- I sometimes find myself preparing dialogues for students to work on
and I've always tried to make them sound authentic but I wonder what
identifies spoken English. Nowadays we can look in corpora (Micase is
pretty good for academic and for general English
http://micase.umdl.umich.edu/m/micase/ ) but I wouldn't want to give
students something that read like a transcript because that's just too
difficult with its interjections and shared speaker knowledge. What I
want is something like a good mini playlet that can be spoken without
sounding artificial. I've always had to more or less wing it but with
grammars of spoken English starting to be researched, I'm starting to
find examples of spoken grammar that can be used when constructing
dialogues. I wonder if a list might be useful. It'll be far from
complete but it might help.
First, here's some dialogues from textbooks that do not work.
Waitress: Here's your lobster, madam.
Guest: I didn't order lobster, I ordered king prawns.
Waitress: Oh, I'm very sorry madam. I'll go and change it.
Waitress: Oh, and here's your fresh orange juice, madam.
Guest: But I told you I didn't want ice in it and you've put ice in it.
Waitress: I'm terribly sorry, madam. I'll get a new one without ice.
In this exchange each error pointed out by the guest is followed by an
apology by the waitress and an offer to make good. In the first the
waitress is very sorry. In the second she is terribly sorry. I guess
in a third she would be awfully sorry. The complexities of real life
are not there. I bet the waitress would apologise, try to shift blame,
give apologetic explanations rather than just apologise harder.
And a second
Hebberd Good morning, Mr Benson. My name's Hebberd. Can I be of any
assistance to you?
Benson I hope so, yes. The situation is as follows. On the advice of
our consultant, my company is looking for suitable replacements to our
Hebberd Yes, I see.
Benson He suggested you as a well-known manufacturer of boilers,
although obviously I'm contacting other companies as well.
Hebberd Yes, of course.
Benson I'm wondering if you can send me details of your range.
Hebberd I'd be pleased to, but are you talking about oil or gas or
coal fired boilers?
Benson Frankly, we've not decided that yet. We have the choice of all
three, and at the moment we're really looking for preliminary
Hebberd I understand.
Benson Can you send me some information on that basis?
Hebberd Yes, of course. I suggest I send you details of our complete
range. I'm sure there will be something there to suit you, both in
terms of fuel used and, of course, in terms of output.
Benson I'd be most grateful.
Hebberd I'll put the details in the post to you today. Could I perhaps
come and see you and discuss your requirements further? When you've
had a chance to read through the information, of course.
Benson I'd like to talk to our consultant first about that.
Hebberd Oh, naturally. May I have your address to send the information
to. And then I'll look forward to hearing from you.
Renson Yes. My name's Benson, initial J. And the address is as
follows . . .
No spinoffs, no attempt to make human contact, just formulaic
exchanges, more or less written style.
These typical items in spoken English are mainly from Ron Carter and I
think they come from a British corpus so I hope they apply to the US.
The examples are mainly my own.
1 left displaced subject with recapitulatory pronoun.
The boss, he was shouting.
Right displaced subject.
He's a dark horse, that one.
She's a good organiser is Katy.
Complete relative clause
Which is why we have to use a low flame.
Wh pseudo cleft
What I suggest is they should go back to the beginning.
Harry likes the drum and base stuff, me the indie
Fronted anticipatory phrase
That shop in Central down Wellington Street, is that the one you mean?
The guy with the amazing haircut, he's the one you need.
Jim. One thing you need to know.
Initial conjunctions for cohesion and dramatic effect
So he's going to sell the car,
But how will he get the kids to school?
Then there are discourse markers like Well, you know, sort of, like,
etc. and of course contractions. Another thing worth pointing out is
that spoken English is often less dense than written English, even
though spoken English can be terse.
I wouldn't flood dialogues with these and it's clear spoken to written
English is a continuum, but bearing these, and others you find, in
mind as you create could be useful.
Last of all, the conversation has to have a real communicative purpose
and be things speakers and listeners would want to say and want to hear.
University of Macau