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The Discourse, Lexis And Grammatical Features Of The Spoken English Language

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Even though numerous grammatical characteristics of day to day, spontaneous discourse are judged wrong by the principles followed by written discourse, these characteristics of spoken grammar should not be viewed as off base deviations from the written or standard English. In contrast to written discourse, spoken discourse is typically unconstrained and spontaneous and created progressively with no open door for amending (CULLEN and KUO, 2007). This suddenness delivers some unique characteristics, as speakers manage and adjust to the weights of ‘constant handling,’ bringing about a ‘well ordered gathering’ of discourse. Moreover, discourse, as a rule, happens up close and personal, bringing about profoundly intelligent circumstances with a ‘common setting’ (Cameron, 2001). Along these lines, the nature and qualities of conversational English itself lead to a few unmistakable linguistic highlights of spoken English as speakers endeavour to satisfy the relational and intelligent elements of spoken discourse in real-time.

This essay comments on the grammatical, discourse and lexical features of the given extracts that distinguishes it as a spoken discourse rather than written discourse and the reason for why spontaneous speech is different from standard written language.

Spoken language is ordinarily related by linguists with discussion that is created, handled, and after that assessed with regards to up close and personal trade and grounded in relational connections that are regularly unmistakably settled. Speech is adjusted to an explicit group of onlookers and to social settings and networks that are apparently present, working in a setting of without further ado. On the other hand, written language is regularly connected with the language seen in books and illustrative exposition, for example, is found in schools. Composed dialect is formal, scholastic, and arranged; it relies on the past and is recreated so that later on it very well may be handled by changed readerships. (Horowitz and Samuels, 1987)

There are a number of features that make spoken grammar distinct on the basis of discourse, grammatical and lexical features. The discourse features of spoken grammar includes:

  • Hesitation pauses that are either filled with gap fillers or left unfilled. This could even be considered as a non-fluency feature, where hesitation pauses or fillers interrupt the flow pf speech.
  • Repetition is another distinct feature of spoken grammar where repetition can be either due to lack of fluency, for example, if we were on the-the right track; or used to emphasis on that part of the conversation, for example, she keeps talking and talking in the class. Where ‘talking’ is repeated to show the emphasis on how much talking had taken place.
  • False starts is a non-fluency discourse feature where the speech starts with a failed attempt to start the speech with actual complete utterance, for example, wh-where is that ball?
  • Incomplete utterances are another feature found only in spoken language. It is when the sentences or utterances are left incomplete which are either left unfilled or filled by the listener themselves. This depends upon the shared knowledge of the parties involved in a conversation.
  • Recasting is a feature seen when a linguistic unit is repeated in a amended form either to make something more clear or to correct something said earlier, for example, the biggest they’ve got 20 which she needs is a 22.
  • (Self) repair is when the speaker or the audience makes or suggests an alteration to correct or clarify a previous contribution in the conversation.
  • Phatic talk is done in spoken grammar where utterances are used basically just to maintain interpersonal relationships using simple adjacency pairs, for example, how are you?/ fine, and so on. (Biber, 1999)
  • The grammatical feature of spoken grammar includes:
  • Lack of subordination, where there is more parataxis than hypotaxis in spoken grammar. Parataxis is where the sentences, phrases or clauses are not coordinated or subordinated.
  • C-units are seen to be clustered together while speaking, where small, independent grammatical units come together, for example, vocabularies like, right, got it, etc.
  • Spoken discourse often only consists of simple phrase structure so that the listener or the addressee understands the speaker in less time easily.
  • Right/left dislocation is another feature of the spoken grammar where the speaker decides to follow the topic with the comment or vice versa.
  • Ellipsis is a feature observed very commonly in the spoken language where a grammatical structure is omitted from the sentence. This is done to bring out a more casual and informal tone to the talk. (Biber, 1999)

The lexical features that are commonly found in spoken grammar includes:

  • Vagueness is speech is very common as the utterances tend to have low precision in meaning and may sound unassertive, for example, use of phrases like and so on, whatever, etc.
  • Spoken language tends to have fewer nouns and more pronouns.
  • Hedges are a very common feature of spoken language as they are vocabulary used to soften the language used, for example, perhaps, maybe, etc.
  • Deixis is another important feature is spoken discourse as the conversation takes place in real time where words such as ‘here’, ‘there’, etc are used to refer to something outside the text, in other words a way of verbal pointing which very dependent on the context of the conversation
  • Dialect plays a major role in spoken discourse where the speaker tends to have their own distinct grammar and vocabulary patterns which is associated with the region or the social use of the language.
  • Contraction is quite often done while speaking where words are shortened to their reduced forms using apostrophe. It is also seen that some sounds of a syllable are omitted or slurred onto the other syllable making two or more words into one, for example, want to be as wannabe, going to as gonna and so on. (Biber, 1999)

The data in their respective contexts were observed carefully and the following features were noticed to be there that make it evident that the given data is a form spoken discourse. The data consists of a number of pauses among which most of them were micro pauses which are pauses that last even less than a second. Almost all of these pauses were just pauses that occurred without any specific purpose other than showing a transition from one sentence to another. These pauses are evidences or spontaneity in speech and shows that the delivery is unplanned. There does not seem to be any long pauses in the talk and this is probably because these are scripts from a TV soap opera. Since, the data provided are both scripts, they are written in such a way to look natural, spontaneous and unplanned, for example,

  • well clean ‘em again (.) you smell (.) milky
  • Okay (.) thanks.

There were instances found where pauses were found to be there before moving to a different topic or before introducing a new topic, for example,

  • so (1) what stage of relationship
  • well who else would it be (2) I’m sorry Gail…

Phatic talk was a common feature of spoken grammar was found in the start of the second context

  • morning
  • morning Gail (.) and how you feeling today babe

This is an example of phatic talk that does not contribute in any other way to the topic of the conversation other than just to make an interpersonal relationship bond before moving into the intended topic of the talk. This is a feature found in spoken language very often because it makes the participants of the conversation more comfortable with each other to make the talk smooth. The above given is also an example of adjacency pairs which is very common in speech that shows active involvement of the participants involved in a conversation. Moreover, following a pattern of adjacency pairs is a common trend found in phatic talk.

Another feature that is very commonly come across in spoken language is the influence of dialect while speaking which includes the use of slang as informal vocabulary or vocabulary that is only found in the region of the speaker. For example,

  • …get all mardy…

Where ‘mardy’ means sulky or moody in the Lancashire dialect.

  • I’m that het up about seeing her

Where ‘het up’ is another phrase for upset

This shows the informality and casualness in the talk. It also shows the importance of shared knowledge among the speakers in a conversation. This makes the talk more personal and evokes a sense of closeness in the participants.

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The data also seems to have informal vocabulary which would not be found in written text, for instance,

  • …don’t tut at me
  • …treasz getting your support
  • my mum…
  • …feeling today babe

The words ‘tut’ and ‘treasz’ are informal vocabulary that would not usually used in written language and is casually used while talking. The words ‘mum’ and ‘babe’ are informal ways of addressing a person which is very common in spoken language and cannot be found in written language other than some sort of informal discourse like, online chatting, mailing and so on.

The data also has instances of idiomatic expressions that is an evidence of spoken language, for example,

  • like a cat on a hot tin roof
  • …masculinity sliding down the drain

This happens in the spontaneity of the speech and because of the common expression used by the speaker which shows the lack of pre-planning while speaking.

The data in the second context shows an instance of incomplete utterance.

  • ph… look I just thank…

The could be an instance of non-fluency feature that occurred because the speech was not pre-planned and did not have enough time to plan out what to say and was seen to be self-corrected by the speaker themselves by not completing the utterance and instead producing and continuing with the amended form.

Contraction in speech when one reduces a word or more to a reduced form by omitting out parts of them and is usually replaced by an apostrophe, for instance,

  • you’re
  • ‘em
  • I’m
  • yesterday’s
  • haven’t
  • ‘ave

Contractions are made in order to reduce the time take to produce the words and to speed up the process of talking. It shows the casual and informal nature of the spoken language. Elision is another way of joining words and cutting short the length of words, for example,

  • gotta
  • gonna

Similar to every other spoken discourse, the data provided also consists of a number of discourse markers, which are words that are not a part of the propositional content or in other words, they are vocabulary that do not add any meaning to the utterance. The function of discourse markers is basically in the pragmatic sense. They are usually used in a conversation to mark turn-taking by the speakers, to show their attitude towards what the participant has uttered and to help the listener to follow the conversation as in the following instances,

  • So
  • Oh
  • well

Another evidence from the data that shows they are spoken discourse is the presence of ellipsis, where words or more are excluded from the utterance in order to reduce repletion in the talk. Language has a lot redundancies which be omitted and still the listener could comprehend the entire meaning of the utterance through previously said dialogues in a conversation, shared knowledge or through paralinguistic features. Instances from the data that portray ellipsis are,

  • I’m not
  • I never

Spoken grammar is usually seen to lack in subordination and does not seem to consist of many intricate connectors rather the same effect is seen to be brought about by pauses in some cases. The lack of subordination maybe to reduce the complexity in the speech and not to overload the listener with too information at once. The data also seemed to consist of simple and short phrase structures as they are faster and easier to produce by the speaker and process by the listener.

There are many ways in which day to day spoken language differs written language, some of them are as follows. Written discourse is usually permanent and textual discourse cannot be generally changed once they have been penned down or worked out. While spoken language is generally transient except if recorded, and the participants of a conversation can correct themselves and amend their expressions as they speak. Textual discourse can be used to for communication over time and space until the specific written language is understood by the parties involved in the communication. While spoken discourse is generally used for real-time interaction that needs a reaction then and there (Horowitz and Samuels, 1987). Composed dialect is in general considered to be more sophisticated and multifaceted than discourse with longer sentences and many subordinate conditions. The accentuation and format of written language have no equivalence in the spoken language. Be that as it may few types of written discourse, for example, texts and email, are similar to spoken discourse because it’s casual nature in their execution. Spoken discourse will, in general, be loaded with redundancies, inadequate sentences, adjustments and intrusions, except for formal discourses and other scripted types of discourse, for example, news reports and contents for plays and movies. In the case of written discourse there are no prompt criticism from their readers, aside from in electronic-based correspondence. Thus they can’t depend on setting to elucidate things so there is more need to clarify things obviously and unambiguously than in spoken discourse, with the exception of in composed correspondence between individuals who know each other well. Spoken discourse is normally a active connection between at least two individuals. Setting and shared learning plays an important role, as there are content that are indirectly implied or unsaid that can only understood if the speakers share the same knowledge about the topic of conversation. Written discourse utilizes punctuation marks, format, heading, hues and other graphical methods to enunciate the important parts while spoken discourse utilizes timing, tone, stress, volume to add emotional enunciation to speech. Composed material can be perused more than once and repeatedly analysed, and notes can be made on the composition surface. Just recorded discourse can be utilized along these lines. Some syntactic developments are just utilized only in writing, for example, some intricate concoction and legitimate terms. Some kinds of vocabulary are utilized just in spoken discourse. These incorporate slang articulations, and vocabularies like y’know, yo, and so forth. (Biber, 1999)

Linguists argue that language should be looked at through a continuum view, instead of considering written and spoken language as two different things (Paltridge, 2006). In written language, the gathering of people is missing; this requires a level of unequivocality of message so as to convey thoughts obviously one-path to the audience. This unequivocality isn’t as vital in spoken language as the gathering of people is not left out, however present and a functioning member in the interpretation of the conversation. Conversation is suggested to be “interactive, interpersonal and informal” and as a result utterances are usually of low precision because the speaker has an opportunity to repair and produce a altered version. Since speakers can support their conversation with paralinguistic features like body language and facial expressions, therefore, the language in a spoken discourse need not be as rigid, accurate and precise as that of in a written discourse (Paltridge, 2006). In a written discourse the writer has to rely completely on linguistic features and has to convey the intended meaning without any other source other than the writing on the paper. In fact, it can also be noted that a sentence read out aloud by a person could convey a completely different meaning from that when read out of a paper. For instance, any dialogue from the scripts provided when read may not have enough feelings as that of when they are spoken out aloud accompanied with extralinguistic hues and the variations in the voice of production. Even the most upfront seeming utterance requires much shared and tacit knowledge, not just linguistically but also socially and culturally in order to be interpreted correctly. Written discourse is often not interactional and does not need an immediate reaction, response or feedback from the addressee but in the case of a spoken discourse, the response to an utterance by the addressee is very important to lead the conversation rightly. In fact, the major reason for the appearance of pauses and fillers in a conversation is because of the involvement of turn-taking in spoken language. Since, speaking happens in real time and requires a feedback and contribution in very less time, the features that are unique to the spoken discourse, as mentioned above, will not generally be found in the written discourse (Brown and Yule, 1983).

Even though the provided data were not absolutely authentic as they were scripts, but they were scripted in a way to look very similar to an authentic scenario of the same. Hence, the discourse, lexis and grammatical features of the spoken language could be observed, which when compared to features of written language were in contrast with each other for the above mentioned reasons.


  1. Biber, D. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. [Erscheinungsort nicht ermittelbar]: Longman.
  2. Brown, G. and Yule, G. (1983). Discourse analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Cameron, D. (2001). Working with spoken discourse. London: Sage.
  4. CULLEN, R. and KUO, I. (2007). Spoken Grammar and ELT Course Materials: A Missing Link?. TESOL Quarterly, 41(2), pp.361-386.
  5. Horowitz, R. and Samuels, S. (1987). Comprehending oral and written language. San Diego: Academic Press.
  6. Paltridge, B. (2006). Discourse analysis: An Introduction. London: Continuum.

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