Discuss the linguistic differences between the spoken and written modes - Sample Essay

Discuss the linguistic differences between the spoken and written modes and consider the ways in which both are perceived in terms of social prestige For both the spoken and written mode it is possible to recognize different linguistic characteristics. Speech is a useful social tool, helping to develop communication and express attitudes and opinions. Writing is useful for documenting facts and ideas, making notes and organising information; it is a more permanent mode than speech which can be revised or reread. The first point to be taken into consideration for each mode is the audience.

Spoken encounters more often than not are personalised and happen face to face with a particular individual. While written language can either be intended for one individual reader or directed at a wider unknown audience. The lexis for both the written and spoken mode is somewhat different. Informal and colloquial is the language used during speech whereas Standard English applies for the written. It is very uncommon; except for during personal correspondence that informal lexis would be acceptable in the written mode.

Due to the personal nature of speech it is customary to use personal register, for example, current jokes or nicknames, and colloquial idioms e. g. ‘the thing is’, ‘as far as I can see’. Abbreviations may also be used when a high level of familiarity is established. It is highly unlikely that you will come across such familiar terms in the written mode. Grammar within spoken language tends to be more relaxed and fairly simple, while grammar in the written mode is a key element and requires thought. Speech usually includes minor sentences and straightforward noun phrases.

In contrast, written language is more formal which introduces both complex sentences and noun phrase. This is the reason why speech is a quicker and brief method of communication. Due to the spontaneity of speech there is likely to be non-fluency features. The most common of these features are voiced hesitation and fillers. Voiced hesitations are pauses used for many different reasons; firstly to provide thinking time. As speech is impulsive the speaker may frequently need to think about what to say. Secondly, written language uses punctuation to signify the end of a sentence, spoken language uses a pause.

These are known as utterances. Also, it is very likely that the speaker may need time to breathe! Speech has a loose structure which results in the use of fillers. Once again these are mostly used to give the speaker time to search for a word and to fill awkward gaps in speech. Another non-fluency feature is false starts and these can be due to nervousness, or simply recalling the situation differently. In general, speech is much more repetitive than writing which leads to a lot of self-correction. Once spoken, errors are not possible to be withdrawn.

Correction within writing is usually not seen due to draft copies, despite this, crossings out are the written equivalent of self-correction. A speaker who is aware of their listeners’ response is able to make amendments before communication falters. Expressions such as ‘you know’ are a speaker’s method of encouraging the listener to respond that communication is effective. Such expressions are called discourse markers. The listener may also use backchanneling to prove they are paying attention. There is no need for either of these within the written mode as the communication is one way.

The reader may be able to respond but the reply is rarely instantaneous. To lure the listener into the conversation a direct address can be used. Phrases such as ‘and you know what I said? ‘ require the listener to show encouragement to continue. The speaker and the listener may also use backchanneling. The speaker would use it to check people are listening and the listener would use it to show that they are paying attention. By monitoring the listeners behaviour communication is prevented from being broken down. As well as words the spoken mode uses paralinguistic features to aid communication and ensure that it is expressive.

An example of this is body language, facial expressions or posture; these can either strengthen or contradict the spoken word. Prosodic features are another feature of the spoken mode; these are all the observable aspects of behaviour that accompany speech, apart from the words themselves. A prosodic feature includes the following; pitch, volume, pace, rhythm, tone and stress patterns. Changes in pitch when speaking are more often than not linked to meaning and the speaker’s relationship with the topic. A high pitch suggests that the speaker is enthusiastic or excited whereas a low pitch indicates a disappointment of some sort.

The volume manipulates the meaning of the speech while pace is related to the speakers’ attitude towards the subject they are talking about. When emphasis is placed on key words it highlights their importance; a change in stress can change the meaning. In the written mode, prosodic features are replaced with punctuation. The written mode tends to include and explain references within the text, as writers must ensure that there is no unintended ambiguity. Alternatively, in the spoken mode context dependence leads to much use of deictic features.

There also needs to be the assumption that the audience shares the speakers’ knowledge of the topic. Deictic expressions, for example ‘just now’ or ‘over there’, which refer to the present situation are common in the spoken mode. With the spoken mode there is likely to be little or no planning of the speech. Because of this it is probable that there will be much multiple co-ordination (the repetitive use of ‘and’). This is not apparent in the written mode, instead complex sentence structures and sub-ordination is used. Many people consider the written language to be of a higher prestige than the spoken.

This is true in a broad, general perspective yet sufficient examples exist of formal spoken language; radio, television, legal circles. The written language mainly uses accurate Standard English and is an important medium used within education. Spoken English is often spontaneous whereas written texts are much more tidy and structured. Despite this, there are instances of informal correspondence, for example, email. However, if either mode deserves to be called the original form of the language it is the spoken. For centuries when many people were considered illiterate it was speech that helped them conduct their daily business.

It is the spoken mode rather than the written that dominates everyday society and it is speech which is historically prior to writing. According to Sarah Thorne, ‘We all assimilate the ‘rules’ of the spoken language from an early age, most speech encounters take place within a co-operative framework’ (Thorne, Mastering Advanced English Language, 1997, p228). At any age, we are able to make judgements about the kind of language suitable for various people and different contexts. Nevertheless, in linguistic terms neither the written nor the spoken mode is considered as superior.