Difference between spoken and written discourse:
Traditionally language teaching has divided discourse into two categories, the spoken and the written. Spoken discourse is often considered to be less planned and orderly, more open to intervention by the receiver. There are some kinds of spoken discourse however like lessons, lectures, interviews, and trials which have significant features in common with typical written discourse.
The traditional division of discourse into spoken and written is clearly and sensibly based on a difference in production and reception: we use our mouths and ears for one, and our hands and eyes for the other. Yet as far as the discourse structure is concerned, a more fundamental distinction seems to be between formal, planned discourse, which may be either written or spoken discourse or informal discourse of either spoken or written.
In particular situations the speech of, say, an academic, particularly if he is saying something he has said or thought about before, may have a great deal in common with written language forms. For the majority of the population, even of a literate country, spoken language will have very less in common with the written language. In the discussion which follows we shall draw a simplistic distinction between spoken and written language which takes highly literate written language as the norm of written language, and the speech of those who have not spent many years exposed to written language as the norm for spoken language. The differences in the manner of production of speech and writing often contribute significantly to characteristic forms in speech. The overall effect is to produce speech which is less richly organized than written language, containing less densely packed information, but containing more interactive markers and planning ‘fillers’. The standard descriptive grammars of English typically describe features of the written language or that form of the spoken language which is highly influenced by written language. We can extract some features:
1. The syntax of spoken language is typically much less structured than that of written language.
Spoken language contains many incomplete sentences and often sequence of phrases.
Spoken languages typically contain rather little sub ordination.
In conversational speech where sentential syntax can be observed, active declarative forms are normally found. In over 50 hours of recorded conversational speech, Brown, Currie and Kenworthy (1980) found very few examples of passive, it-clefts or wh-clefts.
2. In written language an extensive set of metalingual markers exist to mark relationships between clauses, in spoken language the largely practically organized chunks are related by, and, but, then, and more rarely, if. The speaker is typically less explicit than the writer: I m so tired (because) I had to walk all the way home. In written language, rhetorical organizers of large stretches of discourse appear, like firstly, more important than and in conclusion. These are rare in spoken language.
3. In written languages, rather heavily premodified noun phrases are quite common, it is rare in spoken language to find more than two premodifying adjectives and there is a strong tendency to structure the short chunks of speech so that only one predicate is attached to a given referent at a time as in, It’s a biggish cat +tabby +with torn ears.
4. Whereas written language sentences are generally structured at subject-predicate form, in spoken language ,it is quite common to find what Givon calls topic comment structure as in the cats+ did you let them out.
5. In chat about the immediate environment, the speaker may rely on gaze direction to supply a referent (looking at the rain) frightful isn’t it.
6. The speaker may replace or refine expressions as he goes along: this man + this chap she was going out with.
7. The speaker typically uses a good deal of rather generalized vocabulary: a lot of, got, do, thing, nice, stuff, place, things like that etc.
8. The speaker frequently repeats the same syntactic structure several times over: I look at the fire extinguisher+ I looked at the fire exit+ I looked at what gangways were available+ I looked at electric cables what+ are they properly earthed+ are they properly covered.
9. The speaker may produce a large number of fabricated fillers such as, you know, well, sort of,I think, of course, so on.
Some of the typical distinctions between discourse which has been written and that which has been spoken can be seen in the following two descriptions of a Rainbow:-
“And, then in the blowing clouds, she saw a band of fairies iridescence coloring in fain shadows a portion of the hill. And forgetting startled, she looked for the hovering color and saw a rainbow for coming itself. In one phase it gleamed fiercely, and her heart anguished with hope, she sought the shadow of iris where the bow should be. Steadily the color gathered, mysteriously, from nowhere, it took presence upon itself, there was a faint, vast rainbow”.( D.H Lawrence, The Rainbow, chapter 16).
In the first extract, the rich lexis and well organized structure are indications that the writer has taken time in the construction and possibly reconstruction after several rewritings of the final product. There are complete sentences, containing subordinations, and frequent modification via adjectives and adverbs, and more than single predicates per referential expression.
In following extract two, there are frequent pauses, often interrupting major syntactic units, repetitions, incomplete sentences, generalized vocabulary, fillers and one example of a tongue slip.
“Normally after + very heavy rain+ or something like that+ and + you are driving along the road+ and+ far away+ you see well +er + a series of stripes+ formed like a bow+ an arch++ very very far away+ ah+ seven colors but++ I guess+ you hardly ever see seven it’s just a + a series of+ colors which+ they seem to be separate but if you try to look for the separate+ colors they always seem+ very hard+ to separate+ if you see what I mean++ ( Post graduate student speaking informally).