The Study of Spoken Language
Key Terms and Devices
The materials in this section relate to the legacy GCSE English Language specification (no longer available for teaching) however, they may still be of use to teachers and students. Centres should ensure they fulfil the requirements of the current GCSE English Language specification.
How a speaker or writer talks to another individual: listeners are addressed to make them feel involved: ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears’ (see www.youtube.com). This includes the way people speak to each other, formally and informally. It can reflect status, age, gender and social class.
Using the same sound at the beginning of several words to emphasise your point. This can be in a phrase or to highlight key ideas during a piece of talk. For example, the wizard in The Wizard of Oz: ‘Step forward, Tin Man. You dare to come to me for a heart, do you? You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk. And you, Scarecrow, have the effrontery to ask for a brain! You billowing bale of bovine fodder!’
Using words that could have more than one meaning, for example Abbott and Costello, Who’s on first. Words with different meanings allow the speaker to pun. Puns deliberately play on ambiguity to introduce humour.
Persuading using threatening or forceful language. For example, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech ‘to enact legislation of the kind before Parliament at this moment is to risk throwing a match onto gunpowder’.
The speech patterns, vocabulary and grammatical features associated with a particular part of the country.
Moving away from the subject.
A speech about a particular, usually serious subject.
These are words that are designed to provoke an emotional response. The aim is to appeal to the emotions of the listener and encourage them to agree with what is said, or to act in a particular way. This can include using a negative outcome, or bribes or threats to influence the listener and persuade them to accept your point of view, for example Schindler’s List ‘I know you have received orders from our commandant, which he has received from his superiors, to dispose of the population of this camp. Now would be the time to do it … Or, you could leave, and return to your families as men instead of murderers.’
There Will Be Blood – Daniel persuading Little Boston to allow him to drill for oil: ‘If we do find oil here … this community of yours will not only survive, it will flourish’.
Lean on Me – Principal motivating students: ‘They say you’re inferior!’
The use of a pleasing or inoffensive term to represent something that is considered unpleasant, distasteful, or distressing.
Responding so that the speaker knows you are listening and encouraging them to continue. Such sounds include ‘mmm’, words such as ‘yes?’ ‘really’, and ‘interesting’.
Phrases or items used in speech to allow the speaker time to think, such as ‘um,’ ‘you know, ’ ‘right,’ to slow down the delivery of a word, for example ‘o-k-ay.’
Words and phrases which soften what is being said to make a statement less direct, such as ‘sometimes,’ ‘probably,’ ‘if that is okay with you,’ ‘perhaps,’ ‘I can see why you might think that.’
The language you use as an individual: personal talk.
Using metaphors and similes to make a speech or talk vivid and memorable. Barack Obama, Inauguration Address: ‘The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.’ Jesse Jackson: ‘America is not a blanket woven from one thread, one colour, one cloth.’
The rise and fall of the tone of voice; how flat or animated the talk is.
When the opposite meaning to what is said is intended to be understood by the listener, for example ‘beautiful day’ when talking about a day of heavy rain.
Self-justification, positive self-representation.
One speaker talking at the same time as another speaker. This can be in support of the original speaker.
Similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses. For example ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets’.
Short gaps that show a break in someone’s talk. These can be moments of silence in talk, or can be through the use of a filler ‘hmmm’.
Is when something is tacitly assumed beforehand. For example, in the sentence ‘Did you continue to threaten my client?’ there is a presupposition that you once threatened the client.
Compare the impact of addressing your listeners using ‘Friends, we are here…’ instead of ‘You are here to…’ How effective would Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech have been if he had said ‘You shall go on to the end, you shall fight in France, you shall fight on the seas and oceans…’? Look at Elmo’s use of language in Sesame Street.
The way words are pronounced, often to make an impact on or to create a mood. Sports commentators are often good examples. Other examples include Braveheart (Mel Gibson) and Nixon (Antony Hopkins).
The style of language, grammar and words used for particular situations, for example, people chatting at a party will talk in an informal register.
A key word or phrase is repeated during the piece of talk. This can also involve using a synonym to repeat the concept without repeating the same word. This can be for emphasis or to give the speaker time to think before their next point, for example Barack Obama ‘Yes, we can. Yes, we can change. Yes, we can…’
The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion: ‘Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage!’
Wall Street, Gordon Gekko: ‘Greed is good. Greed is right…’
Ali, Muhammad Ali: ‘I ain't draft-dodgin. I ain't burnin' no flag … You my opposer…’
These are questions that don’t expect an answer or that have the answer built into them. For example, while giving an anti-war speech in the House of Commons, Tony Benn asked the rhetorical question: ‘Are we such fools that we think that if we bomb other people they will crumble, whereas when they bomb us it will stiffen our resolve?’
Ronald Reagan: ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’
RP (Received Pronunciation)
The English accent associated with the highest social class, with powerful individuals and prestigious institutions.
Informal language, non-standard words and phrases. (See Catherine Tate meets Tony Blair)
The language used by a particular social group, for example age group, common interests.
In conversation, responding to cues that a speaker is finished before saying something.