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A Level English Language - Spoken Language and Social Groups

Discourse Markers: These include:well, oh, like, of course, yeah, right and many
Discouse markers are important features of spoken language with many
different functions
They usually perform several functions at the same time
Their overall function is to show the listener how to interpret what the speaker is
saying (so they don't affect the literal meaning of what is being said)
Some of their most typical functions are:
marking the beginning or the end of a turn
marking grammatical structure by being placed at the beginning or end of a
clause or at the start of reported speech
marking information that is new to the discourse or marking the start of a
new topic
showing how the speaker feels about what they are about to say or about
what they have already said
checking that the listening is following
creating solidarity with the listener
appealing to the listener for understanding
There tends to be a huge difference between the discourse markers that
younger people use and those that older people use
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Backchannels, Clause Combing, Deixis and CHP
Discourse Markers
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Backchannels: Listeners may show the speaker that they are listening and
understanding by saying "mmm" or little words like "yeah", usually skillfully
placed at the end of a clause
Sometimes known as minimal responses
Clause Combing: When speaking spontanously people usually don't have time to
combine their clauses in the varied ways that they might in writing (such as
having many subordinate clauses introduced by a range of conjunctions such as
however, therefore, since)
The most frequent conjunction in spoken English is and
But and so are also quite frequent but less so since they have specific meanings
Deixis: When people are speaking they often refer to things that are in the
immediate context
The pronouns I and you are very frequent, as are here and now
Conversational Historical Present: When people are talking about something that
happened in the past the verbs are usually in the past tense
However, sometimes they are also in the present tense
The present tense makes the conversation more vivid because it seems as
though the past experience is happening right now
General Extenders: These are phrases like and stuff, and things, or something or
and all that
They are called this becuase they often indicate that the previous word is part of
a set, so they extend the meaning of that word without having to specify all the
members of that set
Some people use these words to be purposely vague, to signal that they are not
quite sure about something
However their most important function seems to be to create solidarity between
By using a general extender the person speaking suggests that their interlocutor
shares their knowledge or opinion, so there is no need to be explicit
Hedges: These are words that downtone the meaning of the following word
E.g. that's a bit odd
Or add a note of intentional vagueness to what someone is saying
Intensifiers: These are words like very or really that occur before an adjective or
an adverb to boost the strength of its meaning
E.g. really fast, very delicious, well good
Young people often choose intensifiers that are different to those used by older
Therfore intensifiers tend to fall in and out of fashion in spoken language
General Extenders, Hedges and Intensifiers
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Monophthong and Narrative Structure
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Monophthong: This is a vowel sound that is "pure" in that the beginning and the
end of the vowel are more or less the same
In Multicultural London English some vowels that for older Londoners are
diphthongs, such as the vowel in words that rhyme with GOAT are now
Narrative Structure: People often tell stories in the past tense, and when they do
the stories often have structure to them
They may begin with an abstract, where the speaker says what the story will be
This is usually followed by an orientation section where people mention relevant
aspects of the story such as: who was involved, where they were and when the
events happened
The main events of the story are given in the complicating action: a series of
short clauses, in the order in which the events happened
There may then be a resolution, where the speaker tells listeners what happens
in the end, and a coda which rounds off the story
Stories do not always have all of these sections but the complicating actions and
orientation section are usually present
Throughout their narrative, people use different ways of making it interesting for
their listeners so that they realise the point of the story
These are very variable, even in standard English
E.g. the past participle of LEARN can be learned or learnt or the last tense of
RING can be rang or rung
Some of the most frequent nonstandard forms are the past tense of DO (I done
it) and COME (I come here yesterday) neither of these are actually grammatically
Past tense forms of BE are also very variable
In standard English the past tense forms are: I was, you were, he/she/it was, we
were and they were
Except for you they mark a distinction between singular subjects and plural
In most nonstandard varieties the tendency is to use just one form - either were
where standard English has was or the other way round - though speakers may
vary between using the standard and nonstandard forms
In most urban nonstandard varieties in the UK there is a tendency to use weren't
in negative contexts and was in positive contexts, though this is changing in
areas influenced by other varieties such as AfroCaribbean English or post
colonial varieties of English
Non-standard Grammar
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Non-Fluency Features
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These include:
Silent pauses
Filled pauses (er and erm, spelt uh and um in American English)
False starts (like crossing out in writing)
They may have functions in spoken language, including dramatic effect,
highlighting what is coming next, and showing that the speaker is planning what
they are going to say next but don't want to give up their turn at speaking
Individual speakers vary in the frequency with which they use these features
Er and erm tend to occur either at the beginning of a clause or before a new
topic is introduced
They also occur when speakers are searching for a word
Unfilled (silent) pauses are often used in the same way
Repetition of a single word is often at the start of a clause or a noun phrase,
showing that the speaker has mapped out the rough grammatical outline of
what they want to say but has not yet produced the detail
In these cases the repetition is usually of a function word
Sometimes they repeat a word but add something extra, this is usually a content
Content words = main info; Function words = relate parts of clause together
Speakers seem to like to use three part lists
Sometimes they utter three consecutive
clauses with the same grammatical structure
but slightly different lexical content
This strategy is much loved by politicians, as
listners often spontaneously applaud after the
third clause or item on the list
Other strategies allow speakers to emphasise
different parts of their discourse
E.g. they may put part of an utterance in an
unusual position
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Quotative Expressions
Rhetorical Strategies
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People often report what they or other people say
Direct reported speech is more lively and interesting than indirect reported
speech becuase by appearing to quote someone the speaker almost acts out
what they are reporting
When they introduce direct reported speech older speakers of English usually
use SAY or GO to introduce the quote, or there may be no introduction at all
(this is known as a zero quotative) if it is clear whose speech is being reported
Younger speakers have an additional quotative expression: BE LIKE - and in
London there is an even newer quotative expression: THIS IS + speaker
Other quotative expressions are also heard
SAY: They said "move away"
BE: They went "move away"
ZERO: "Move away"
BE LIKE: They were like "move away"
TELL: They told him "move away"
THIS IS + speaker: This is them "move away" (perhaps only in London)
HERE'S + speaker: Here's then "move away" (perhaps more frequent in
Sometimes slang is used in a way that can be cruel or unkind
E.g. calling someone a jerk
Most slang is limited to certain areas
But some words such as "okay" are used worldwide, on the radio,
television and in newspapers
Slang is popular becuase it is catchy and timely
most slang has a very short life
It meets a momentary need or expresses a temporary opinion
Yet some words that are now considered standard English started
out as slang
These include words such as:
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Slang #2
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Defined by the Oxford Dictionary, slang is:
"a type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as
very informal, are more common in speech than in writing, and are typically
restricted to a particular context or group of people"
E.g. In army slang "grass" is slang for marijuana
It is also defined as:
Words and expressions that are informal and are not standard English
Different social groups often use a special vocabulary
Sometimes this is fairly widespread and well understood
Some slang is confined to small tightly knit groups who can use it to
exclude outsiders
Slang is often sexual or scatological
Slang expressions may act as euphemisms and may be used as a means of
identifying with one's peers
They may be new words or old ones used with a different meaning
The desire to say old things in a new way leads to slang
When something becomes very common in our daily life we are likely to mak
eup new words for it
Slang is part of every profession, trade, sport, school and social group
Slang often involved the creation of new meanings for existing words
It is common for the new meaning to be significantly different to the previous
E.g. "cool" and "hot" can both mean "very good", "impressive" or "good-looking"
Slang terms are often only known within a clique or ingroup
Other types of slang include SMS language and "chatspeak"
E.g. LOL, ROFL, Wubu2 etc
Slang is invented the same way normal language is
Its basis is usally a metaphor
E.g Money is called: bacon, loot, dough, bucks and bread
One's home is referred to as a: pad, shack, dump, diggings or hole in the wall
Failure is referred to as: blowing it, hitting a foul ball, flunking or running into a
stone wall
To be discharged from a job is to be: axed, sacked, bounced or fired
People often object to slang
They feel it is impolite or weakens a person's vocabulary
Yet slang can enliven speech and writing when used appropriately
A command over language involves the power to make up new expressions or
use old expressions for new purposes
Slang #3
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Defined by the Oxford dictionary jargon is:
"the language, expecially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade,
profession or group
"unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish
"any talk or writing that one does not understand"
"language that is characterised by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary
and convoluted syntax; often vague in meaning
In earlier times, the term jargon would refer to trade languages used by people
who spoke different native tongues to communicate
In other words, the term covers the language used by people who work in a
particular area or who have a common interest
Much like slang, it can develop as a kind of shorthand
To express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group,
though it can also be developed deliberately using chosen terms
A standard term may be given a more precise or unique usage among
practitioners of a field
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between slang and jargon when certain
jargon terms become so well known and are used to frequently that they climb
up the ladder of word groups and become slang or colloquial
Belonging to a social group is a strong influence on the way in
which people use language
People tend to change their language style to fit into a particular
The way they change their speech may stand out in four main
they may use an accent or change the way they pronounce
things; veering away from standard English or what is
generally accepted by the region
they may change their lexis (i.e. jargon, buzzwords or slang)
they may alter their grammar construction so that it is nonstandard
they may observe the group to pick up on particular linguistic
rituals or patterns of interaction
The distinctive language ans grammar of a particular social group
is called its sociolect
People are often able converse in a number of sociolects
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Idiolect is the term linguists use to describe speech that is specific to an
Your idiolect will be as indiidual to you as your fingerprint
Our idiolects are a record of our experiences and are affected by where we live,
our class, our education, our age and our personal preferences
Your idiolect will be partly affected by the accent and dialect of the area in
which you live
Location: It's likely that you will assimilate aspects of spoken language from
many different areas or countries if you move from place to place
This blend becomes highly individual and therefore contributes to your idiolect
Class: There are class accents and usually your idiolect will be affected by this
Education: Depending on what you specialise in, your idiolect will assimilate
vocabulary and grammar that is particular to your area of interest
Age: Each generation likes to invent new words or assign new meanings to old
words (slang), so your age will affect the way you speak
Personal Preference: Depending on your personl preference, you may favour
one comedian over another and as a result, assimilate their jokes, catch phrases
or intonation into your own speech
Dialects are semi-permanent language varieties which vary mainly according to
geographical region and social class
e.g. Yorkshire dialect, Lancashire dialect, working class dialect, middle class
dialect etc
However, dialects can be related to other factors
e.g. gender, age
Many people think that dialect and accents are the same thing
However, accents only deal with pronunciation and phonetics whereas dialect
deals with many more things such as lexis and grammar
Many non-linguists assume that Standard English is not a dialect but is "proper
However, many linguists would argue that Standard English (the language of the
educated) is a dialect related to class and educational background which just
happens to have a higher status and more widespread use than any other
An indication that dialects are semi-permanent is that you can change your
dialect, but only if you work hard at it for a long time
i.e. Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady"
Professor Higgins managed to change her accent but for a while was unable to
control her lexical choice
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Sociolect #2
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Sociolects develop for a number of reasons; for example:
to make communication more effective - i.e. it is more efficient for nurses
and doctors to use medical jargon when speaking to each other becuase it
takes less time and is understood by all in the profession
to demonstrate fellowship with the rest of the group - using specific
language can give you, in effect, a "pass" to join that group
whether there be a specific initiation process you have to take part in or
whatever, using the language thar the group uses proves that you are
either one of them or want to be one of them
i.e. the different jargon used by different religions often makes them feel
more comfortable around each other
to indicate identification with a group to other people - basically making
sure that other people know that you are a member of are supporting a
group of people
to exclude others from the group - i.e. upper middle class people tend to
use words such as napkin and lavatory whereas people from lower social
classes may say serviette or toilet
Most of the time people don't even realise they are using a particular
sociolect, or when they are changing from one to another
A speech sound is a sound heard within a
given language
In other words, a sound that comes out of a
person's mouth that is representative of
his/her spoken language
An example of a speech sound would be the
"b" in "boat" or the "t" in boat"
However the "oa" counts for 1 speech sound
It sounds like "owe" and that is the speech
So speech sounds are not classified according
to any alphabet system
Speech Sounds
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An accent is a way of pronouncing a language
It is therefore impossible to speak without an accent
Some people think that they don't have an accent but everyone does
Your accent results from how, where and when you learned the language you
are speaking and it gives impressions about you to other people
People donot have a single, fixed accent that is determined by their experiences
We can control the way we speak, and do, both consciously and unconsciously
Most people vary their accent depending on who they are speaking with
Your accent might be associated with people from a particular place
E.g. New York, London or New Dehli
However, most people will just hear you as American, English or Indian
Your accent might give an impression that the language that you are speaking is
not your first language
E.g. speaking Spanish with an English accent or speaking English with a French
All languages are spoken with several different accents
Language changes over time so we get words and there are drammatical
An accent is the stress on a syllable or words spoken by a person of specific
E.g. pronouncing "semi" as "say-my" or saying "apartment" as opposed to "flat"
differences in gender an society
Her difference model states that men and women use langauage
for different things
Sympathy vs Problem-Solving
Rapport vs Report
Listening vs Lecturing
Private vs Public
Connections vs Status
Supportive vs Oppositional
Intimacy vs Independence
Tannen's theory was supported by Robin Lakoff in her
"deficit model"
She stated that because of our history of patriarchal rule
women's speech has changed to reflect their lower status
in society
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Social Variation and Gender
Social Variation and Gender #2
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The main contributors to theories on language variation according
to gender are:
Pamela Fishman
Dale Spender
Robin Lakoff
Deborah Tannen
Debroah Cameron
Fishman and Spender conducted a study in the 1970's on
language variation and found that men talk twice as much as
women in mixed gender conversations
This goes against the popular opinion that women talk more than
This is an example of a dominance model
In order to assert their dominance and portray authority, men will
try to dominate the conversation
Tannen supported the theory that there are differences in male
and female speech but argued that it was because of inherant
So, their language will be more emotive and descriptive
than men's
Fishman conducted more studies from the 1970's to the
1990's and found that women ask 3x as many questions as
They also display more supportive body langauge than
men such as:
Supportive noises
Encouraging actions
Women also use more "attention getters"
i.e. guess what!
However most of these are ignored by the others in the
Whereas when men use "attention getters" they are highly
supported and encouraged to continue talking by the
Social Variation and Gender #3
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Social Variation and Occupation
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People's jobs can have a huge impact on the sort of
language they use
Having a career most of the time means coming into
contact with people you wouldn't normally associate with
And each career will have it's own lexicon (posh word for
Also a job tends to be something that you want to do and
will feed your own sense of identity and broaden your
Many people often speak differently becuase they don't
want people who are not working in the same field as
them to be able to understand what they are saying
This form of language is known as an "anti-language"
In most places people who have obtained a high social status are known to use
received pronunciation
Some characteristics of what is considered working class speech are:
Short, simple sentences
Limited vocabulary
Frequent use of "you know", etc
Some characteristics of what is considered middle class speech are:
Complex sentences including subordination
Extended vocabulary
Use of the first person "I"
People tend to assume that people who are higher up on the social ladder and
therefore more likely to be better educated will speak with better grammar, that
their sentences will be well formulated and slang will be at a minimum
They also assume that people who are lower on the social ladder and therefore
more likely to be less educated will speak with a looser form of language
It is also important to note that those in a particular class may speak differently
to those in the same class because they are aspiring to be in a higher class
This is known as "class aspiration"
Social Variation and Social Status
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Social Variation and Age
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When we are young we are linguistically malleable and can change the way we
talk as and when we please
Most of the time we adopt the language of those around us and and speak in
the same way as the people wherever we are living
This is to avoid bullying or standing out from the crowd becuase most of the
time if you speak differently to those around you you are stereotyped as either
"posh" or "common" depending on which end of the spectrum you have adopted
language from
Also people tend to assume that if you speak well and with the proper grammar
and pronunciation that you are intelligent - which is not always the case
However it has also been found that as you get older you become more
comfortable with your surroundings and worry less about how you sound to
other people
Therefore your standard of speech may slip a little as you age - e.g. The Queen
Also, sometimes when you are placed in an environment in which everyone
speaks differently to you you are likely to do one of two things:
Start speaking more like them by changing your accent and pronunciation
Make your accent even stronger as a way of defining who you are and
where you are from
Most of the time we do this without even realising it
Group Identity
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Identity is something that we are constantly building and negotiating throughout
our lives through our interaction with others
The giving and using of names is fundamental to people's identity - it is what
distinguishes us from other people
Different cultures have different naming practices
E.g. In Russia you may be introduced in the form: "X, son of Y"
The way people address you (the degree of formality and intimacy) can also
affect your identity
Different cultures have different ways of addressing people in public situations
Language fits with other indicators of social identity and group membership
such as: style of clothes, type of haircut and taste in music
Language can give us a strong sense of belonging or being excluded
The first step of all invading forces, in past wars, was to eliminate the use of the
native language
This stops dissent but also destroys group and national identity
E.g. Scotland 1745 - Gaelic was banned
Not being able to speak or understand a language effectively excludes you from
a group or nation or makes you a second class citizen
E.g. not speaking English or not having an R.P. accent