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Spoken Discourse

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3149 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Task 2: Spoken Discourse

Spoken discourse is an interactive speech between two or more people, which is a broad-based language phenomenon in daily life. Just as Cornbleet and Carter say, “speaking, in everyday conversation, usually takes place in real time, is conducted face-to-face, is interactional” (2001: 59).

l Conjunctions

In spoken discourse, we could find conjunctions including so (Line 4, Text 1), and (Line 4, Text 1), and then (Line 2, Text 2). Therefore, we could see that spoken discourse, in which communication is the most important purpose, only needs some common and simple vocabularies.

l Contractions

In spoken language, it is allowed and quite common to use contractions, even though it is informal. For example, It is and that is are abbreviated to it’s and that’s in Line 2, line 4, line 6 and line 11 in Text 2.

l Pronouns

“These are words whose meaning can only be discovered by referring to other words or to elements of the context which are clear to both sender and receiver” (Cook, 1989, p. 16). In Text 1, there are he (Line 4, 6), me (Line 4, 6, 7, 8, 10), I (Line 5, 8, 9) and they (Line 10). Only people who are speaking and listening could know who the above pronouns stand for. In Text 2, deixis include that (Line 1, 2, 5, 7, 12) and it (Line 2, 6, 11, 14). Text 2 starts with that one?. Here, speaker R must know what that one is for sure because they are both on the spot.

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l Ellipsis

“Omitting part of sentences on the assumption that an earlier sentence or the context will make the meaning clear is known as ellipsis” (Cook, 1989, p. 20). In Text 2, C says how you supposed to (Line 10). We could see that in spoken language, there is no necessity for strict sentence structure, because the speakers present could comprehend what others want to express.

l Delexical verbs

In spoken language, more ordinary and general verbs are used when describing some actions, such as do, take, go and put. Examples from Text 2 are as follows: make a loop (Line 2), put your fingers like that (Line 6), do a loop (Line 11).

l Adjacency pairs

“In a two-party conversation, both speakers contribute to the outcome of the conversation. Language is not merely a mode of action, but a means of interaction” (Edmondson, 1981, p. 32). Or we could say speakers and listeners are interdependent, examples include question and answer, greeting and greeting, invitation and accept, apologize and accept, congratulate and thank, etc. For instance, there are corresponding responds to the questions respectively like that one? (Line 1), Twist it? (Line 3), Like that? (Line 5), How you supposed to? (Line 10). Without these, a conversation could not carry on.

l Imperatives

In Text 2, speaker R (Tenor) is perhaps teaching Speaker C (Tenor) how to make a loop, twist strings (Field) face-to-face (Mode). The purpose of this conversation is that speaker C could finish it smoothly and successfully after speaker R’s explanation, so there are many imperatives, such as just twist it around (Line 2), do another loop through (Line 7), just pull it (Line 11).

l Short or uncompleted sentences

In a spoken language, where effective communication is focused on, long and complex sentences are unusual. By contrast, short and uncompleted sentences are very common. In Text 2, speaker C asked with short phrases, like that one? (Line 1), Like that? (Line 5), What? (Line 8). And R replied also shortly, such as Yeah, that’s it (Line 6), No (Line 9). Just as Cook says, “People do not always speak in complete sentences, yet they could still succeed in communicating” (1989: 1).

l Pauses

In Text 2, there are several ellipsis points, including make a loop like that…(Line 2), so it’s like crossed…(Line 4), The make it smaller by pulling the string…(Line 6), by putting your fingers like that…(Line 7). These ellipsis points are the pause durations, although the time is not long. Because just as I mentioned above, maybe speaker R is teaching speaker C, and in the pause time, speaker R is looking at speaker C, or demonstrating something to speaker C. All of these pauses could often happen in a face-to-face conversation.

l Back channel

We could notice speaker R saying yeah (Line 6). Actually it has no special meaning here, but just could be seen as a kind of response or agreement to speaker C’s question. Back channel is a distinct feature of spoken discourse, because in conversations, there are always lots of utterances, such as yes, OK, mm, really, etc, showing that the other speaker is listening and also showing his or her agreement, disagreement or doubt.

Task 4: Grammar


Det adj noun noun c noun aux

1. ‖Two American students, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, ︱are

A: Prep P

Lex Prep NP


backpacking︱ around England. ‖

S: NP V: VP O: NP A: Prep P

Pron lex noun Prep NP Prep NP

Det noun adj nmod noun

2. ‖They ︱seek ︱shelter ︱from a storm at unwelcoming Yorkshire inn, ︱


Det adj noun c Det noun aux adv lex

‘The Slaughtered Lamb’, and the pair ︱ are soon spooked ︱

A: Prep P

Prep NP

Det adj noun

by the unwelcoming locals. ‖

S: NP V: VP A: Prep P c V: VP

Dec noun copula adj prep NP aux lex

Dec noun

3.‖The duo ︱ get lost ︱on the moors ︱and︱ are attacked ︱

A: Prep P

prep NP

Dec adj noun

by a savage animal.‖

S: NP V: VP O: NP A: Prep P

noun lex pron prep NP

Dec adj noun

4. ‖Morning︱ sees ︱them︱ in a terrible state.‖

S: NP V: VP c S: NP V: VP

Noun copula c aux aux lex noun lex adv

5.‖ Jack ︱seems to have been killed, ︱but ︱David ︱comes round︱

A: Prep P A: NP

Prep NP

Dec nmon noun noun adv

in a London hospital ︱weeks later.‖

S: NP A: adv P V: VP O: NP

Dec adj noun adv lex Dec adj noun

6. ‖The undead Jack ︱then ︱makes ︱a terrifying visit︱

A: Prep P

prep NP


to David.‖

S: NP copula C: NP c S: NP

Dec noun Relative clause copula Dec noun noun

pron lex pron

7. ‖The creature︱ that attacked them ︱was ︱a werewolf︱, and ︱David ︱

V: VP A: Prep P A: adv P

modal lex noun Prep NP

pron adv

may fall prey ︱to it ︱next. ‖

V: VP O: clause A: Prep P

lex c lex pron lex Prep NP

Dec adv adj noun

8. ‖ Wait and see ︱what happens ︱at the next full moon. ‖

The difficulty and uncertainty when I come across in analyzing the above 8 sentences are as follows.

1. I think David Kessler and Jack Goodman in the first sentence are appositions of Two American students, but I am not sure whether I should mark it in the sentence.

2. In sentence 5, I find it difficult to mark the element of each word in seems to have been killed, because there are four verbs here. I am not sure which one is auxiliary verb and which one is notional verb.

3. The last sentence is an imperative sentence, which has some slight differences with other sentences, for example, it has no subject. So I have difficulty in identifying the elements.

In EFL grammar, teachers usually teach grammar according to different categories, such as passive verb form, the plural nouns, comparatives and superlatives, articles, prepositions and so on. Swan gives an example on Plural Forms of the Noun and classifies the plural forms into several categories, such as “plural of nouns ending in consonant +y, plural of nouns ending in sh, ch, s, x or z, plural of nouns ending in o, irregular plurals in -ves, plural same as singular, plural with no singular forms, compound nouns and other irregular plurals” (Swan, 1995, p.521-525). Here in sentence 1, teachers will focus on two points, the appositive, Two American students, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, and the present continuous tense, are backpacking around England.

Hunston, Francis and Manning describe “pattern” in the following way:

Where grammar and vocabulary meet in most courses is in units which, for example, list the particular verbs which are typically followed either by a to-infinitive, a present participle, or both. For example, learners must learn that appear and manage are followed by a to-infinitive only; that finish and suggest are followed by a present participle only; that begin and like are followed by either form, with roughly the same meaning; but that forget, remember, stop, and try have different meanings when used with each form. This approach to the grammar of individual words, which we call ‘patterns’, can be extended far beyond these traditional observations (1997, p. 208).

In the following table, it shows some usages of the verb “get” (Sentence 2) analyzed by pattern grammar.




To obtain/ receive something

Get + noun

He got a birthday present from his parents yesterday.

To become/ make somebody in some particular state

Get + adjective

The duo get lost on the moors.(Example from Sentence 2)

To reach some places

Get + to+ place

How can I get to the nearest bus station, please?

To get something done

Get + noun + past participle

I am going to get my coat washed.

To make somebody in some particular condition

Get + somebody + adjective

He got his parents angry.

To make somebody do something or to persuade somebody to do something

Get + somebody + to-infinitive

I got her to agree to go shopping with me.


Task 6: Lexis

l Collocation

“Collocations are not words which we, in some sense, ‘put together’, but the way in which words co-occur in natural text in statistically significant ways” (Lewis, 2000, p. 132). For native speakers, it is comparatively easier to spell out which words should be put together because they could speak or write naturally and automatically in English, while it is not the case for non-native speakers. For instance, Chinese students often make mistakes like eat medicine, The price of the book is expensive, rather than take medicine, The price of the book is high. It is a collocation error more than a grammar error.

The following patterns are some examples of collocation from the given text:

a) on a frigid overcast day (Line 2): preposition + adjective + noun

b) precise moment (Line 3): adjective + noun

c) peek into the alley (Line 4): intransitive verb + preposition + noun

d) standing in the kitchen with……(Line 9): verb + adverbial adjunct

e) on the line (Line 10): preposition + noun

f) dance high (Line 14): verb + adverb

g) willow tree(Line 19): noun + noun

l Metaphor

Knowles and Moon define metaphor in the following way:

When we talk about metaphor, we mean the use of language to refer to something other than what it was originally applied to, or what it ‘literally’ means, in order to suggest some resemblance or make a connection between the two things (2006: 4).

Here are some examples:

1. bury (Line 6) : Originally it means place something (e.g. a dead body) in the earth or a tomb, but here it means forget or hide something in one’s heart.

2. claw its way out (Line 6) : claw means to scratch or to tear something or somebody with claws or nails, but here, this phrase means the past emerges in one’s mind.

3. on the line (Line 10) : line means a continuous mark, here line means telephone line. So on the line means somebody is on the other side of the telephone.

4. hang up (Line 11) : It means to put something on a hook, such as to hang the coat up. While here it means to put the telephone down and to end a conversation on the telephone.

5. soar (Line 14) : It means to rise very fast, but here it means fly high in the sky.

6. dance (Line 14) : Dance means to move around according to the rhythm of music, but here it is personification, giving the kites the characteristics of human beings, and means to fly over above the tree in the wind.

l The idiom principle

Idiom principle means two or three words together are produced at a time, which could be also considered as fixed collocation. According to Sinclair (1991, p. 110), “the principle of idiom can be seen in the apparently simultaneous choice of two words, for example, of course”.

In the text, we can also find some features of idiom principle. For instance, in the phrases red with long… (Line 14), high above… (Line 15).red and high are adjectives, which should be followed by nouns, but here, prepositions with and above are followed. Besides, precise and moment seem to be two irrelevant words, but when they are combined together, this fixed collocation means the right time.

Task 7: Register and genre

l Register

Register means the language varieties with some language features, which are used in some particular language environment. In Halliday’s view, register means:

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’ (1978:31).

Different occasions and subjects will form different language varieties. Field, tenor and mode are three parameters in analyzing register.

Field stands for topic. The field of the given text is describing and introducing a house. First, we could know it from a lot of words, phrases and sentences, including offers attractive accommodation with many lovely features, kitchen fittings, gardens, sealed unit double glazing, ground floor, entrance vestibule, sitting room, cupboard, bedrooms and bathroom. These lexes are closely related to the field. Secondly, we could also learn from the layout of the text, in which there is a photo, location, price and phone number. So it is easy to see the topic of this text from the above two points.

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In terms of tenor, it means the relationship between the participants. Perhaps it is harder to analyze tenor in a written language than in a spoken language because nobody is sure who is involved in this discourse. But actually, here in this text, we could make a guess. It seems to be an advertisement on introducing a house and the purpose of this advertisement is to sell the house. Actually, we could know people involved in this discourse may be house agency or house seller, and people who want to buy a house as well from the detailed and complete description and the clear layout, which is beneficial to sell the house successfully.

Mode refers to the medium of communication, in particular whether it is spoken or written, which will have far-reaching effects on the language used. “It also includes the channel of communication (face-to-face or via telephone, e-mail, broadcast or print) since whether or not there is visual and/or aural contact and whether feedback is ongoing, delayed or impossible must affect the language choices made” (Painter, 2001, p. 167). Obviously, it is a typewritten discourse, which can be inferred from the long and complex sentence structures, detailed wordings and formal layout. So in a written text, several aspects, such as wording, sentence structure, grammar and discourse structure, should be considered.

l Genre

Swales (1990: 58) considers that “A genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent discourse community, and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre”. Genre is the language style, which adapts to the needs of theme and context in order to achieve the communicative function. In the rich and complex social life, people’s verbal communication achieves different communication functions based on totally distinct communication fields, communication objects, communication purposes and communication methods.

Swales (1990) lists some features which examples of genres have, including “purpose, specific name, typical and atypical, good and bad examples, stages and discourse community”. The purpose of the text is to show people the house in order to sell it, so the specific name may be an advertisement on selling a house. It is a typical and good example of a genre because of its lexis and layout, which mentioned above. The detailed, positive wording and description, combined with a photo, will be beneficial to sell the house successfully. As to the stages, from the layout, we could find a photo, location, followed by a description of the house. It is a comparatively typical and favored stage, because people will first be attracted by the photo, and then read the location and the description, which does work in successfully selling the house. The discourse community may include house agencies, house sellers, and people who are planning to buy a house.


COOK, G. 1989. Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CORNBLEET, S. and CARTER, R. 2001. The language of speech and writing. London: Routledge.

EDMONDSON, W. 1981. Spoken discourse: a model for analysis. London: Longman.

HALLIDAY, M. A. K. 1978. Language as a Social Semiotic. London: Edward Arnold.

HUNSTON, S., FRANCIS, G. and MANNING, E. 1997. Grammar and vocabulary: showing the connections. ELT Journal. 51 (3), pp. 208-216.

KNOWLES, M. and MOON, R. 2006. Introducing metaphor. London; New York: Routledge.

LEWIS, M. 2000. Language in the lexical approach. In: LEWIS, M, ed. Teaching collocation: further developments in the Lexical Approach. Australia; United Kingdom: Thomson/Heinle.

PAINTER, C. 2001. Understanding Genre and Register. In: BURNS, A. and COFFIN, C, eds. Analysing English in a global context: a reader. London: Routledge.

SINCLAIR, J. 1991. Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

SWALES, J. M. 1990. Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

SWAN, M. 1995. Practical English usage. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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