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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.

Read more at: http://www.tu-chemnitz.de/phil/english/chairs/linguist/real/independent/llc/Conference1998/Papers...
Comments  
I think the rules are the same for spoken and written English. It's just harder to follow them on the fly.
RvwI think the rules are the same for spoken and written English. It's just harder to follow them on the fly.
Could you take a look at this and give some feedback?

Question tags. Do they stem from spoken grammar or written grammar?

You like him. don't you?

Ellipsis in interrogatives. Does it stem from spoken grammar or written grammar?

Been looking for a house?

You seen my keys?

"Semi-preconstructed phrases". Do they stem from spoken grammar or written grammar?

Know what I mean?

Get it?

Need a hand?

Complex clauses and ellipsis. Do they stem from spoken grammar or written grammar?

I would have spoke to her about it but...

(Desribing a terrorist attack) I had just woken up and then bam-bam-boom

Grammatical subject and ellipsis.

Which dialogue pair follows written grammar rules more closely?

Teacher: Where are you from?

Student: I am from Japan.

................

Japanese Student: Where are you from?

British teacher: Britain.

Finally (even though there are many more examples) does this sound more like written grammar or spoken grammar?

Today is Mike, Wednesday is Gine.

(Are "Today" and "Wednesday" functioning as adjuncts there?)

Thanks.
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I think your examples of question tags, ellipsis in interrogatives, semi-preconstructed phrases, and complex clauses and ellipsis are more likely to appear in spoken English than written. As to whether they stem from spoken or written grammar, I think they stem from informality, contextual understanding, and our inablility to always construct grammatically correct sentences as we speak.

In answering "Where are you from?", "I am from Japan." is grammatically complete, but the ellipsis in the answer "Britain." is so obvious that it is essentially complete also.

The function of "today" and Wednesday" in "Today is Mike, Wednesday is Gine." depends on the full meaning of the sentence. The situational or linguistic context of the sentence might specify that meaning. For example, it could mean "Today is Mike's day to read aloud; Wednesday is Gine's turn." In this case, "today" and Wednesday" are the noun subjects of their clauses.

I agree with the article you cited:

It is well known that 'all grammars leak', but thinking of the 'same grammar' / 'different grammar' controversy, I prefer to think of English grammar as made of a rubbery substance that enables it to be squashed or inflated in one part or another according to circumstances. The circumstances of conversation lead to a reduction of the repertoire in certain areas and an enlargement of the repertoire in others - but this is in terms of likelihood rather than in terms of all-or-nothing rules.. So, in the end, this image enables me to keep to the view that English grammar is common to both written and spoken language -- but its shape can be moulded to the constraints and freedoms of each. In this sense, there is a special grammar of conversation.

But I would stop short of saying that there is a special grammar of conversation. This just muddies the issue. We don't create a new category -- a new biological species, for example -- unless it is fundamentally different from the existing categories.
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