recasting8 Organising the discourse9 Ellipsis9 Response Tokens10 Vague Expressions11 Headers and Tails11 Conclusion12 References13 Introduction In the business world, communication is vital for creating new networks and acquiring important business partners.
Communication is the activity of conveying information. Effective communication skills can be considered the key to success. I have chosen to investigate English spoken language in order to clarify what spoken English grammar is. As a non-native speaker I consider learning spoken grammar incredibly important in order to understand the other party. The communication process can be considered successfully completed only when the listener has understood the message of the speaker. The fact that speaking and writing are different is quite obvious.
The studies of the spoken English grammar have been neglected for a long time, since it was considered as confusing and full of mistakes. Development of technology has made it possible to analyse spoken language more thoroughly. Therefore many fascinating facts about spoken Grammar have arisen. In this paper I will use the term spoken grammar in the meaning of colloquial English. The characteristics of formal English speaking, e. g. prepared speeches are not analysed in this term paper. This paper gives an overview of the main features of the grammar of spoken English.

The differences between spoken and written English are supplied with illustrations. In the conclusion the overall characteristics of the grammar of spoken English have been summarised. Common Features of Spoken English Is there any grammar in spoken English? To answer this question I have to define the overall meaning of grammar. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica the term grammar in a restricted sense refers only to the study of sentence and word structure (syntax and morphology), excluding vocabulary and pronunciation.
Although language is the same the grammar of spoken English may differ since following the grammar rules during a conversation is time consuming and unnatural. When spoken language is observed in more detail it also has patterns and specific structures which may be considered as the grammar of spoken language. During a conversation we do not have much time to think what we are about to say and can not plan our speech in advance (excluding some special cases). While listening to a recorded speech it feels normal, fluent and easy to follow. On the other hand, when put on paper it is rather difficult to understand.
However it gives an opportunity to notice some specific features of colloquial English language, such as silent pauses, voice filled pauses, repetitions, false starts, discourse markers(small words or fixed phrases used to indicate the beginning or the end of an idea) and short forms (Leech, Svartvik, 2002). Specific features mostly have a contextual meaning for the listener and can indicate different changes in the subject of the conversation. In this paper the term Spoken English language is understood in a narrow sense. It only includes the colloquial English and face-to-face interactions.
Prepared speeches and other types of formal English speaking are not taken into account and are not discussed in the given work. In the figure below are presented the seven most typical conditions operating in real-time conversation. These features best describe why spoken language is so difficult to put in writing. Figure 1: Seven conditions operating in conversation (Leech, n. d. , figure 2) Further is given an example of a conversation which illustrates the conditions generally operating in a conversation. It will be later analysed and used as an example for various items of spoken grammar.
Four speakers are sitting at the dinner table talking about a car accident that happened to the father of one of the speakers. At the end of this sequence they switch to another topic. I’ll just take that off and Have you got hold of it? are references to a large pan which is on the dinner table. The = sign indicates an utterance which is cut short The + sign indicates an interrupted turn which continues at the next + sign A: I’ll just take that off. Take that off. B: All looks great. C: [laughs] B: Mm. C: Mm. B: I think your dad was amazed wasn’t he at the damage.
A: Mm. B: It’s not so much the parts. It’s the labor charges for= D: Oh that. For a car. B: Have you got hold of it? A: Yeah. B: It was a bit erm= A: Mm. C: Mm. B: A bit. A: That’s right. B: I mean they said they’d have to take his car in for two days. And he said all it is is straightening a panel. And they’re like, ‘Oh no. It’s all new panel. You can’t do this’. C: Any erm problem. B: As soon as they hear insurance claim. Oh. Let’s get it right. C: Yeah. Yeah. Anything to do with+ A: Wow. C: +coach work is er+ A: Right. C: +fatal isn’t it. A: Now.
As can be seen in the example taken from Cambridge Grammar of English a comprehensive guide spoken and written English Grammar and usage (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 165), understanding of the text depends on the context and the immediate situation. Example shows some of the units that can be frequently encountered in spoken grammar, such as indeterminate structures ellipted forms, incomplete structures, subordinate clauses not obviously connected to any particular main clause, interrupted structures with other speaker contributions intervening, words whose grammatical class is unclear.
Conversation happens in real time and is spontaneous, therefore speakers make mistakes and we can observe common features of spoken grammar. Some sentences are confusing and hard to understand because we do not have the knowledge of the shared background of the conversation. It is difficult to represent speech in writing so that the reader could easily follow the written conversation. In order to do so there have to be made many remarks to explain what the speaker means. In real-time conversations emotions and vocal intonations are important to understand the speaker.
Moreover, it is difficult to determine when the sentence starts and when it ends. This conversation is meant to illustrate precisely what is analysed in the term paper. Spoken Language and Interpersonal Communication In this paper only one part of spoken English will be discussed which is colloquial English. It is an informal interpersonal communication and has its own peculiarities. Conversations are typically carried out in face-to-face interaction with others. They are tied to the participants and the immediate situation. Speakers usually share a common contextual ackground and exchange meanings rather than the content of the message. Meanings will vary depending on the specific social, cultural and institutional knowledge (Biber, Conrad, Leech, 2002, 428). Grammar Characteristics Spoken language and written language coexist. They are not divided sharply but have many different characteristics. Therefore the grammar of colloquial English differs from the written one. There are many differences that could be mentioned; however, due to the limitation of space they remain outside the scope of this paper, which gives a brief overview of the main features of spoken English.
Clause Combination In spoken English it is typical when the hierarchy of clauses in sentences is in discord. In real-time communication the speaker is not able to construct over-elaborate patterns of main and subordinate clauses. Usual are sequences of clauses connected by coordinating conjunctions (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 170). Conjunctions are a grammatical resource to link text. In speech coordinating conjunctions are more frequent than in writing. Coordination is less empathic and more vague, which is characteristic of speech (Leech, Svartvik, 1983).
Often subordinate clauses are used by one of the speakers to maintain the conversation or to give additional comments. They often occur after a pause to give evaluation to what have been said. Sometimes clauses “blend” in a sentence it happens when the beginning of a sentence is different from how it was completed. This syntactic structure is common in spoken language and is easily understood by the listener. (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 171): Well, no, Melanie’s actually still a student and she still has ten hours of lectures a week, so she works in McDonald’s in her spare time cos she needs the money and she works in McDonald’s in Hatfield….
Subordinate clauses: A: So I turned round and chased after him. B: Just as I would have done. Clausal blend: They’ve nearly finished all the building work, hasn’t it? Position of items Spontaneous speech often requires adjustments to be made according to the communicative needs. Therefore it is natural when the speaker changes the position of items in a sentence in order to help the listener to the understand information better (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 172). In colloquial English subject-verb inversion often takes place.
In informal speech it helps to emphasise the subject (Leech, Svartvik, 1983): B: I think your dad was amazed wasn’t he at the damage. Pausing, Repeating and Recasting There are two types of pauses: unfilled and filled. Unfilled pauses are just silent and quite short. They often indicate a change in the direction or the subject of the conversation. Filled pauses are marked by vocalisations, such as er, erm, uh or uhm. These marks can indicate a shift in the topic or that the speaker has not yet finished talking and is thinking of the best way to continue (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 172).
Repetition and recasting are very common in colloquial speech. When answering a question by repeating words or phrases the speaker can get some more time to think. Usually repetition occurs at the beginning of an utterance or clause. Recasting is normal in real-time speaking. It happens due to the fact that the speaker is talking very fast and needs to reformulate words or phrases (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 173-174): I spoke to her last night…well, she’s not going to take the job. It was, er, the director, wasn’t it? I, I’m, I’m not sure he’ll he’ll be able to arrange that at such short notice.
Organising the discourse Spoken language seems quite unorganised. However, speakers often use specific words and structures to indicate how the speech will continue. For example items such as anyway, okay, right, I mean, so, now, etc. These items are named discourse markers. Structurally these markers do not belong to clauses (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 174-175). One of the more frequent discourse markers in spoken English is like it is used to mark direct speech (Adolphs, Carter, 2003): Right, we’d better try to phone and see what they have to report.
And they’re like, ‘Oh no. It’s all new panel. You can’t do this’. Ellipsis Ellipsis is the absence of elements required by the grammar. However the message doesn’t suffer and missing parts can be understood from the context. In most conversations ellipsis can be classified as initial ellipsis and final ellipsis in some cases also medial ellipsis takes place. In initial ellipsis, words at the beginning of the sentence are dropped, in correspondence in the medial ellipsis in the middle and in the final ellipsis at the end of a sentence (Biber, Conrad, Leech, 2002, 441-443).
Also ellipsis can be categorised situational, textual or structural (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 181): Initial ellipsis: Didn’t know that film was on tonight. – I is omitted. Final ellipsis: A: I suppose Kathy is still living in that same place. B: Yeah, she is. – living in that same place omitted Medial ellipsis: Yeah dude, I’ gotta start working. – instead of I have got to Ellipsis is highly characteristic of spontaneous speech. During a conversation speakers need to reduce syntactic complexity due to real-time pressures.
Ellipsis also takes place when avoiding unnecessary repetition and giving fast responses to other speakers (Biber, Conrad, Leech, 2002, 441). Response Tokens Response tokens are very common in spoken language. These are some adjectives and adverbs used to give quick and clear response to the speaking partner and to show that the user is listening and understands what is said to him. Such words include absolutely, definitely, great, fine, good, really. Some words have an association with a particular context. For example fine is used when making arrangements and reaching decisions.
Response tokens help the listener to give quick feedback to the speaker, which is very convenient in case of a conversation (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 188-189): C: Yeah. Yeah. Anything to do with+ A: Wow. C: +coach work is er+ A: Right. C: +fatal isn’t it. A: Now. Vague Expressions Speakers tend to avoid aggressive or authoritative language and in order to sound polite and to soften the language vague expressions are used. The most common are stuff, like, anything, kind, whatever, sort of, etc. Vague expressions soften the information and often are used before some accurate or precise information (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 202-203).
Sometimes these expressions are overused by the speaker: Between then and like nineteen eighty four I just spent the whole time, I mean for that whole sort of twelve year period or whatever, erm I was just working with just lots and lots of different people. Headers and Tails Headers and tails are very common features of spoken language. They rarely occur in written English and seem very strange. A header occurs in a sentence where an item within a clause structure is placed before the clause and repeated in the clause itself. In other words the header stands in the initial position.
Most typically header consists of a noun phrase and is followed by one or more pronouns. Headers are used by the speaker to help the listener to orientate in the facts (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 192-193): The teacher with glasses, he seems very nice. Tails are similar to headers; the difference is that these items are placed outside the clause structure. Tails are also typically noun phrases. Their purpose is to clarify something mentioned in the main clause. Usually tails clarify or repeat the referent of a pronoun (Carter, McCarthy, 2006, 194-196): They’re incredibly nice, our neighbours.
Conclusion In conclusion it is possible to say that English spoken language has grammar. However there is still much to be researched. The need to investigate spoken grammar is important in order to improve the speaking skills. In world where communications are developing so rapidly, spoken language and the mastery of it is an empowering skill. Writing is practiced everywhere in the world but the art of conversation is practiced rarely (Brazil, 1995, 11). Spoken grammar highlights the contextual and interpersonal aspects of communications. It is an interactive process and usually it is quite rapid.
Therefore speakers use different structures in order to give quick comments or answers. Those structures include response tokens and ellipsis. Often the speaker changes the position of items in order to help the listener to understand the topic. In order to make the speech softer and less authoritative speakers use vague expressions. During the conversation the speaker often looses track of thoughts and therefore pauses, repetitions and recasting help to combine new clause structures. Many other characteristics of the grammar of spoken English can be named.
The knowledge of the grammar of spoken English is important for business communications. People need the necessary skills to express themselves in a best possible way. Studying this subject will provide a better understanding of grammar as a whole and can be a source of new knowledge. References Adolphs, S. , Carter, R. , 2003, And she’s like it’s terrible, like: Spoken Discourse, Grammar and Corpus Analysis, International Journal of English Studies Biber, D. , Conrad, S. , Leech, G. , 2002, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English, Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited Brazil, D. 1995, A Grammar of speech. Oxford: Oxford University Press Carter R. , McCarthy m. , 2006, Cambridge Grammar of English a comprehensive guide spoken and written English Grammar and usage, Cambridge University Press Eggins, S. and D. Slade, 1996, Analyzing casual conversation. London: Cassell Leech G. , Svartvik J. , 1983, A communicative grammar of English, Moscow Prosveshchenie Leech G. , Svartvik J. , 2002, A communicative grammar of English 3d edition, London: Pearson ESL Leech, G. , n. d. , English Grammar in Conversation Lancaster: Lancaster University

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