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Lexical Density Informalisation In The English Language English Language Essay

Both of these terms within the study of English language are commonly used as markers that help to differentiate between the spoken and written modes of Language.

Lexical Density is a measure of how much information there is in a particular piece of language. Lexical words (content words) are words which carry information. Texts which have a high proportion of lexical items compared to function words (grammatical items) are said to have a high lexical density. Written texts are likely to have a higher lexical density than spoken texts which tend to have more grammatical items than content. Scientific texts are also likely to have a very high lexical density due to their educational nature. Halliday defines lexical density as '...a measure of the density of information in any passage of text, according to how tightly the lexical items (content words) have been packed into the grammatical structure. It is important to consider in this definition however that lexical density can be high in the more formal written texts because of the use of nominalisation (where one syntactic form is replaced by another) which although creating a high Lexical Density count can also lower the level of information content.

An example of the differences in Lexical Density between written and spoken language can be shown when i asked my niece what she had ‘learned’ in school that day:

“we did electricity in science today”.(lexical density count: 3) which when compared to her summary lesson text for that day;

‘Materials that can carry electricity are called conductors - they conduct electricity’.(lexical density count: 6) - primary school text book.

Informalisation is the breaking down of divisions between formal public use and informal private use of English. Linguists argue that language used in public and institutional contexts is changing and that styles of private language have crossed borders to be used in public situations in a new form of address. They say that increasingly professional encounters are becoming more “conversationalised” (Fairclough in Maybin Et Al, pg205). This can be seen frequently on business websites such as ‘Recycle Now’ (www.recyclenow.com) advertised to us by our local council. They demonstrate informalisation through their use of some of the typical ‘markers of informal English’; pronouns, simple English and contractions of negatives; (Maybin et al, pg 207) “Keep it simple, Don't worry about removing labels, it’s as simple to recycle as to throw away” However this could also be an example of the use of this marketisation where the informalisation of language is used intentionally by an organisation for a specific marketing reason.

Another key marker of informalisation is the term of address. The observation that my doctor, and some of my regular customers now call me ‘Sharon’ and not “Mrs Tyrrell” (without being asked) are excellent examples of the informalisation of the English Language within my day to day life.

Part 2

Baynham and Maybin (2007, p. 123) assert that ‘...electronic means of communication seem to have shifted the relationship between speech and writing.’ Discuss this statement, using brief examples of your own to illustrate your points.

  Modern technology has allowed language to explore a new medium;- Electronic Discourse (ED), different in fundamental ways from typical conversational speech and writing found in other situations. The first task therefore is to look at the differences between the two more traditional mediums of speech and writing looking at if, and how, the relationship between them has been changed by ED through analysing its linguistic properties.

Written English is most often planned, while spoken English is most often unplanned. This simple distinction results in many notable differences although the main differences lie within their differences in form. Form refers to grammatical, lexical, phonological and graphological aspects of language. I will look at the differences between the two in these respects and then look at the features of ED and how that relates to both written and spoken language.

 In the grammatical traits for speech, there is a lack of clear sentence boundaries which makes it difficult to know when one has ended and when one can begin. Usually in speech between people who know one another, the boundaries are erased and overlapping occurs.    In contrast, in typical written text you are expected to write in full sentences, include paragraphs and have an appropriate structure. When using typical writing in a formal document punctuation is essential and the agreement between nouns and verbs is crucial.  Typical speech and typical writing also have a different grammatical intricacy. Typical speech has a simpler grammatical structure because there are fewer clauses, less subordination and often shorter units; whilst typical writing has more grammatical intricacy because it contains subordinate clauses in complex sentences, it also contains pre-modifiers and past modifiers. Typical speech contains looser contraction sentences that are linked with words such as ‘and’ and lengthy coordinate sentences. Also non-standard subject-verb agreements, ellipsis, non-standard word order, fragmented sentences are all very common. 

            The lexis vocabulary of typical speech is colloquial and slang. It contains taboo language, nonsense words and contracted words. This is in contrast to the much wider vocabulary that is to be typically found in more formal writing. Typical writing also includes words that are never spoken, such as long chemical compounds and also relies on the greater degree of formality. In typical speech, inexplicitness is expected and much repetition occurs whilst in typical writing one must be explicit and repetition is frowned upon. Typical speech is usually unplanned and can be full of non-fluency features and running repairs such as false starts, hesitations, repetitions, discourse particles and fillers, words such as ‘umm’ and ‘like’, and ‘y’know’. Another noticeable difference is that the lexical density of spoken discourse is usually much lower than that of written due to the high content of grammatical items used in relation to that of content words.

The phonology traits are not able to be used in typical writing. In typical speech however, the intonation is extremely important, the prosody also makes a huge difference and a word or phrase could have a different impact if pronounced with the wrong prosody.  Intonation may reveal the boundaries for clauses and is vital in social and emotional conversations, as it helps to explain one’s point of view. Prosody is also used to make the conversation more lively and interesting.   In typical writing, the tone can only be indicated by the use of question marks (?), exclamation marks (!),underlining, CAPITALS or by describing the tone. In literature, the tone of the poem is achieved in the rhyme and the rhythm.

            The graphology feature of language is not used in typical speech. Spelling, punctuation and the use of paragraphs are all seen as graphology features. These all appear and play an important part in typical writing. The amount or size of paragraphs and the use of italics, underlining, and emboldening can all give a certain impression. Pictures, emoticons and columns are all graphology features. Paralinguistic features such as the movement of the hands, a shrug or a smile are crucial in Spoken English where the use of more than just words - context cues, tone, gestures, eye contact, pace and body language-all play a part in communicating meaning, while written English generally lacks these. 

Having highlighted some of the main differences and therefore the relationship between spoken and written English it is also important to note that these differences are not absolute and there are a range of forms and genres across both speech and writing- for instance a spoken lecture or a job interview is closer to writing than a pub conversation between friends and a personal letter closer to speech than a page from a textbook-. This is often dependant on the formality of the situation in which the discourse is taking place.

Now to look at the notable linguistic features of ED in comparison to the definitions already visited above. It is important to note that the proportion of these features exhibited by a ED text can vary enormously according to criteria such as formality, subject and the personal characteristics of the individual writer (including age, identity, etc.).

Grammatically ED tends to use many of the typical spoken traits such as "telegraphic" language ‘Have forwarded the P the email’, ‘Will do, but am not back in office this week’(see appendix A) and also uses interaction features (e.g. questions) ‘i’ll call then, ok?’ (ibid) and overall a very un-complex grammatical structure similar to informal speech. However this omission of grammatical words gives the text an extremely high lexical density which is traditionally more a characteristic of writing.

The lexical features of ED are also hard to categorise, as in some ways, it is like conversation in that it "presents a number of performance features generally characteristic of in process or 'in situ' communicative events and behaviours, such as repetition, direct address, disfluencies, and markers of personal involvement," including syntactic and lexical items (Davis and Brewer, 1997). However, because turn taking occurs differently in ED, the "interruptions and overlaps so characteristic of conversation" do not occur (see Appendix B). There is also an absence of the fillers so often seen in oral conversations (Brown & Yule, 1983) although these are present ‘urrrrrr not sure, think so...’ (appendix B) The vocabulary used in ED is typically very informal and frequently uses abbreviations, auxiliary verbs, colloquialisms and familiar terms of address (see appendix B) much like that associated with speech.

Phonologically and graphologicaly ED utilises many techniques to try and imply tone or meaning that previously has been difficult to do in writing. The use of emoticons, :o) , capitalisation, letter repetition, use of graphics, sounds, punctuation and phonetic spelling (see appendix B) to indicate emotions, pauses, emphasis and intonation all demonstrate the fact that ED is a much more multimodal method of communication than was previously possible within typical writing and is often successfully able to create the impression of speech within written form.

It is apparent from the examples provided that electronic communication does not fall ‘within the standard definitions of narrative and text’ (Jones, 1995, p. 5) but in fact appears to embody aspects of each. It is clear that this new and still evolving medium that ED also demonstrates the process of informalisation within the written English language, clearly showing the majority of the markers that are used to define it; casual terms of address, informal vocabulary, intonation and contractions of negatives. It has been suggested that the electronic medium creates a feel of ‘distance’ between the author I know that i, certainly, am guilty of being too casual in situations when i am contacting people by means of electronic communication and even guilty of using marketisation when corresponding with customers for my online business to make me seem more approachable. So, in conclusion, whilst the medium of electronic communication may not have changed the relationship between speech and writing it has certainly blurred it. Perhaps in this technology surrounded age we need to readdress the definitions of speech and writing to reflect the numerous varieties that now exist.

WORD COUNT 1642

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