Difference Between Written And Spoken Language

Introduction

In any language there is some amount of difference between written language (planned) and spoken language (spontaneous). Since planned speech could be considered a form of written language, it could be inferred that there are also differences between planned speech and spontaneous speech. Some of these differences are very clear in terms of syntax, lexis, phonology and discourse. In the first part of this paper (Part A), 1 will try to highlight these differences in order to make a clear distinction between spontaneous and planned speech. In the second part (Part B), I am going to analyse two texts one of which is spontaneous speech and the other is planned. I will try to base my discussion on the differences explained in the first part.

Part A:

1/ Syntactical Structure

One of the main differences between spontaneous and planned speech is that of syntax. The syntactical structure tends to be more complicated in planned speech, so the sentences tend to be very long, complicated and complete. McCarthy (1991:4) states that “without a command of the rich and variable resources of the grammar, the construction of natural and sophisticated discourse is impossible”. Therefore, grammatical cohesion and semantic links between words could be easily detected in planned speech. On the other hand, the syntactical structure in spontaneous speech is very simple, incomplete and sometimes even incorrect. The sentences are very simple and short. The spontaneous speaker slurs words; half enunciates the words or says incomplete sentences (e.g. fragments). However, these incomplete sentences are acceptable because they are a typical feature of spoken English (Brown & Yule, 1983). Moreover, Goldman?Eisler (1968:28) reports:

Spontaneous speech was shown to be a highly fragmented and discontinuous activity. When even at its most fluent, two?thirds of spoken language comes in chunks of less than six words, the attribute of flow and fluency in spontaneous speech must be judged an illusion.

2/ Lexical Features

a) Vocabulary and the (Interactive features & Organization) of Text.

In spontaneous speech, the speaker tends to switch from one point to the other without paying attention to the organization of his message. He might start talking about a certain topic and then moves to talk about something totally different and then returns to his main topic and continues in that circle. Moreover, vocabulary items are carelessly selected and they could be repeated again and again in order to communicate the meaning. However, in planned speech, the speaker makes use of the vocabulary in organizing his message so that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Moreover, he tends to focus on high lexical density and complex vocabulary including abstract and he uses a variety of vocabulary with lower level of repetition (Hughes,1996). McCarthy (1991:75) suggests that vocabulary is not just used to organize the text but also to indicate the larger text patterns chosen by the author. He states that:

As well as representing text?segments, some of the discourse organizing words give us indications of the larger text patterns the author has chosen, and build up expectations concerning the shape of the whole discourse.

Vocabulary plays another role in focusing the attention on a specific part of the message. In planned speech for instance, the speaker tends to use words that take lesser space and more information. These words help him to place the focus on the main idea of the message. On the other hand, the focus is diverted in different directions in the spontaneous speech due to the speaker’s unorganized way of delivering the message.

Vocabulary is not only necessary for the organization of the message in planned speech; it is also important to reflect an interactive impression about the message in spontaneous speech. Spoken speech in general and spontaneous speech in particular are noticeable for their interactive expressions. Spontaneous speech frequently involves interactive expressions like well, now, you know… etc

b) False starts

Maclay and Osgood (1959) observed that false starts, when a speaker starts an utterance, stops abruptly and restarts, usually involves not just corrections of the unintended word, but also corrections of the associated function words. False start occurs a lot in spontaneous speech due to the high speed of interaction, the fast flow of utterances and the short time that the speaker has to think about his utterances. On the other hand, false start does not occur in planned speech because the speaker has enough time to plan, organise and think about what he is going to say. So, his utterances are more likely to be very organized, accurate and focused on the main idea of the message which means there is no chance for false start to exist in such a speech.

3/ phonological features

a) Pauses and Rhythms.

Preplanned speech, such as a talk, can be read smoothly and continuously. Spontaneous speech can rarely be described in this way. It is full of pauses, hesitations, false starts, fragments and corrections, which the listener has to disentangle somehow. In actual fact, these factors have some important functions in the spontaneous speech. For instance, the pause or the silence in speech can play a social role, as when we pause for effect, in order to emphasize a point; it can also signal that the speaker has finished talking and now wishes someone else to talk. Moreover, it plays a physical role since we can not talk and inhale at the same time. Finally, it can play a cognitive role; pauses may occur when we are planning what to say next. So, we could say that pauses play a crucial role in the planning of spontaneous speech at both the lexical and the semantic level.

In fact, a pause for the cognitive function of planning will not always be silent. Many of the hesitations which occur in speech ? the ‘ers’ and ‘ums’ ? are thought to be attempts to achieve the cognitive function of planning something else to say, while retaining control of the conversation. If the silence is filled with sound, the speaker is indicating that no interruption is to be tolerated. On the other hand, in the planned speech pauses do occur but rhythmically along with ebb and flow of the sentence. Brown (1990:48) suggests that pauses in the spoken mode of a written speech (planned speech), occur on the rhythmic beat just as stressed syllable do. In other words, short pauses will contribute a single beat whereas long pauses contribute multiple beats. Planned speech is more rhythmic than spontaneous speech in that short pauses are used for commas, long ones for fullstops and longer pauses while switching to the next passage and this rhythm is almost lacking in spontaneous speech. In actual fact it is very hard for a spontaneous speaker to establish a rhythmic quality in his speech unless he is very fluent and well experienced speaker. The reason for this is that the spontaneous speaker would sometimes stop at the middle of a sentence in order to find a suitable word that serves the meaning he wants to convey or express.

b) The Use of Fillers

Spontaneous speech is disfluent: speakers need time to formulate utterances and often to make changes, so fillers, pauses, repetitions and restarts are abound. Fillers and hesitations dominate spontaneous speech and give it its distinctive structure and feeling. According to Brown (1990), in normal spontaneous speech the speaker concentrates both on what to say and how to say it. If that is the case, spontaneous speaker would use lots of fillers such as “erm”, “er”, “uh” …ete in order to gain some time to think of what to say next or to search for a suitable word that would best convey his meaning. It could be said therefore, that these fillers help the spontaneous speaker to be more efficient while speaking. However, if the speaker exaggerates in using these fillers, this could affect his fluency. On the other hand, in planned speech the speaker does not need to use the fillers so often since he has already had enough time to plan what he is going to say. That justifies the small number of fillers used in planned speech and the huge number used in spontaneous speech.

c) Pronunciation Variants

Spontaneous speech, as opposed to planned speech, is a more natural way in which people communicate with each other. However, the recognition of spontaneous speech is made more challenging by the severe pronunciation variants and unpredictable pauses or laughter in between words. For instance, when words follow one another in speech, phonemes may undergo considerable changes (McCarthy, 1991:89).Hence, it is more likely that planned speech would have more careful and precise pronunciation.

d) Time and speed factors

We have seen previously that the use of fillers is more common in spontaneous speech than in planned speech. The use of fillers and pauses consumes a considerable time of the overall time of speech and this in turn, decreases the speed of the speech delivery and affects the fluency of the speaker. On the other hand, the time consumed in delivering a planned speech (of the same topic as in spontaneous speech) is less than that consumed in spontaneous speech although the message in the former is more coherent and organized. This could be justified by the fact that in planned speech, the speaker has had enough time to think about the message whereas, in spontaneous speech, he is speaking casually on the spot without having any time to think about it.

4/ The Discourse Features

a) The use of referring expressions

“Referring expressions are words whose meaning can only be discovered by referring to other words or to elements of the context which are clear to bothsender and receiver” (Cook, 1989:16). Planned speech is explicit with precise and specific references, whereas the spontaneous speech frequently demonstrates non­specific references. The most common example of these references is third person pronouns (she/ her/ hers/ herself; he/ him/ his/ himself; it/ its/ itself; they/ them/ their/ theirs/ themselves). However, it is not only the third person pronouns which work in this way. The meanings of this, that , here and there have also to be found either formally in another part of the discourse or contextually from the world (ibid:17). Referring expressions fulfil a dual purpose of unifying the text (they depend upon some of the subject matter remaining the same) and of economy, because they save us from having to repeat the identity of what we are talking about again and again (ibid).

b) Ellipsis

The complexity of the grammatical features found in spontaneous speech often stems from a high incidence of a characteristic called ellipsis. According to Hughes(1996:20), “Ellipsis is a complex concept which basically hinges on the notion that something is ‘missing’ from an utterance or clause, but that it can be understood because of the surrounding discourse and context”. Ellipsis is more likely to occur in spontaneous speech rather than in planned speech because in the latter, the ideas tend to be expressed in complete sentences and they are relatively straightforward; whereas in the former, the message is implicitly expressed to an audience who is supposed to know the context of the speech.

Part B:

In this part, I will try to discuss and highlight some of the features mentioned above. I would focus on and show the differences between planned and spontaneous speech empirically by providing two recordings one of which is a spontaneous speech and the other is a planned speech done by the same person. Both recordings have the same topic. The speaker is a Canadian student whose native language is English. He is currently studying for an MA in English Language Teaching and Multimedia at Warwick. First, the speaker spoke spontaneously about the topic in Text A. After finishing Text A, he took some time to have his coffee and to take some notes and then, in Text B, he spoke by referring and taking help from his notes. The first text was recorded in the Postgraduate Common Room. After finishing the first recording, some people came in, so we could not continue to be in the same room. Therefore, we recorded the second text in one of the teaching rooms. Now, I shall start discussing the two texts:

a) The grammatical structure

In text B, there is no incomplete sentence, whereas in text A, there is a considerable number of incomplete sentences and fragments. These are some examples:

? I mean if you’re working full time + which in Switzerland where I teach is only 24 hours in the classroom.

? you have + you know the time you you lose aa in transit

? unfortunately we don’t get muchaaa how shall I put it down luckily

? I am I am well I am enjoying + I mean I feel guilty about it because my wife is back there struggling with the two children

In fact, it is very difficult to judge incomplete sentences in spontaneous speech because for the first while a sentence would seem complete and when you look at the same sentence again, you might realize it is not. This is because there is no punctuation in spoken speech and the speaker speaks joining a number of short clauses. We as listener accept these incomplete structures and we consider them complete while listening. However, if we are to judge them syntactically, most of them would be incomplete and even grammatically incorrect.

b) The organisation of text

In planned speech, the information is likely to be well organized because the speaker has had enough time to plan what he is going to say, organise his thoughts and puts them in a coherent way. On the other hand, the thoughts and ideas are mixed up and put in an unorganised manner in the spontaneous speech because the speaker does not have enough time to think about the coherence and the organisation of his message and also because he just utters any idea that comes to his mind on the spot. Likewise, if we examine the organisation and coherence of both texts, it would become clear to us that in text A, the ideas are jumbled which in turn, makes the text less coherent. The speaker starts by describing his job at a high school last year and then moves to talk about his family and then starts describing his current situation; again continues his description of what happened last year and so on. On the other hand, the ideas in text B are more organised and coherently developed. Although the speaker does mix some of the information and ideas (talks about last year, then moves to talk about this year, and then returns and talks about last year), he does it in a way that shows a point?for?point comparison (e.g. mentioning a certain situation from the past and then mentioning how that situation has changed now). This makes text B better than text A in terms of coherence and organisation.

c) The sentence structure

In text B, we could find some complex sentence structures. There are subordinate clauses, well linked and creating a complex structure. For instance, note the following sentences in text B:

Erm + I also have two small children and erm that left me no time to think about ways of teaching better, to think about strategies for for for teaching vocabulary or or or erm finding videos which are appropriate for the classroom of this sort of things.

This sentence is complex and is not likely to occur in a spontaneous speech. Text B has so many sentences of this kind. On the other hand, the grammatical structure in text A is very simple and consists of short clauses, not so well linked. For example, consider the following sentences in text A:

Whereas here + I can get up at seven thirty in the morning or eight in the morning. Actually, I find it difficult to stay in bed + later aa than eight in the morning and erm so I am sleeping more, I’m much more relaxed, I have to say that. Plus with the kids, I don’t have kids that wake me up + in the middle of the night.

Throughout text A, the utterances consist of many short clauses just like the example given above. Because there is a large number of short clauses and there is no punctuation in the spoken language, it becomes the listener’s responsibility to determine the end of a sentence or an idea and the start of the next one.

d) The use of referring expressions

As I have previously mentioned, planned speech is explicit with precise and specific references, whereas spontaneous speech frequently demonstrates non­specific references. In text A, we find a number of such reference as it, here, that, this and many others. In order for these references to be clearly understood, they have to occur in a certain context. In text A for instance, the following references cannot be understood in isolation:

? this is almost a pleasure for me

? I have to say that

? and things like that, which is a positive thing

? I mean I feel guilty about it

? But that’s quite a bit

In text B as well, there is a considerable number of references or text dependent words that cannot be understood in isolation just like the examples mentioned above. This does not go along with the expectations mentioned in Part A. May be the reason for these references to occur here is that text B is not an extreme model of the planned speech; it is rather a model of semi?scripted speech.

e) The use of fillers

This is another area that has not confirmed the expectations. In text A, there are 12 “erm” and 4 “aa” whereas in text B, there are 15 “erm” and 7 “aa”. I don’t really have a logical explanation for this. In text B, the speaker tended to reduce the number of short and long pauses and to increase the number of fillers and since fillers are considered to be elements of fluency, text B is still more fluent than text A. So, it seems that the fluency in text B is not negatively affected by the sharp increase of the number of fillers.

f) The use of false starts

Sometimes, and due to poor preparation for a certain topic, a speaker might start an utterance and stop suddenly at the middle of it and restart again with the same utterance after inserting some changes on, or may even start with a totally new utterance and this process is called false start. This is very likely to occur in spontaneous speech where the speaker doesn’t have any time to prepare and plan for his utterances. In text A, there are so many examples on this and these are only some:

? I have erm how is my life different?

? I had two different erm I had two children

? I am I am well I am enjoying + I mean I feel guilty about it because my wife is back there struggling with the two children

? and I’m not I don’t have many distractions

On the other hand, text B has no false start at all and the speaker tended to finish all the utterances he started and this is exactly what I mentioned in Part A section b.

g) Pauses, rhythm, speed and fluency

In text A, there are 17 short pauses and 8 long pauses whereas in text B, there are 10 short pauses and no long pauses at all. This confirms the expectations mentioned above to some extent. As a result of the large number of pauses in text A, the delivery of the speech took 3 minutes and 10 seconds whereas it took only 2 minutes 55 seconds in the case of text B. The rise and fall in the accent also varies along with the change in the mode of speech. In text A, rises with ebb and flow of the sentence are not stable. In text B, there is a mixture of fluency and hesitation due to the number of short pauses and fillers but still fluency is more dominant. So, the utterances in text B have more rhythmic tone than those in text A.

h) Pronunciation Variants

Pronunciation variants are largely due to accents, co?articulation, speaking style and speaking mode. The variants can be in a word such as “because” which, in spontaneous speech, is usually pronounced as “coz”. Moreover, these variants can be in between two words. In text A for instance, the speaker pronounced “going” to” as “gonna” in the following sentence:

? I’m able to concentrate on on on things which are gonna help me next year.

Contracted form could be considered one of the pronunciation variants as well. In text A, the speaker uses contracted forms so often because he was speaking quickly and spontaneously. The following sentences are some examples:

?     I’m much more relaxed

?     I’ve learned to sleep with some noise from the kids

?     I’m I’m really enjoying my time here.

?     very conservative a teachers who’ve who’ve reached their positions

On the other hand, the use of the contracted forms and the pronunciation variants is less in text B. The speaker tended to be clear in his pronunciation, so his articulation of the words was more obvious than in text A.

Conclusion

In conclusion, and based on the analysis of the two recordings, it could be confirmed that planned speech and spontaneous speech are distinctively different from each other. However, some of the differences I focused on in my discussion of the first part have not been clearly obvious in the analysis of the recordings in the second part. A probable reason could be the fact that text B is not really an extreme typical model of a planned speech; it is rather a model of semi?scripted speech where the speaker refers to his notes to get an idea of what to start next. Of course, the time factor has a great impact on the fluency of the speaker. In other words, if the speaker was given more time to think about the topic in text B (e.g. if he was asked to be recorded a day or two after the recording of text A), the speaker would have been even more fluent and the differences would have been more obvious.

Bibliography

Goldman?Eisler, F.Q968). “Psycholinguistics: Experiments in Spontaneous Speech” London: Academic Press.

H ughes, Rebecea.(1996). “English in Speech and Writing, Investigating Language andLiterature”. London: Routledge.

Maday, H. and Osgood, C.E. (1959). “Hesitation Phenomena in spontaneous English Speech”. Word 15, 19 ? 44.

McCarthy, M. (1991). “Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, G & Yule, G. (1983). “Teach ing the Spoken Language “. Cambri dge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, G. (1990). “Listening to Spoken English”. Essex: Longman.

Cook, Guy. (1989). “Discourse”. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Appendix (I)

Key for Texts

Short pause +

Long pause ++ more than three second

Text A (3 minutes I0 seconds)

R: Okay Wrick could you tell me what + what you used to do when I mean before coming to to Warwick + and can you compare that with what you are doing right now?

W: aah, do you mean my job and a way I live?

R: yes

W: alright erm I worked la last year I worked full time + erm as teacher of German and English.

R: aha

W: I worked erm twelve hours in a high school + and twelve hours at various erm I suppose they would be called junior high schools ++ (ts) ah I have erm how is my life different? I had two different erm I had two children ++ so I was living two different lives parent and teacher of course. I was very very busy last year. I have to say this is almost a pleasure for me because I can concentrate completely ons on on my studies, completely on one thing, I don’t have to worry about about changing diapers or or aa cleaning the house or or preparing food for anybody but myself so ah I think last year I had I had to get up for instance every morning at six o’clock in the morning every morning. Erm ++ and lots of time of my days would end at ++ five or six for the very long days. Whereas here + I can get up at seven thirty in the morning or eight in the morning. Actually, I find it difficult to stay in bed + later aa than eight in the morning and erm so I am sleeping more, I’m much more relaxed, I have to say that. Plus with the kids I don’t have kids that wake me up + in the middle of the night. And I don’t even hear it ? to noise because I’ve learned to sleep with some noise from the kids in the background. So, I’m less sensitive to noise from my neighbors and slamming the doors and things like that, which is a positive thing. Aaa

R: So you are telling me you are enjoying the course

W: I am I am well I am enjoying + I mean I feel guilty about it because my wife is back there struggling with the two children and working still but I’m I’m really enjoying my time here + because because it’s giving me time to think about things which I + I couldn’t think about erm while I was working. I couldn’t I mean if you’re working full time + which in Switzerland where I teach is only 24 hours in the classroom. But that’s quite a bit and then your preparation at home, you have + you know the time you you lose aa in transit + erm corrections and things like that.++ You you don’t have time to think about ++ things like listening strategies and and ways to teach vocabulary in and all the practical things and unfortunately we don’t get much aaa how shall I put it down luckily we don’t get much erm ++ ah quality help from from our schools inspectors who tend to be + very traditional and very conservative a teachers who’ve who’ve reached their positions sort of as a + as an honorary position after year and years of service + but erm ++ but I am happy at least this year + I’m + From I’m calm + I am aa and I’m able to concentrate on on on things which are gonna help me next year + and I’m not I don’t have many distractions, I guess that’s the main difference.

R: Okay thank you so much, thank you.


Text B (2 minutes 55 seconds)

R: Okay Wrick + can you tell me about your job before coming to Warwick and how do you find the situation before and now while studying?

W: Certainly erm I think the main difference is that last year erm I’d just had no time. I I worked erm full time which is twenty four hours in Switzerland. Erin + I also have two small children and erm that left me no time to think about ways of teaching better to think about strategies for for for teaching vocabulary or or or erm finding videos which are appropriate for the classroom of this sort of things. This year I’ve lots of time to think about those things. And I think that that’s changed my life in lots of different ways. I am generally more enthusiastic about what I do whereas last year I was a I suppose quite frustrated with a + with with my job and the way it was going. Erm + physically, it makes a difference because I  I sleep more if I don’t have the children waking me up every every four hours to to to be fed or get changed. Erm + that helps and I’ve I’ve noticed that I am getting seven or eight hours in sleep and which I never got in Switzerland so having more time and not having the children around is a big advantage too. Erm + there’s little things that have changed too like last year of course to get to my aa my school I always had to drive, so I was in the car a lot whereas here I’m walking a lot which is nice, I’m moving around aa a bit more. I am not so sedentary as I was last year,

R: So you are exercising a little a little bit

W: I’m exercising yes whether I want to or not. Erm + aa another thing is + of course with the kids we tended to stay home a lot, so aa we couldn’t go to see films, we couldn’t go to to restaurants and things like that. Erm + whereas here I  I at least have the option to go out a bit more. I haven’t been doing it as much as I like but aa I can go out and see films once in a while. Erm at home I still watch TV a lot. That was my big entertainment TV aa whereas here I don’t watch any and I like it that way. It’s it’s just quier much different. Erm + here I can read books, this year I’ve I’ve been able actually to sit down and read entire books whereas last year I could read short stories or or or magazines or newspapers but I could never find the time to actually read books which is + another big parts of this year. Erm I didnt meet many people because once you get into a routine we if you work aaa at the same schools and see the same people, you don’t meet new faces; you see the same students and the same colleagues but you don’t get many new ideas from new people and you don’t meet new interesting people. Whereas here, every day you’re meeting people from from erm (ts) from Oman from Syria from aa from Japan from all over the world and getting interesting ideas about the way they teach and the the types of classes they have to deal with each day. So, I think generally that’s it.

R: Thank you so much

W: You’re welcome

Please see the notes from which the speaker took help in the second recording on the following URL



Rashid Al Maamari

BA in English for English Specialists from Sultan Qaboos University (2001)

MA in ESP from the University of Warwick (2003)

Teaching English Language in the Language Centre at Sultan Qaboos University since 2001

Office Tel: +968 24142854

Mobile: +968 99378100

E-mail: rashidm@squ.edu.om

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