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Tema 1



Traditionally, theories of language have concentrated on the study of its different
components in isolation, such as grammar, semantics, phonology, seeing language as a
system that included all of them. However, when language is first acquired in
childhood, is merely by means of communicating with the people around. In this sense,
new approaches in the last third of the 20th C, paid attention to language as
We, as human beings, need to communicate, and as most of us live in a literary society,
we normally use oral and written language to transmit or receive information. As far as
oral communication is concerned, most human beings speak using oral language in
order to exchange information and interact with other people, but the use of oral
language entails the knowledge of certain particular elements, norms, routines, formulae
and strategies that are put into work when we are in conversations.
On the other hand, writing and reading require formal instruction, and children face a
series of difficulties when learning these skills, because they have to comfort oral to
written discourse, adapting rules, learning spelling, dividing speech chains into chunks
called words, etc.
However, learning to write and read is probably the most fundamental step in education,
because is the basis for future instruction and access to many fields of knowledge. In
this unit, we are going to review the main characteristics of oral and written language,
and then we will analyse the factors that define a communicative situation, namely the
sender and the receiver of the message, the functionality and the context.


Among all the communication codes which are used by human beings (music, kinesics,
sign language), written and oral language is the most efficient for the transmission and
reception of information, thoughts, feelings and opinions. In addition, these linguistic
codes are exclusively human and make us distinct from animals. But written and oral
language are different processes: whereas we learn to write through a formal instruction,
speaking and listening come naturally along different stages of the childs evolution.
Therefore we can say that oral language comes first in our history as individuals.
Therefore, speech and writing are not alternative processes, but rather we must consider
them counterparts: all oral language should have a good representative system in a
written form.

From a psychological point of view, oral communication is a two-way process in which

both speaker (encoder) and hearer (decoder) must be present in the same situational
context at a particular time and place (unless we talk about special cases of oral
communication such as phone conversations). The functions of oral communication
are, as we said before, to communicate or exchange our ideas or to interact with other
people. Unlike written communication, in oral interaction we can monitor the reactions
of the hearer through the feedback so that we can our speech in the course of the
communication, as well as use different linguistic and non-linguistic features (gesturing,
intonation...) to make our messages clearer. However, as it takes place in a particular
place and time, the interlocutors have to make their contributions at a high speed,
without much time to think, unlike writing.
Along history, the study of spoken language has not much tradition, unlike written
language, due to several reasons:

it was considered a secondary type of language as it was not reserved only to

cultivate people.
unlike written language, there was a lack of permanent records of oral
language during our past history.
it presents more mutability in the understanding and interpretation of what it
is said than in written lg.

Halliday was among the first linguists to study oral language, saying that it was not a
formless and featureless variety of written language. Since then, there has been an
increasing interest to which it has contributed the inventions of audio, video and
computer devices. In oral communication, we distinguish two different types:
Prepared speech
The formal setting is organised as writing (syntax, lexis &
discourse organisation) It is memorised or written down before (lectures, speech, oral
Spontaneous speech Speaker has not thought or memorised the message
beforehand. It may present inaccuracies, hesitations, silences and mistakes
As spontaneous speech is the main form of oral communication, and directly reflects
real communication processes with different demands and situations, and prepared
speech does not allow for feedback and monitoring, the analysis and study of oral
communication should concentrate on spontaneous speech, where the negotiation of
meaning plays an important role for the communication purpose to be correctly
But because of its pervasive and everyday nature, its scientific study has proved
particularly complex. It has been difficult to obtain acoustically clear, natural samples
of spontaneous conversation, especially of its more informal varieties. When samples
have been obtained, the variety of topics, participants, and social situations which
characterise conversation have made it difficult to determine which aspects of the
behaviour are systematic and rule-governed.


Linguistic elements
STRESS When we talk we have to bare in mind there is a regular distribution
of accents along words and sentences. However, if we want to give special
emphasis to a particular word or phrase, we change that regular pattern of
stress and accent in order to make more prominent what we want.
RHYTHM It is the relationship we make between accents (chunks of words)
and silences. Rhythm can range from very monotonous one (in quick or
prepared speech) to rhythm with contrasts in order to give expressiveness
and sense to our speech. Pauses are also important, because sometimes are
made to divide grammatical units and other times are unpredictable and
caused by hesitations.
INTONATION is the falling and rising of voice during speech. Any departure
from what it is considered normal intonation shows special effects and
expresses emotions and attitudes. Normally, falling tones show conclusion
and certainty, whereas rising tones may show inconclusion or doubt (Ill
do it / Ill do it... )
Paralinguistic elements
We cannot consider oral verbal communication without remembering that the
whole body takes part. In fact, many times, a person can express sympathy,
hostility or incredulity by means of body and facial gestures. This body
language is normally culturally related & is learnt the same way as verbal
behaviour is learnt, although it allows for spontaneity and creativity: we use
head, face, hands, arms, shoulders, fingers...
Other linguistic features that characterise conversational language are:
Speed of speech is relatively rapid; there are many assimilations & elisions of letters;
compressions of auxiliary sequences (gonna); it can be difficult to identify sentence
boundaries in long loose passages; informal discourse markers are common ( you know,
I mean); great creativity in the vocabulary choice, ranging from unexpected coinage (Be
unsad) to use of vague words (thingummy).
2.2. RULES
When we use language, we do not only utter grammatically correct sentences, but we
know where, when and to whom we are addressing our utterances. This is the reason
why a speaker needs to know not only the linguistic and grammatical rules of a
language (Chomskys linguistic competence) or rules of usage, but also how to put into
effect these rules in order to achieve effective communication, so that we also need to
be familiar with rules of use.
Rules of usage In order to produce and understand messages in a particular language
we need to be familiar with:

PHONOLOGY We need to know the organisation, characteristics and patterns

of sounds to communicate.
MORPHOLOGY We need to know the word formation rules and types of
combinations of bases & affixes.
SYNTAX We need to know how words are put together to form sentences and
which are their relationships.
SEMANTICS We need to know how words can be combined to produce the
meaning we want or to understand the meaning expressed by others,
even if it is nonliteral, methaporical or anomalous.
Rules of use To be communicatively efficient, we need to show our linguistic
competence in real speech through:
APPROPRIATENESS or knowledge of what type of language suits best in a
given situation, taking into account the context with its participants
and their social relationships, the setting, the topic, the purpose..
COHERENCE or ability to organise our messages in a logical and
comprehensible way to transmit meaning.
COHESION or capacity to organise and structure utterances to facilitate
interpretation by means of endophoras and exophoras ( references to
linguistic & situational contexts), repetitions, ellipsis...
Mans ability to be creative with language is something obvious, but there are times
when we choose how, when and why not to be creative, to repeat what has been said or
heard many times, often in exactly the same form. Linguistic routines are fixed
utterances which must be considered as single units to understand their meaning, and
they are of a learned character (Hi! familiar or empty How do you do?), the process
through which we acquire ritual competence being perhaps the most important
socialisation we make of language.
Understanding routines & formulae require shared cultural knowledge because they are
generally metaphorical in nature and must be interpreted at a non-literal level. People
are often quite opposed to routines, formulae and rituals because they are meaningless
and depersonalise our ideas, because literal semantic value is largely irrelevant. Some
typical routines and habitual formulae are used in funeral condolences, religious
ceremonies, weddings, graduation ceremonies...


Particular attention has been paid to the markers of conversational turns: how people
know their turn to speak. In formal dialogue, there are often explicit markers, showing
that a speaker is about to talk; in debate, the person in the chair more or less controls
speakers turns. In conversation, however, the cues are more subtle, involving
variations in the melody, rhythm, and speed of speech, and in patterns of eye movement.
When people talk in a group, they look at and away from their listeners in about equal
proportions, but when approaching the end of what they have to say, they look at the

listeners more steadily, and in particular maintain closer eye contact with those they
expect to continue the conversation. A listener who wishes to be the next speaker may
indicate a desire to do so by showing an increase in bodily tension, such as by leaning
forward or audibly drawing in breath. In addition, there are many explicit indications,
verbal and non-verbal, that a speaker is coming to an end (Last but not least...), wishes
to pass the conversational ball (What do you think?, staring to someone), wishes to join
in (Could I just say that...), leave (Well, that is all...), change the topic (Speaking of
Mary...), or check on listeners attention or attitude (Are you with me?).
The subject-matter is an important variable, with some topics being safe in certain
social groups (in Britain, the weather, pets, children, and the locality), others more or
less unsafe (religious and political beliefs, questions of personal income such as How
much do you earn). There are usually some arbitrary divisions: for example, in
Britain, it is polite to comment o the taste and presentation of a meal, but usually
impolite to enquire after how much it cost.
In Grices view, we cooperate in a conversation in order to produce a rational and
efficient exchange of information, so that to reach a good final result in a
communicative process, we apply 4 cooperative principles or maxims:
- Maxim of quality: Our contributions have to be sincere, believing what we say &
avoiding things we lack evidence of
- Maxim of quantity: We should make our contributions as briefly, orderly &
informative as required for the exchange.
- Maxim of relevance: An utterance has to be relevant with respect to the stage the
conversation has reached.
- Maxim of manner: Which concerns the manner of expression (avoiding obscurity,


Written communication is a type of communication, and as such, its main purpose is to
express ideas and experiences or exchange meanings between individuals with a
particular system of codes, which is different to that used in oral communication. In
written communication, the encoder of the message is the writer and the decoder and
interpreter of the message is the reader, and many times, this interpretation does not
coincide with the writers intended meaning.
When we write, we use graphic symbols, which relate to the sounds we make when we
speak. But writing is much more than the production of graphic symbols, just as speech
is more than the production of sounds: these symbols have to be arranged, according
to certain conventions, to form words, and words to form sentences. These
sentences then have to be ordered and linked together in certain ways, forming a
coherent whole called text.
Since classical times, there have been two contradictory approaches to speech and
writing: firstly, the view that writing is the primary and speech the secondary medium,
because writing is more culturally significant and lastingly valuable than speech; and
secondly, the view that speech is primary and writing secondary because speech is prior

to writing both historically and in terms of a childs acquisition of language. But leaving
aside this dichotomy, the first thing we must notice is that speech and writing are not
alternative processes: speech comes first, but writing demands more skill and practice,
and they have different formal patterns.
Most important of all, however, is that written and spoken language are counterparts: a
writing system should be capable of representing all the possible wordings of a persons
thoughts. This implies that both systems could be regarded as the two sides of the same
From a psychological point of view, writing is a solitary activity, the interlocutor is
not present, so we are required to write on our own, without the interaction or the
help of the feedback usually provided in oral communication. That is why we have to
compensate for the absence of some linguistic features which help to keep
communication going on in speech, such as prosody and paralinguisic devices such as
gesturing, intonation, etc. Our texts are interpreted by the reader alone, and we cannot
monitor his or her reactions, unlike the speaker: we have to sustain the whole process
of communication and to stay in contact with our reader through words alone, and this
is why we must be very clear and explicit about our intentions when we write.
However, not all the acvantages are on the side of the oral communication: in writing,
we normally have time to think about what we are trying to express, so that we can
revise it and re-write it, if need be, and the reader, to understand a text, can also read
and re-read it as many times as wanted.






There are some features characteristic of written language, but this should not be taken
to imply that theres a well-delimited dividing line between writing and speech.
However, the extend to which each of them makes use of different resources is directly
related to the nature of the two channels: speech is the language of immediate
communication, and writing is a type of communication with a distance in between.
This is the reason why written texts present the following formal elements:
Linguistic features of written language
flexible, and adaptable at a time, so that:

it must provide a codified expression for the elements expressed by oral

language: each idea = a written form
it must provide means for creating expressions for elements not codified yet:
neologisms, borrowings...

Syntactic features of written language

different from speech are:

A good writing system must be fixed,

The syntactic elements which make writing

markers and rhetorical organisers for clauses relationships and clarity

(written texts are more permanent)
use of heavily pre-modified NPs , SVO ordering and use of passive
constructions and subordinate phrases

Lexical features of written language

paralinguistic devices and feedback:

In order to compensate the absence of

more accuracy in the use of vocabulary, avoiding redundancy and ambiguity

(due to its permanent nature)
use of anaphoras and cataphoras, repetitions, synonyms... to signal
relationships between sentences
there is more lexical density in writing than in speech (more lexical items
than grammatical ones)

Graphological implications Texts can be presented in different ways, as our culture

value many times more the form than the content. To compensate for the absence of
feedback and paralinguistic devices, written texts need to be accurate in spelling,
punctuation, capital letters to mark sentence boundaries, indentation of paragraphs,
different fonts to call attention (italics, bold...) and in poetry or texts to draw attention,
exploitation of resources such as order and choice of words, variations in spelling (Biba
la kurtura).
In any case, what is most characteristic of written communication is that we see it (the
organisation, length...).
In writing, communication also takes place following system and ritual constraints: this
is the reason why when we look at a text we can distinguish and obtain information
regarding different types of organisation, different purposes and different lengths.
Traditionally, written texts were divided following the classification of genres. Then,
linguists linked their rhetorical mode to the syntactic structures, routines and formulae
that characterised them, and established the following classification:

Pieces of writing normally directed to friends or family when

travelling ,and sometimes used for congratulations and greetings. We
just write on one side and the language used is colloquial.


They can be formal (to enterprises or someone we are not closed to) and
informal (to friends or family) There are some routines to write letters:
apart from the writers address on the top right-hand corner, the date, the
first line (dear + name/sir/madam/Mr/Mrs...), the closing (Yours...) and
the signature, present in both types of letters, each type of letter follows
this structural organisation into paragraphs:
1st = reason why writing, 2nd = what you want from
addressee, 3 = conclusion.
1 st = introduction, 2nd = reason, 3rd = additional info,
4 = conclusion.
There are also directive letters, to provoke some reaction on the reader,
using imperatives & remarks.

Filling-in forms
Consist of answering what you are asked, as briefly as possible,
so no writing style is needed to do so.
Curriculum vitae Consists of a clear summary to give the academic knowledge and
experience someone has on a certain matter, so it includes personal
details, current occupation, academic qualification and professional

Brief rsums of articles, booklets and books that due to their special
form of composition and writing they allow the reader to gather the main
information about the original work without reading it.


They are used to present clearly and with details the summary of present
and past facts or activities, and sometimes of predictable future facts
from checked data, sometimes containing the interpretation of the writer
but normally with the intention of stating the reality of an enterprise or
institution without deformative personal visions, and can be expositive,
interpretative & demonstrative

Narrative texts
The most universal of all the types of written texts, refer back to
the story-telling traditions of most cultures. In fact there seem to be
some basic universal structure that governs this type of texts:
- Orientation (time, place and character identification to inform
reader of the story world), Goal. Problem. Resolution. Coda and
sometimes a morale at the end.
For this characteristic structure, some of the routines and formulae used
are presentatives (there is...), relatives, adjuncts of place and time, flashbacks, different narrative p.o.v., narrative dialogues, etc...
Descriptive texts
They are concerned with the location and characterisation of
people and things in the space, as well as providing background
information which sets the stage for narration. This type of texts is very
popular in L2 teaching, and all types have the same pre-established
organisation. Within descriptive texts we might find:
- External descriptions, presenting a holistic view of the object by
an account of all its parts
- Functional descriptions, which deal with instruments and the
tasks they may perform
- Psychological descriptions, which express the feelings that
something produces in someone
Some of the most characteristic structures are presentatives (there...),
adjuncts of location, stative verbs (look, seem, be...), use of metaphors,
comparisons, qualifying adjectives and relative sentences.
Expository texts
They identify and characterise phenomena, including text forms
such as definitions, explanations, instructions, guidelines, summaries,
etc...They may be subjective (an essay) and objective (definitions,
instructions), or even advice giving. They may be analytical, starting
from a concept and then characterising its parts, and ending with a

Typical structures are stative verbs, in order to, so as to, imperatives,

modals and verbs of quality.
Argumentative texts They are those whose purpose is to support or weaken another
statement whose validity is questionable.
The structures we find are very flexible, being this the reason for the
existence of several types:
Classical/Pros & cons zigzag/One-sided arg/Ecclectic appro/Oppositions
arg first/Other side questioned
There are sometimes when we choose how, when and why not to be creative with
language to repeat what is normally used in a given situation: we use linguistic routines
and formulae. These are defined as fixed utterances or sequences of utterances
which must be considered as single units, because their meaning cannot be derived
of them unless considered as a whole.
In written texts we find different types of routines and formulaic expressions, which
vary depending on the type of text, as we have been previously seeing. Understanding
them usually requires sharing cultural knowledge, because they are genarally
metaphorical in nature and must be interpreted at a non-linguistic level (for instance,
Dear in a letter does not always carry affective meaning).
All those phrases and sentences that, to some extend, have a prescriptive character, can
be considered as routines and formulaic expressions: to consider all the different
existing routines would take too long, but some examples are, in letters & postcards
(Yours sincerely) in C.Vs, the organisation of info in different blocks, in narration
(Once upon a time) in descriptions (on the left, high above),etc...
All in all, we can say that they are sometimes very useful but often meaningless &
depersonalise our expressions & ideas.


Generally speaking, communication is the exchange of meanings between
individuals through a common system of symbols, and this has been the
concern of scholars since the Greeks.
Communication refers to the
transmission of information (a message) between a source and a receiver,
using a signalling system.
At the turn of the century, the English literary critic Ivor Armstrong Richards
offered one of the first definitions, saying that communication takes place when
one mind so acts upon its environment that another mind is influenced, and in
that other mind an experience occurs which is like the experience in the first
mind, and is caused in part by that experience.
The study of human communication in all its modes is known as semiotics. There are
several types of communication, and although in principle any of the five senses can be
used as a medium of communication, in practice only three (tactile, visual and aural)
are implemented in both active-expressive and passive-receptive ways.

Tactile communication involves touch (e.g. shaking hands, grasping the arm) and the
manipulation of physical distance and body orientation in order to communicate
indifference or disagreement, and is studied by proxemics. Visual communication
involves the use of facial expressions (smiling, winking..., which communicate a wide
range of emotions) and gestures and body postures of varying levels of formality
(kneeling, bowing...). Visual non-verbal communication is studied by kinesics. Often,
visual and tactile effects interact closely with verbal communication, sometimes even
conveying particular nuances of meaning not easy to communicate in speech (such as
the drawing of inverted commas in the air to signal a special meaning), and most of the
times culturally related.
The chief branch of communication studies involves the oral-aural mode, in the form
of speech, and its systematic visual reflex in the form of writing. These are the verbal
aspects of communication, distinguished from the non-verbal (kinesics and proxemics)
aspects, often popularly referred to as body language.
The term language, as we understand it, is usually restricted to speech and writing,
because these mediums of transmission display a highly sophisticated internal structure
and creativity. Non-verbal communication, by contrast, involves relatively little
creativity. In language, it is commonplace to find new words being created, and
sentences varying in practically infinite complexity. In this respect, languages differ
markedly from the very limited set of facial expressions, gestures, and body
According to Harmer, the characteristics apply to every communicative situation is that
a speaker/writer wants to communicate, has a communicative purpose, and selects
language, and a listener/reader wants to listen to something, is interested in a
communicative purpose, and process a variety of language.
In order to study the process of communication several models have been
offered; fragmentation and problems of interdisciplinary outlook have generated
a wide range of discussion concerning the ways in which communication occurs.
Most communication theorists admit that their main task is to answer the
question Who says what to whom with what effect? The most important models
Dynamic Used to describe cognitive, emotional and artistic aspects of the
different modes (narrative, pictorial, dramatic...) of communication as they occur
in sociocultural contexts in their various manners and to and from different sorts
of people. For those using this model, the stability and function of the channel
are more variable and less mechanically related to the process than the linear
Proposed by Shannon and Weaver, though very mathematical, its
simplicity, clarity and surface generality proved very attractive. Originally
intended for electronic messages, it was then applied to all sorts of
communication. In its conception it contained five elements arranged in linear
order: information source, transmitter, channel, receiver, destination. Then, the
five elements were renamed so as to specify components for other types of
communication, and the information source was split into its components to
provide a wider range of applicability: source, encoder, message, channel,
decoder, receiver.


Key factors
In theory, communication is said to have taken place if the information received
is the same as that sent. In practice, we have to allow for all kinds of interfering
factors, such as entropy (noise distorsion) which can be counteracted by
negative entropy (receivers ability to clear blurred messages), by redundancy
(used by the encoder), or by feedback (the sender calculates and weights the
effects on the receiver and acts accordingly); and then we have the context,
which covers the references to the linguistic aspects of the message or
endophora (anaphora and cataphora) and the external aspects of situation or
exophora (such as the field, or total event and purpose of the communication,
the mode, or function of the text in the event, including channel and genre, and
the tenor, which refers to the participants and their relationships).





The most usual answer to the question why do we use language? is to communicate
our ideas. But it would be wrong to think that communicating our ideas is the only
purpose for which we use language. Several other functions may be identified where
the communication of ideas is marginal or irrelevant. We hardly find verbal messages
that would fulfil only one function , although the verbal structure of a message
depends primarily on the predominant function;
Following Jakobson, we agree that language must be investigated in all the variety of
its functions, but an outline of these functions demands a concise survey of the
constitutive factors in any act of verbal communication: the ADDRESSER sends a
MESSAGE to the ADDRESSEE that to be operative requires a CONTEXT referred to
and to be grasped by the addressee (either verbal and situational, a CODE, fully or
partially common to the addresser and addressee, and a CONTACT, a physical channel
and psychological connection enabling them to enter and stay in communication
If the main purpose of our use of language is to communicate our ideas, concentrating
on the context to which these ideas refer to, then we are dealing with the referential or
ideational function.
If there is a direct expression of the addressers attitude toward what is being
communicated, tending to produce an impression of a certain emotion, that is the
emotive or expressive function (also very common), which differs from the referential
one in the sound pattern, and it flavours to some extend all our utterances.
If we orientate our message towards the addressee because we want a certain reaction,
we are dealing with the conative function, syntactically and often phonetically deviate
from other functions (vocatives and imperatives).
We talk about the phatic function when the language we use is for the purpose of
establishing or maintaining social relationships, to check if the channel or contact
works, to attract or confirm the attention of the interlocutor or to discontinue
communication, rather than to communicate ideas, and is normally displayed by
ritualised formulas (Well..., How do you do?).


If we use the language to talk about the language, such as when checking if addressee is
using the same code as the addresser (Do you follow me? Do you know what I mean?),
we talk of the metalingual function.
If, on the contrary, the focus is on the phonetic properties of the message, althogh not
being the sole function of the message, we say that we are using the poetic function of
To end up, we will say that Halliday grouped all the functions into three interrelated
metafunctions: ideational, to express ideas or experiences, the interpersonal to
indicate, establish or maintain social relationships, and the textual, to create written or
spoken texts that fit in the particular situation in which they are used.



However, if communication were simply a matter of applying the adequate schema, we

wouldnt have to worry about the addressees response to the communication process.
Therefore, we need procedures to integrate these abstract schemata into the concrete
process of discourse itself.
All communication depends on the alignment and adjustment of each interlocutor
s schemata, and the procedures we use are the interactive negotiating activities
that interpret the directions provided and enable us to alter our expectations in the
light of new evidence as the discourse proceeds, and this procedural ability which
traduces the schematic knowledge into communicative behaviour is called capacity
(inference, practical reasoning, negotiation of meaning, problem solving...).
This capacity apply to two different dimensions: one referred to the kind of schema that
is being realised, and the other to the kind of communicative situation that has to be
negotiated, that is, to the way in which the relationship between the schemata of the
interlocutors is to be managed. We find that there are occasions in which we use
procedures to clear up and make more explicit and evident the frame of reference, or
use rhetorical routines to specify more accurately our illocutionary acts (the intended
effects of our utterances) or that felicity conditions are not satisfactory so that we must
use those procedures.
Other procedures, this time on the part of the addressee, are interpretative (as in A-I
have two tickets for the theatre B- Ive got an exam tomorrow). In some occasions,
however, negotiation is too long, too difficult or even fails (as in interethnic interaction)
because the schemata are very different, so that interlocutors may use other signalling
system (e.g. pictorial), or use (re)-formulation procedures (So what you say is... Now
lets put it straight..)



Communication is , therefore, the main purpose of a language, and the use and function
that fulfils depends greatly on the characteristics of the information or the form of the
message. In any case, for a communication process to be complete, it is necessary that
both addresser and addressee negotiate the meaning of what is being transmitted,
overcoming any possible obstacles difficulting that process.

Halliday, M. A. K.
Tannen, D.

An Introduction to Functional Grammar

Conversational Style

Chapter 9 1985

Chapter 8 1984

MacArthur, T. The Oxford Companion to the English Language OUP Oxford 1992
Hedge, T.


OUP. Oxford. 1993