English grammar in context
English grammar in context

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English grammar in context

3.3 Features of speech: dialogue

In Section 3.2, Texts 1 and 2 were both monologues, that is, one person speaking or writing. Speech is more often a dialogue, a communication between two or more speakers and this influences the grammar choices made. We can see this in the dialogue transcribed below.

A: Oh well she wouldn't be there after the bingo then would she? Probably went to I know that she does go. She there most of the evening and she goes to bingo and

B: Yeah

A: Cos they live down round near Tina's but not like Tina's house before that off Allard Avenue round the back of Allard Sherwood is it?

B: Sherwood, yeah Sherwood Avenue

A: Yeah

B: Yeah they live up yeah.

(BNC-OU spoken corpus)

This transcript looks different from Text 1 and is even more difficult to make sense of. In natural speech, people often speak at the same time as each other, or complete each other's remarks. There are therefore many utterances that seem incomplete when read on the page. Although transcripts of conversation may seem ‘ungrammatical’ in comparison to text specifically composed to be read, the participants in them have no problem understanding and responding. This indicates that the grammatical choices made in speech are often just different from those we make in writing. The use of the context surrounding the participants means that they do not need to make everything explicit. In fact, they need to do different things in conversation and therefore need different grammatical resources. For example, in the context of a face-to-face conversation we see grammatical features such as question tags (would she? is it?) which invite a response, either verbally or through gestures such as nodding the head, from the other member of the dialogue. This helps to keep all participants in the conversation involved. Missing out words such as personal pronouns is common, e.g. Probably went to, where the pronoun she is omitted. This is allowable in conversation because such words can be inferred from the surrounding text. It also helps to create a feeling of closeness between the participants. They can leave out words because they can rely on their shared understanding to fill in the meanings.


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