English Spoken Language Features

The basic features of spoken language.

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  • Created by: Shauni
  • Created on: 07-05-12 17:39


The ways in which words are pronounced. Accent can vary according to the region or social class of the speaker.

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Adjacency Pairs:

Parallel expressions used across the boundaries of individual speaking turns. They are usually ritualistic and formulaic socially. For example: "How are you/"Fine,thanks".

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A reduced form often marked by an apostrophe in writing - e.g can't = cannot, she'll = she will.

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Deixis/ Deictics:

Words such as "this", "that", "here", "there" which refer to things that are backwards or forwards or outside a text - a sort of verbal pointing. Very much a context dependent feature of talk.

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The distinctive grammar and vocabulary which is associated with a regional or social use of language.

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Discourse Marker:

Words and phrases which are used to signal the relationship and connections between utterances and to signpost that what is said can be followed by the listener or reader. Examples include: "First", "on the other hand", "now","what's more", "so anyway" etc.

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The omission or slurring (eliding) of one or more sounds or syllables - e.g gonna = going to; wannabe = want to be, wassup = what is up.

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The omission of part of a grammatical structure. For example, in the dialogue : "You going to the party?"/"Might be" - the verb "are" and the pronoun "I" are missed out. The resulting ellipsis conveys a more casual and informal tone.

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False Start:

This is when the speaker begins an utterance, then stops and either repeats or reformulates it. Sometimes called self-correction.

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Items which do not carry conventional meaning but which are inserted in speech to allow time to think, to create a pause or to hold a turn in conversation. Examples are "er", "um", "ah". Also called voiced pause.

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Grice's Maxims

Grice proposed 4 basic conversational "rules" (or maxims) as criteria for sucessful conversation:

1. Quantity - don't say too much or too little

2. Relevance - keep to the point

3. Manner - speak in a clear, coherent and orderly way

4. Quality - be truthful

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Words phrases which soften or weaken the force with which something is said e.g "perhaps", "maybe", "sort of", "possibly", " I think".

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An individually distinctive style of speaking.

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Interactional Talk:

Language in conversation used for interpersonal reasons and/or socialising.

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Non-fluency Features:

Typical and normal characteristics of spoken language that interrupt the "flow" of talk. Some examples: hesitations, false starts, fillers,repetitions (although these can also be used for emphasis), overlaps and interruptions.

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Paralinguistic Features:

Related to body language - it is the use of gestures, facial expressions + other non-verbal elements (such as laughter) to add meaning to the speaker's message beyond the words being spoken.

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Phatic Talk:

Conversational utterances that have no concrete purpose other than to establish or maintain personal relationships. It's related to small talk - and follows traditional patterns, with stock responses and formulaic expressions: "How are you/ "Fine", "Cold, isn't it?"/"Freezing.

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An approach to discourse analysis which focuses less on structures and more on contexts and purposes of people talking to each other.

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Prosodic Features:

Includes features such as stress, rhythm, pitch, tempo and intonation - which are used by speakers to mark out key meanings in a message. Essentially, how something is said.

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An alternation that is suggested or made by the speaker , the addressee, or audience in order to correct or clarify a previous conversational contribution.

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A social dialect or variety of speech used by a particular group, such as working-class or upper-class speech.

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Tag Question:

Strings of words normally added to a declarative sentence to turn the statement into a question e.g "It's a bit expensive round here, isn't it?".

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Transactional Talk:

Language to get things done or to transmit content or information (used when the participants are exchanging goods and/or services)

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Turn Taking:

A turn is a time during which a single participant speaks, within a typical, orderly arrangement in which participants speak with minimal overlap and gap between them. The principal unit of description in conversational structure.

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An utterance is a complete unit of talk, bounded by the speaker's silence.

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Vague Language:

Statements that sound imprecise and unassertive. E.g - " and so on", "or whatever", "thingummy", "whatsit".

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Emphasis or Stress:

This is often shown in Underlining pr boldening to show that a word, or part of a word, has been said in a particular way. i.e. louder or with more force to make a point of what is being said.

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Specific technical vocabulary related to a specific task or occupation.

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This occurs when one speaker jumps in and sseizes the topic, overriding another speaker. This can be done out of enthusiasm or indignation rather than rudeness.

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This occurs when more than one speaker speaks at the same time. This could be for a range of reasons and not necessarily for a disagreement, though it could be. More often in speech it shows the speakers are on the same wavelength, and one may complete anothers sentence to show that one supports the other.

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These are breaks in speech that can be very short(micro-pauses) or much longer (timed pauses, in seconds) and are used for a range of effects: thinking time, hesitation, waiting for a response, to indicate a turn in the conversation is complete.

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Turn Taking:

This is the basic structure of speech. Participants in a conversation take turns to speak. A turn is a time in which a single participant speaks, within a typical, orderly arrangement in which participants speak with minimal overlap or gap between them.

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Initiation Response Feedback

Sinclair and Couthard


Initiation - what is a verb?

Response - a doing word

Feedback - yes well done

usually found in a classroom context

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refering back to parts of the conversation

making comments to show participation in the conversation

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Referential Talk:

Giving information or talking about a particular topic

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Transactional Talk:

Interchange between at least two people with purpose of achieving a goal

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Expressive Talk:

Communicating feelings, ideas, emotions and opinions.

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Agenda/ Agenda Setting:

The person who is more powerful in a particular situation ’sets’ the agenda — the subject or topics to be discussed

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The rise and fall in someone's voice when speaking

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Non-standard words or phrases used informally by particular groups. The word slang often has a negative connotation — people are criticised for using slang - seen as lower class

Slang can enter the language by:

new meanings for existing words( rough-ugly) ,shortening existing words (bruv-brother) and neologisms- new words ( snog-kiss)

slang is part of a person's sociolect

used depending on social class

varies from region to region e.g cockney rhyming slang



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Prosodic Features:


Aspects of voice such as pitch, volume, pace,stress,intonation, pauses and rhythm. If youre just looking at a transcript it's hard to pick up any of this.

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Paralinguistic Features:

Forms of non-verbal communication, e.g. body language, facial expression, hand gestures

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Politeness Principles:


  • Dont impose
  • Give options
  • Make your receiver feel good

Culturally specific

choose an indirect way of saying something

context is important as friends tend to be more direct and the use of politely indirect forms may seem cold or distant.

Brown and Levinson-

awareness of the other;s face needs.

Saving positive ( need to be liked) and negative ( need to be respected) face

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deliberately offensive word or expression

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Context and Content:

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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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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Differeces Between Prepared and Spontaneous:


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


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


  • p- aimed at an audience, chosen to persuade, address audience directly, if formal create feeling of prestige
  • S- 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:

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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Accomodation Theory

we adjust our speech to accomodate the person we are addressing.

This may result in convergence or divergence.

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when we move our speech closer to that of the other person. It decreases the social distance between the members of the conversation

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when people’s speech styles move further apart.

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Topic Loop:

when a conversation returns to an earlier topic

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Jessica Gledhill

This is really really good! Saved me a job! Thanks!


Really good, everything that I need for my english assessment coming up, thank you!

James Richardson

Gee Whizz this is great

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