exploring spoken english
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IntroductionThis book explores authentic examples of contemporary spoken English. Its main aim is to provide learners and students of English with the opportunity to see, hear and understand conversational English in a range of different contexts of use. During the past ten to fifteen years there has been an explosion of interest in the analysis of extended stretches of spoken and written language, and increasing reference to and use of real language in English language teaching materials. To the best of our knowledge this book is the only publication since Crystal and Davy's Advanced Conversational English (1975) to collect such extensive samples of naturalistic conversational data and to describe and comment on that data in ways which will be of maximum value to teachers and students of English. And in several important respects Exploring Spoken English breaks new ground.
S p o k e n English D a t a There is spoken English and there is spoken English. During the 1990s there have been a number of projects designed to collect large quantities of spoken data. Such projects (see, for example, Crowdy 1993; Rundell 1995a & 1995b) have involved sophisticated computational technologies and methodologies and will continue significantly to inform pedagogic projects, particularly in the field of learners' dictionaries of English and related lexicographic materials development. However, it is one of the paradoxes of spoken data collection that the more interesting and valuable the data, the more difficult they are to obtain. It is important therefore that too much data are not obtained from a single category of talk; for example, large quantities of broadcast talk can be collected relatively easily by recording TV and radio output and it is similarly relatively unproblematic to record lectures, discussions, meetings in formal settings or speakers narrating or reporting straight into a microphone. Such data is unlikely to be representative of typical conversational interaction if speakers always know that they are being recorded or have too many opportunities to plan or to rehearse in advance what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. The data in this book are drawn almost exclusively from a research project based in the Department of English Studies, at the University of Nottingham, Great Britain, and funded with the support of Cambridge University Press, the publishers of this book. The project has been named the C A N C O D E project (Cambridge-Nottingham Corpus of Discourse in English). The database for the C A N C O D E project consists of five million words (as of 1996) constructed mainly from spontaneous, everyday English speech in a variety of
social contexts and interaction environments. The speakers reflect a full social, cultural and geographical range (within the British Isles) with samples which arc also representative of age and gender differences. The corpus is designed to enable the study of spoken discourse in general, and spoken grammar in particular in relation to different genres of speech. Although it is the most difficult to obtain, the emphasis is on informal speech genres rather than on more formal varieties. This is a dimension which has not always been prominent in previous projects. For example the data collected in Crystal and Davy's Advanced Conversational English are largely personal anecdote and monologue in form; in this book we have collected data which are monologue and dialogue in form (though mainly dialogic) and which contain examples in which participants engage in both symmetrical and asymmetrical conversations. That is, in some units speakers are equals and in other units they have encounters in classrooms, restaurants or shops in which different social relations obtain.
Speech genresThis is not the place to articulate a fully formed theory of speech genres and, indeed, a more detailed illustration can be found in McCarthy and Carter (1994: eh 1). However, it is important to recognise that different types of talk produce different types of language and that the broad distinction between formal and informal or between public and private conversational discourse is not the only categorial distinction. In this book we have assembled C A N C O D E data from a variety of sources and we demonstrate, for example, that a key grammatical structure such as situational ELLIPSIS, which is particularly associated with informal English, occurs in most genres but not very commonly in narrative genres; we demonstrate that in s e r v i c e e n c o u n t e r s , stretches of conversation often rely very heavily on DISCOURSE MARKERS; we demonstrate that in language-in-action genres there can be extensive interaction without reference to the main objects in front of the participant and with a constant reliance on DEIXIS such as this and that and here and there. Genres are episodes of speech of which participants (if interaction is successful) have a shared view of their nature as social encounter. Hence, after a conversation, wc can usually say, with confidence, things such as 'Jo told me an amazing story', or 'Oh, we just chatted about this and that', or else 'We had a bit of an argument'. Equally, we reflect our frustration at unsuccessful engagement in genres with remarks such as 'It was more like an interrogation than an interview', 'I didn't realise it was just a joke ... I thought it was a true story', or 'It was a very one-sided conversation'. Genres vary in the surface grammatical manifestations such as ELLIPSIS and DISCOURSE MARKERS, but these merely mark the socially-determined differences of purpose, degree of
shared knowledge, institutionalised 'rules of speaking' (e.g. in classrooms, debates, etc.), roles and relationships between the participants, and so on. Finally, we bring to every genre our previous experiences in that same genre; every genre carries its own history with it, and there is a constant historical tension between the repetition of experience in encounter after encounter, and the freshness and uniqueness of each new conversational encounter. The C A N C O D E project has from the beginning attempted to obtain data in a range of different genres so that a wide range of contextual features can be seen to influence the talk, and research can therefore pinpoint differences between different forms of language and the types of conversation conducted. Such a principal design feature is felt to be of especial value and benefit to learners of English who above all need to appreciate the kinds of choices of language available in different contexts. If there is an insufficiently sharp differentiation between different varieties of talk then learners are unable to develop any real sensitivity to which forms of language create which meanings (and, crucially, which sorts of social relationships) for which purposes and in which situations. Most importantly, too, such a project design allows insights to be developed concerning differences and distinctions between spoken and written language use, with particular reference to grammar. The major contemporary grammars of the English language are largely based on written examples; the new data are exemplifying common, 'standard' patterns of use alongside patterns more familiar from written-language-based grammar. For example, new data, illustrated in this book, reveal key interpersonal functions in the use of tense, modality, ellipsis, deixis and clause structure; the crucial role of spoken discourse markers, acting as a kind of conversational punctuation, is also illustrated. Additionally, variations in canonical (written) word order can be shown to be common across a wide range of genres of speech. N o t e on language and gender The G A N C O D E project has tried to keep a good balance of the genders (as it has done of social classes, geographical distribution and age-groups). We have tried to do the same in this book, with 32 adult female speakers and 28 adult males, though it has been impossible to match the numbers exactly Much debate has taken place as to whether there are differing styles of discourse between males and females, and whether males, for instance, unfairly dominate talk, interrupting more than females. The transcripts in this book present no firm evidence of differences of these kinds. For example, features such as HEDGES and TAGS (sometimes thought to be 'female' characteristics) are used by both genders (see for example the table of TAGS in Unit 4). However, users are invited to approach these transcripts with a view to observing gender-distinguishing features if they are present, and to analyse the
texts in a way that is beyond the scope of this book. T h e authors certainly do not view themselves as experts in the field.
The design of the bookThere are twenty units in this book and there is a balanced distribution across a range of speech genres. There are eight main genres as follows: Narrative: A series of everyday anecdotes told with active listener participation. Identifying: Extracts in which people talk about themselves, their biography, where they live, their jobs (or job aspirations), their likes and dislikes. Language-in-action: Data recorded while people were doing things such as cooking, packing, moving furniture, etc., where the language is generated directly by the actions being carried out. Comment-elaboration: People giving casual opinions and commenting on things, other people, events, etc. around them and in their daily lives, without any set conversational agenda. Service encounters: Extracts in settings involving the buying and selling of goods and services. Debate and argument: Data in which people take up positions, pursue arguments and expound on their opinions on a range of matters, with or without some sort of lead-figure or chairperson. Language, learning and interaction: Language in use in the context of institutionalise