Speech and Writing: Essential Concepts

Some notes on speech and writing. It's pretty general, so it can be used in any section of the exam, including for A2.

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  • Created by: Arvyn
  • Created on: 01-03-14 11:02

Differences: Status and Permanence

Status of Speech and Writing

  • Speech is naturally acquired, we are taught to read and write
    • Linguists refer to primacy of speech as such
  • Writing is traditionally more prestigious; literacy was originally confined to an elite and therefore showed social superiority
    • More permanent and favoured over verbal agreements
  • 20th Century and beyond; near-universal literacy means writing no longer as elite


  • Vast majority of speech is transient, except for recorded utterances
  • Writing is a more permanent record of events

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Differences: Relationships, Structure + Style

Relationships: Speaker, Writer and Audience

  • Writing less restricted by time and space
    • Physical separation from audience; speakers and audiences are simultaneously present in speech and are directly addressed
      • Instant feedback from speech, delayed (if any) feedback in writing

Structure and Style

  • Writing is more structured whilst speech has a loose structure; more digressions and repetitions are present
  • Speech is spontaneous - make up as we go along
    • Writer can take time an re-draft if necessary
  • Speech more informal; colloquialisms and slang present
  • Speech reinforced by body language and prosodic features; only orthography in writing

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Differences: Influences and Competition

Speech and Writings' Influence on Each Other

  • Growth of literacy has encouraged standardisation of speech
  • Neologisms in writing suggest they are more permanent
  • New technology breaks down speech-writing divide; e-mails and texts contain elements of speech within them

Speech versus Writing

  • Question of superiority is artificial; we are rarely forced to make a choice whether to use speech or writing
  • Each mode is appropriate to different situations
    • We favour speech for purposes of social interaction
    • Writing is used to express complex ideas and is preferred for permanent records

REMEMBER: Use language appropriate to speech if given a writing task that involves the production of a spoken text

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Lects: Dialects + Idiolects


  • Mutually intelligible version of speech (anybody who speaks English can understand another person, even if they have a different dialect)
  • Dialect is the vocabulary and grammar of speech, accent is only the pronunciation
  • Standard English is the British prestige variety of dialect


  • Language use of a single individual
  • Affected by social, regional, educational and other influences
  • Physical quality of voice, habitual lexis usage and favoured grammatical constructions

Dialects in Speech and Writing

  • Dialect literature such as Trainspotting imitates spoken dialects
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Lects: Sociolects


  • Variety of language associated with a particular social group, influenced by the following:
    • Socio-economic status
      • Higher incidence of regional features in lower-class speech
      • Higher-classes have Standard English forms and Received Pronunciation speeech
    • Age
      • Teenagers have large, ever-changing lexicon of slang
      • Strengthens identity as a social group, separates them from adults
    • Occupation
      • Jargon associated with profession along with slang between members of that trade for humour or to shorten Standard English for economical reasons
        • Reinforces exclusivity of group
    • Gender
      • Women's speech is closer to SE and RP; they are more cooperative in speech than men
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Register: Influences

Influences on Register

  • Field
    • Topic/subject being discussed; the field of discourse strongly affects the choice of vocabulary
  • Manner
    • Relationship between participants; different levels of formality are adopted
  • Mode
    • Written and spoken modes
      • These can also be subdivided, with their own conventions and characteristics
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Register: How Registers Differ

How Registers Differ

  • Lexis
    • Complex technical vocabulary, or specific lexical fields, may be used - legalese and journalese
  • Grammar
    • Sentence length and structure
    • Repetition, ellipsis and passive voice
  • Phonology
    • Trudgill (1983): in formal situations, our speech moves closer to RP; less contractions are used and the -ing ending of certain words is pronounced
  • Importance of Register
    • How has context and the situation influenced the participants' use of language?

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