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Spoken English

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  • fshdt
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 10, 2006
      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
      existing boilers.
      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
      information only.
      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.

      Elliptical phrases

      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.

      Ellipsis

      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.

      Dick Tibbetts
      University of Macau
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