Analysing spoken language

Everything you need to about spoken language for English Language specification A

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2 main purposes:

  • to convey meaning- when  you need to explain something to someone or give orders on instructions, you use language as a means of clarification, so that the listener will understand you
  • to demonstrate attitudes and values- language lets you offer opinions on subjects, and get your point of view across
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Context and content

spoken language is usually the most efficient way for speakers to communicate with each other

the way a spoken text is constructed can be affected by external features:

  • the audience or person being addressed- could be someone they have known for years or thousands of people they have never met
  • the speaker's background- will affect their word choices. grammatical constructions etc
  • the location and purpose of the text- speakers use language differently depending on where the conversation is taking place and what's being talked about
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Formal speech:

  • often used in situations when you don't know the people you're talking to
  • also used in situations where you want to show respect e.g. job interview
  • most common in prepared speeches- planned and written notes
  • formal spoken language is more like to use complex and mainly complete grammatical structures

Informal speech:

  • generally used among friends or in situations where there's no need for formality or preparation
  • includes mostly colloquial language which is casual and familiar
  • it has simpler and often incomplete grammatical structures, simpler vocabulary,  more slang words and dialect features
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Monologue and dialogue

monologue- individual speech conveying internal thoughts, opinions and experiences

  • usually for a scripted performance but it can include an individual speaking for a long period of time
  • monologues are directed at listeners who make no spoken contribution
  • can be prepared or spontaneous

Dialogue is spoken language that involves more than one speaker

  • uses language to interact with each other
  • exchanges can be short but in longer conversation one of the speakers may take the major role with the other mainly listening and only contributing occassionally
  • can be prepared or spontaneous- most conversations between characters on TV or in plays or films are scripted by a writer by conversations between friends are unprepared- speakers respond to the different cues and context that come up
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spoken language features

5 categories:

1. Interactional language

  • language of informal speech
  • has a social function
  • its purpose it to develop relationships between speakers
  • eg asking a question guarantees response and keeps the interaction going

2. Referential language

  • provides the listener with information
  • it's used to refer to objects or to abstract concepts
  • the speaker assumes knowledge from the listener

the listener has to understand the context before they can make sense of the references

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spoken language functions

3. Expressive language

  • highlights the speakers emotions, feelings and attitudes
  • the language shows the speaker's judgements or feelings about another person, event or situation

4. Transactional language

  • is about getting language or making a deal e.g. buying and selling
  • it has a specific purpose, so it's driven by needs and wants rather than sociability

5. Phatic language

  • used for social purposes rather than to convey serious meaningphatic communication is also called 'small talk'
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Prepared or Spontaneous


  • worked out in advance
  • designed for specific audience and purpose
  • needs to be well written (usually formal and in Standard English)
  • performed or delivered to try and make an impact
  • needs to maintain the interest of listeners
  • examples include political speeches and sermons


  • not prepared or written down
  • delivered on the spot as soon as or shortly after the idea comes to the speaker
  • usually informal, usually shared with people known to the speaker 
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Differences between prepared and spontaneous


  • prepared- standardised and formal, speakers have more time to think about word choices, so vocabulary is more sophisticated
  • spontaneous- likely to be non-standard, informal context means slang and dialect forms used


  • Prepared- follows standard grammatical rules and pauses are controlled by punctuation, don't use many contractions
  • spontaneous- non-standard agreements, non-standard irregular tenses, double negatives are common


  • prepared- aimed at an audience, chosen to persuade, address audience directly, if formal create feeling of prestige
  • Spontaneous- meant for the speakers to be involved, conversations that take place in public places or between strangers are more formal
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Similarities in prepared and spontaneous speech

Prepared and spontaneous speech also have some features in common

discourse structure

  •  prepared speech has a beginning, middle and end. themes and ideas are introduced at different points and usually finishes on a positive note
  •  spontaneous speech also has formulaic beginnings and endings

Non-verbal communication- related to body language, gestures and facial expressions. It emphasies certain words or phrases in both prepared and spontaneous speech- can be disruptive if overdone

Prosodic features- include stress, rhythm, pitch, tempo and intonation. they are useful in prepared speech, where a speaker can use the devices to keep an audience interested over a long period of time

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Spontaneous speech features


  • where part of a grammatical structure is omitted without affecting understanding e.g You going to come round later? it makes the tone more casual than the full version

Phatic expressions

  • play a key role in spontaneous speech, especially when you're initiating a conversation
  • the comments have no great meaning or interest in themselves, but are designed to help conversations get started

False starts

  • regularly occur in conversation
  • the speaker changes their train of though halfway through and begins the utterance again
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Spontaneous speech features


  • used to feed back to a speaker that what they're saying is being understanding e.g. I see or another repeated utterance
  • you can also give feedback non-verbally e.g. nodding or shaking your head

Deitic expressions

  • are pointers that refer the listener backwards, forwards or outside the text
  • most common are words such as, this, that, here and there
  • you can't understand deictic expressions unless you know their context

Non-fluency features

  • devices that interrupt the flow of talk
  • hesitation or repetition, fillers such as er or um, interruptions and overlaps are also non-fluency features
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spontaneous speech features


  • slurring together of sounds or syllables e.g gonna, rather than going to- this saves time and is less formal


  • shows uncertainty in a conversation
  • words like perhaps, probably and maybe are used to weaken the force of what you're saying
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Features of all conversations


  • an informal conversation may begin with a simple familiar starter
  • these are usually greetings such as hello, or alright?
  • more formal conversations often include inquiries like 'I wonder if you could help me?' to get someone's attention


  • familiar openings, invite a particular response

Adjacency pairs

  • short, familiar exchanges of conversation that follow predictable patterns

Signalling closure

  • speech indicators and other non-verbal signs can be used to show that a conversation is drawing to a close
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Some features depend on the individuals

switching and turn-taking

  • the person speaking at any given time may be aware that someone else wants to speak
  • in an orderly conversation they invite the switch to another speaker e.g. by pausing, or trying to make an emphatic final statement
  • domineering speakers sometimes choose to ignore this, meaning other speakers have to break into the conversation by interrupting, or just stay silent

Tag questions

  • these are attached to the end of statements, and invite responses from other speakers
  • they're used by speakers who are seeking some feedback
  • this could be because they are feeling uncomfortable, or because they're trying to control the conversation by bringing other people into it
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Some features depend on the individual speakers

Topic shifts

  • topic shifts are when speakers change the subject of conversation
  • they move the conversation forward or change its focus
  • they're usually started by the domineering speaker trying to control the content and direction of a conversation


  • when someone's speaking, people give verbal and non-verbal signs that they're listening to them
  • for example, brief comments. nodding or shaking your head, smiling, frowning etc
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Techniques when initiating conversation

getting involved/ initiating conversation

  • most participants in a conversation will offer a contribution without waiting to be asked- if you waited to be asked to speak in every conversation you may never speak at all
  • you might get a conversation started by showing an interest in the other people involved
  • if you're talking to an unfamiliar person, appropriate phatic expressions and questioning can help get things started e.g. use tag questions
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techniques when sustaining conversation

  • fluent speaking (following adjacency patterns and turn-taking rules) showing an interest (feedback) and generally enjoying talking are all factors that help people sustain conversation
  • speaker empathy is important- if people are exploring shared interests or opinions then the conversation is more likely to be sustained, listeners might make it clear that they share the speaker's views by using feedback e.g. mm and yeah
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Techniques when ending conversation

  • social convention makes us not want to appear rude, cut people short or walk away when they're not ready- so phatic expressions are used to signal closure in a socially recognisable way e.g. I should probably get going
  • there are also non-verbal cues that signal a speaker is about to end the conversation e.g. starting to get up from a seat, or increasing the distance between the speakers
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Managing and controlling conversations

prepared/formal situations

  • these are the types of conversation where there is a defined power relationship between the participants, e.g. conducting an interview with someone or being interviewed yourself
  • prepared situations (like a tutorial, job interview or debate) have a specific subject area on the agenda. you may not know precisely how the conversation will go, but you know what is likely to be discussed and the level of formality expected
  • there's usually a person overly in charge of the exchanges, like a lecturer, interviewer or chairperson, whose authority to change the conversation at will is already acknowledged before it starts
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Managing and controlling conversations

unprepared/ Informal situations

  • informal social conversations are less likely to be prepared, and could involve any topic, but these still tend to be controlled by certain individuals
  • people who are louder, quicker and more forceful than other speakers often tend to dominate informal conversations
  • it is easy for less confident and less assertive speakers to be inhibited or intimidated and to end up contributing very little
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Thegirlwhoknewtoomuch - Team GR

this is great thanks, really helpful

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