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Is there a grammar of spoken English?

Summarising: Three ways of looking at it. Extracts from the Geoffrey Leech article, English Grammar in Conversation.

View 1: Spoken English has no grammar at all: it is grammatically inchoate.

(That view) ...does not need to be taken seriously, although it is surprisingly persistent in the mind of the folk grammarian. It is inherited from the age-old tradition associating grammar with the written language, and it is bolstered by examples such as the following, which, like others which follow, is from the Longman spoken corpus:

No. Do you know erm you know where the erm go over to er go over erm where the fire station is not the one that white white

View 2: Spoken English does not have a special grammar: its grammar is just the same as the grammar of written English

Conversation makes use of entities such as prepositions, modals, noun phrases and relative clauses, just as written language does. So - assuming, as many would, that differences of frequency belong to the use of the grammar, rather than to the grammatical system itself - it is quite natural to think in terms of one English grammar, whose use in conversational performance can be contrasted with its use in various kinds of writing. In other words, conversational grammar is seen to be just a rather special implementation of the common grammar of English: a discovery which does not necessarily in any way diminish the interest of studying the grammar (i.e. the grammatical use) of spoken language.

View 3: Spoken English does have a special grammar - it has its own principles, rules and categories, which are different from those of the written language.

In handling spoken language, (David) Brazil argues for a totally different approach to grammar from the approach which has become familiar through conventional focus on the written language. He argues for a linear model moving dynamically through time, and puts aside the more traditional architectural model in terms of hierarchies of units. Although Carter and McCarthy do not take this thorough-going approach, they do throw the spotlight on grammatical features of spoken language which they feel have been largely neglected by standard grammars entrenched in the ‘written tradition’. They argue that structures which are inherent to speech have not been properly studied until the advent of the spoken computer corpus, and are consequently absent from canonised written grammar familiar to learners of English throughout the world: structures such as the ‘dislocated topic’ of This little shop ... it’s lovely or the ‘wagging tail’ of Oh I reckon they’re lovely. I really do whippets. These tend to find their raison d’être in the fact that conversation constructs itself in a dynamic fashion, giving the speaker only a small look-ahead window for planning what to say, and often inducing retrospective add-ons. Carter and McCarthy (1995) put forward a structural model for the clause in conversation, containing in addition to the core clause itself a pre-clause topic and a post-clause tail. With their refreshing emphasis on the dynamic modelling of grammar in action, Carter and McCarthy seem to be taking a line similar to Brazil’s advocacy of a new grammar of speech.

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I would have to concur with anonymous, for I have seen in many instances where my first urge is to admonish those with so-called "horrible" spoken grammar, but at second thought I realize that it does conform to some sort of grammar. Being prescriptive is mostly antiquated, however I do think there does seem to be the need for some agreed-upons in the English language, if only for a commonality in understanding. Language change is unavoidable. So, maybe there should be two disciplines: a grammar of the written language, and also one of the spoken? To be ruled and governed (in whatever way) separately, for they both meet different ends.

foster.408 October 7, 2006 @ 3:31PM

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Hy Raj!

Some good ideas to improve your English skills without a professional teacher are:

*Buy a beginner's edition of a grammatic book
*Read as much as possible
*Watch as many dvds as possible (in English maybe with subtitles in your first creative)
*Listen to songs in English together with the lyrics
*Start with the easy stuff and then go more and more into detail
*Make sure you are aware of the rules and how to use it before taking up anything new

I hope this helps you. Good luck and hold your head up high.


oachkatzlschwoaf October 17, 2006 @ 10:24AM

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Dear Raj,

Well, I think it is important to read as much as possible. This is an easy way to know new expressions. In addition you could also watch TV or go to the movies.
For your grammar doubts you should consider the website: There are many interesting grammar exercises. Try to do some of them and I am sure you will improve soon! I am an English student and this is one of my favorite English learning sites.
Don't you know any native speaker? Try to take every change to speak in English. On your next holidays you should possibly visit an English speaking country.
Have fun and good luck!

mariamulser October 17, 2006 @ 10:26AM

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Dear P. Mohan Ray,

I read that you need help because you would like to speak English. There are many different and interesting ways to learn a language. Of course, it always depends on which English level you are. If you already speak some English I would suggest to you to translate English song texts into your language. I advise to take some songs you like and you are listening to. Like that it will be a pleasure to translate the texts and finally you will understand what your favourite songs are about.

Greetings and good luck,

dorisinom October 17, 2006 @ 10:27AM

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Raj, I'm surprised no one else has suggested this, but, depending on your free time, scheduling flexibility, and budget, I would highly recommend concentrated classes or concentrated immersion classes. In both, you go to language class for eight hours a day or more, every day. In the immersion classes, only english is spoken the entire time. After a few weeks or maybe a month, your fluency will increase quite a lot, especially if you already have some knowledge of English.
It's not for everyone as it can be very intense and requires a big time commitment. Also, you are not likely to retain what you learn unless you follow up with long-term exposure to the language. If you have recently moved to an English-speaking country, or plan on an extended trip to one for business, education, or vacation, then that would be excellent reinforcement.
I learned German this way years ago, covering two complete college semesters of German in four weeks, starting from scratch. I spoke quite well afterwards, but unfortunately, did not use it, so I lost it all after a while.

porsche October 17, 2006 @ 2:13PM

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Dear Sir/Madam,

Good evening to you. This is Venkatesh Akurathi from AP, Hyderabad. I finished my post graduation in Maths at AN University. But I am suffering with english because to speak others. I spend more time with my friends, here my friends can speak a good english, I feeled very guilty. And I have to see more websites for english like and so on... Now, Presently am working an Organisation, but in this organisation all my much fluency english.

I have one problem. From my child life to present life am not worked with english colligues. This is my bad advantage. So, Please give me the advice how to learn english fluently and free from fear. So, sorry because there are so many mistakes in this letter. Try to understand me and what is the mistakes of this letter please underlined.

Ok, Looking forward for your early response.

Thanking you.

With Regards,

Yours Venkatesh,

venkatesh.akurathi February 2, 2008 @ 7:52AM

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