3.4 Spoken Language – Technical Terms Defined



1.      topic shift – the points at which speakers move from one topic to another – mark key points in spoken discourse and can be contested by either speaker, but decided upon by the dominant speaker in the end


2.      formulaic phrase –  “by the way…” and “incidentally…” or clauses like “that reminds me…” and “to change the subject…” may be used to bring one topic to an end & establish a new one


3.      openersocial greetings, hospitality tokens (“have a drink“), or neutral topics (the weather), may then lead into a self-related comment (focusing on the speaker) or other related comment (focusing on the listener); then, further establish a co-operative atmosphere by selecting a topic that reflects the interests and experiences of all the participants.


4.      vocative – names, titles, terms of address – used in the initial position help to create a personal relationship between speakers and encourage interaction


5.      neutral topic – social equals might use a neutral starting point or opening in a conversation (e.g. talking about the weather) in order to establish their relationship. This may then lead into a self-related comment (focusing on the speaker) or other related comment (focusing on the listener).


6.      closing – used to sum up the exchange. Reference is often made to something outside the speech encounter as a reason for ending the discourse. Self- and other-related remarks are common, but neutral tokens like the weather are not. Closings are often repetitive since the speakers use delaying tactics, referring back to earlier topics and adopting frequently occurring formulae.


7.      overlap – speech encounters are usually co-operative and most overlaps will therefore be resolved quickly, with one participant ceasing to speak


8.      simultaneous speech – not always classed as interruption because it can enhance the collaborative approach of spoken discourse.


9.      supportive minimal vocalisations – where a second speaker utters minimal responses like mmm or yeah, often the function of the utterances is to support rather than challenge


10.  voiced hesitationmm, er or repetition of words allow the speaker to pause without giving up their turn


11.  adjacency pair – sequences of utterances called adjacency pairs create a recognisable structural pattern; they – follow each other, are produced by different speakers, have a logical connection, conform to a pattern – e.g. questions and answers, greetings/commands and their responses


Grice’s Conversational maxims


12.  maxim of quality – speakers should tell the truth. They should not say what they think is false, or make statements for which they lack evidence.


13.  maxim of quantity – a contribution should be as informative as is required for the conversation to proceed. It should be neither too little, nor too much. (It is not clear how one can decide what quantity of information satisfies the maxim in a given case.)


14.  maxim of relevance – speakers’ contributions should relate clearly to the purpose of the exchange.


15.  maxim of manner – speakers’ contributions should be perspicuous: clear, orderly and brief, avoiding obscurity and ambiguity.


16.  conversational lexis – yeah, cos, all right


17.  colloquialisms –  hiya, yeah, well & won’t


18.  colloquial idiom – the phrases which chracterise spoken language and which don’t seem to serve any particular communicative function in and of themselves –e.g. in a minute, the thing is, as far as I can see


19.  slang – informal words or phrases which set up the tone of an interaction – e.g. heavy, wicked, safe


20.  clichés – such as that’s life will pepper some conversations and may be an indication of the fact that a speaker has little or nothing to say, that they are playing for time or that they are just going through the social motions and care little for the purpose of this conversation


21.  hyperbole – exaggeration for effect – e.g. on and on and on, really stupid, thousands – but so clichéd have some exaggerations become that they very often serve little or no purpose


22.  fillers – participants in a conversation, because speech, unlike writing, is simultaneous and immediate, quite often need to play for time as they work out how to respond  or how to turn the conversation the way that they want it to go – e.g.  sort of, you know, I mean, like, know what I mean


23.  phatic communication – speaking with no other purpose than speaking (social / interactional function) – wherever there is only a phatic purpose of an utterance it is worth analysing because it may say an awful lot about the relationship between the participants or about what either participant wishes to get out of the conversation


24.  abbreviation – may be used where the speakers are well known enough to have established a code based upon familiarity and a shared view of the world


25.  in-slang or in-jokes – will be mutually intelligible only amongst insiders


26.  deictic expressions – e.g. “this one“, “over there” or “right now” – typical of face-to-face interaction where speakers can refer to specific characteristics of the context


27.  imprecise references / vague languagestuff, thingee – apparent ambiguity – Because the speakers are familiar they have a shared knowledge of the topic, therefore they do not make explicit exactly what they are talking about


28.  unfinished sentences – left to dangle in the air – e.g. “… so I didn’t… it was just that…” – these are a feature of spoken interaction because some things just don’t have to be said, either because of pre-existing knowledge or paralinguistic aspects of the interaction


29.  interrupted constructions – sentences that are dropped half-way through in favour of another – e.g. “so I think that perhaps it’s … what I’m trying to say is that I think it’s wrong


30.  non-standard use of grammar – e.g. “we was playing records (.) he done that riff I showed you” – because of spoken language’s nature – specifically its temporary and spontaneous nature – less care will be given to ensuring that the formal rules of grammar are followed; but some utterancesare more spontaneous and carefree than others


31.  omission / ellipsis – leaving out of part of the sentence construction – e.g. “I’m trying to say I think it’s wrong” instead of “I’m trying to say that I think it’s wrong” – more common where the participants are known to each other and have less need of walking each other through what they need to get across


32.  contractiondon’t, won’t, can’t, haven’t, she’s, we’d… – more frequent in spoken language owing to its immediacy and the participants usual rush to get everything they want said


33.  co-ordination – “and”, “but”, “or” – co-ordination of clauses tends to be loose, often using a clause like you know as an introductory link –speech is not structured into sentences as such, but into long strings of loosely coordinated clauses


34.  tag questiondo you know what I mean?”, “do you see”, “y’know”) maintains the pace of spoken discourse and ensures that the other is listening, but depending on the context they can show a great neediness on the part of the participant who feels the need for constant answers and reassurance that the other is listening.


35.  non-fluency feature / fillersort of, you know, I mean, like, know what I mean – normal non-fluency features are common, clearly distinguishing between written and spoken language. The more formal the tenor, the less likely there are to be examples of hesitancy and slips of the tongue, etc. However, even in more formal situations transcripts may reveal evidence of non-fluency – but such “errors” are taken for granted and often go unnoticed.


36.  non-verbal signals / paralinguistics –  e.g. raising an eyebrow, winking – so much goes on in a conversation over and above the words used – the script itself can only be a fraction of the communicative content


37.  pause – can signal the end of a turn and an invitation to reply. Pauses can be highly significant; if there are very few of them, if only one participant engenders them, or if they are very frequent, will, depending on the context, tell us a lot about the dynamics of the interchange


38.  voiced hesitations / hesitation  indicators – are common as they allow speakers to pause without communication breaking down –  mm, er, or repetition of words, filler sounds e.g. “a-a-a-“, “the-the-the” – indicate to the other person that the speaker isn’t finished his turn


39.  emphatic stress – used to highlight key lexical items which aids meaning in a situation where the speakers have no visual means of emphasis (e.g. a telephone conversation or an MSN exchange)


40.  open question – a question which demands more information than a simple yes or no, one which passes the turn over to the other person fully and expects the listener to contribute fully to the exchange


41.  closed question – a question which needs only a yes or no answer – which can be merely an attempt to receive some confirmatory / supportive noises on the part of the speaker, or a prompt for them to begin speaking, giving their yes or no answer, followed by an explanation – it all depends on the context


42.  convergence – more commonly used just to refer to the way people are speaking – their accents – and how they end up speaking more and more like each other as the exchange progresses. But can equally apply to levels of formality, tone of voice or politeness levels


43.  false startspeakers can and do paint themselves into corners, but at least they have the good sense to start again – just another consequence of the immediacy of spoken interaction


44.  discourse marker – a catch all term for any word or phrase which marks a change in the discourse i.e. the nature, direction or tone of the utterance, e.g. to lead attention one way or another, to signify a change of focus or to mark any other shift – e.g. “like”, “alright”, “so” and so many others – each one can only be explained in the particular context of the exchange


45.  given information – that which is understood between the participants before the exchange is begun, but which might not be known to a third party listening in (i.e. the reader of the script – you!)


46.  new information – that which is exchanged during the conversation in question


47.  hedge – to soften expressions that might otherwise appear too direct, abrupt or unduly authoritative or assertive – any word or phrase used to “beat about the bush” and avoid a direct attack on someone’s sense of self-worth


48.  idiolect – the language characteristic of any particular individual


49.  self-related comment – whether a comment is related to the speaker herself or to the listener can be very significant and is often worth pointing out. If there are a preponderance of self-related comments then the speaker might be seen as unduly careless of her listener’s needs or doesn’t feel obliged to meet them for one reason or another


50.  other-related comment – whether a comment is related to the speaker herself or to the listener can be very significant and is often worth pointing out. If there are a preponderance of other-related comments then the speaker might be seen as excessively deferential towards the other participant in the conversation owing to their relative status levels


51.  non-sequiturIt is a comment which, due to its lack of meaning relative to the comment it follows, is absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing. Its use can be deliberate or unintentional. Literally, it is Latin for “it does not follow.”


52.  minor sentence – a non-grammatical sentence


53.  dispreferred response – is a response which is unexpected, not necessarily ruse, but contrary to what a particular statement, question, imperative or comment would normally engender – either in its content, tone, duration or force


54.  raised/falling intonation – raising your intonation is the easiest way to signal that you intend what you are saying to be taken for a question and that you require a response, namely the answer, but intonation can be raised or lowered for any number of reasons to achieve any number of effects which add to the communicative content of the utterance.


55.  relative status – which participant is of a lower or higher status relative to the other is always significant and you should be able to tell from how the conversation progresses


56.  foregrounding – the use of grammar / the ordering of the words used in any utterance to give precedence to one particular word or phrase


57.  implicaturewhat is suggested in an utterance, even though not expressed nor strictly implied by the utterance.  For example, the sentence “Mary had a baby and got married” strongly suggests that Mary had the baby before the wedding, but the sentence would still be strictly true if Mary had her baby after she got married.


58.  positive politeness – pay attention, seek agreement, presuppose common ground, avoid disagreement, make jokes, etc.


59.  negative politeness – be indirect, question, hedge, give deference, be apologetic


60.  positive face needs – use greetings, compliments & appropriate terms of address


61.  negative face needs – using hedges and apologies to avoid face-threatening behavior


62.  footing – how people align themselves to what they are saying


Leech’s Maxims:


63.  tact maxim – (in directives [impositives] and commissives): minimise cost to other; [maximise benefit to other]


64.  generosity maxim (in directives and commissives): minimise benefit to self; [maximise cost to self]


65.  approbation maxim – (in expressives and representatives [assertives]): minimise dispraise of other; [maximise praise of other]


66.  modesty maxim – (in expressives and representatives): minimise praise of self; [maximise dispraise of self]


67.  agreement maxim – (in representatives): minimise disagreement between self and other; [maximise agreement between self and other]


68.  sympathy maxim  – (in representatives): minimise antipathy between self and other; [maximise sympathy between self and other]


69.  phatic tokenway of showing status by orienting comments to oneself, to the other, or to the general or prevailing situation (in England this is usually the weather).


70.  self-oriented phatic token –  personal to the speaker: I’m not up to this, My feet are killing me


71.  other-oriented phatic tokenrelated to the hearer: Do you work here? You seem to know what you’re doing.


72.  neutral token – refers to the context or general state of affairs: Cold, isn’t it? Lovely flowers.


Brown and Levinson politeness behaviour strategies:


73.  bald on-record strategy – does nothing to minimize threats to the hearer’s “face”


74.  positive politeness strategy – shows you recognize that your hearer has a desire to be respected. It also confirms that the relationship is friendly and expresses group reciprocity.


75.  negative politeness strategy – also recognizes the hearer’s face. But it also recognizes that you are in some way imposing on them. Some other examples would be to say, “I don’t want to bother you but…” or “I was wondering if…”


76.  off-record indirect strategy – take some of the pressure off of you. You are trying to avoid the direct FTA of asking for a beer. Instead you would rather it be offered to you once your hearer sees that you want one.


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  1. Pingback: Miss Holland's English Blog - Link for Spoken Language revision

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