i love english language

“Spoken Standard English” – Jenny Cheshire

Posted in Uncategorized by aggslanguage on January 9, 2011

Central Contention:

With the National curriculum for English being introduced in England and Wales, it is now obvious to see that ‘relatively little’ is known about the syntactic structure of spoken English.

The Essay argues how people have trouble understanding grammartical structures of spoken English as well as spoken English itself.

The problems Cheshire argues is that in analyzing the syntax of spoken English our frameworks conform to the views of language that we have received during education rather than the variety that comes from face-to-face interaction and that more factors affect grammar and language compared to the conventional descriptions used to try and describe spoken English.


1. ‘..behaviour is influenced by our social background and governed by social norms. We face the same problems in our analysis of language..’

Cheshire points out that linguists do not focus enough on the affect of social surroundings on a person’s language. It is their social backgrounds ,and how they interact face to face with spoken English, that provide the foundation of their language and so it should not be ignored.

2.‘our frameworks conform to the views of language that we have received during education rather than the variety that comes from face-to-face interaction’

This quote shows how Cheshire believes that Linguists need to be aware that in their analysis of language they may be affected by what they think to be correct in language and what they believe about language. Particularly in spoken language this may affect their outcome and analysis and how they understand and use syntax of spoken language.

3. ‘Other types of syntactic structure that may not be accessible to our intuitions are those that occur more frequently in certain genres than in others.’

* In the Carter and McCarthy investigation they find that grammatical features are not always equally distrubuted across different genres such as finding ‘left dislocation’ was spoken more often in narratives.

  • In recordings of four 12-14 year olds speakers who were discussing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, it was found that ‘that’ was used almost always instead of ‘the’ in ‘‘wh-descriptive clauses’’
  • “That” is a way of foregrounding a referent putting it into high focus. Frequently occurs in a cluster of features expressing interpersonal involvement. The “wh- descriptive clauses” can be seen as an involvement strategy – necessary for the joint construction of shared remembering.
  • Cheshire states that all of the above: “affect the models and frameworks that we have developed to analyse language, and they constitute an important reason for our ignorance about the structure of the syntax of spoken English.”

4.“Conventional approaches to linguistic analysis, then, predispose us to look for a “one form, one meaning relationship” and we risk overlooking the features typical of spoken language, whose meaning is pragmatically determined.”

By using traditional research methods we end up with limited knowledge about spoken language and key features are missed out because we do not look at every angle and factor.

  • Due to this “one form, one meaning relationship”, variation in Standard English is very rare. This means that a lot of research is put into places where there is variation.
  • This means that the features that are more likely to be less suitable for variation researchers are the ones more typical of spontaneous speech than of writing and that are less open to perception as different ways of saying the same thing . For example: when “never” functioning as a negative marker.

In cases such as “I never went out last night”, where the time reference is to a restricted period of time “never” cannot be seen to be equivalent to “not ever” and this is something which analyses miss. In missing this distinction they frequently mislabel the use of “never” in such situations as “non standard”, despite the fact that the context occurs in educated speech and in writing.

Other Theorists:


  • Brown and Yule say that “middle aged academics” are the ones who write about language and have spent too concentrating on written language and therefore their speech is more likely to represent written forms. This supports Cheshire’s contention that the current descriptions of spoken language are not representative.
  • Lakoff in 1977; stated that the distinction between description and prescription was still blurrier than we might like: “particularly in areas where we have been brought up to make value judgements before we learned to be disinterested academic observers

I agree with Cheshire contentions as spoken language does vary a lot more than written language and yet research does not effectively display these differences since it would need a lot of detailed research from many different speakers. The work of Carter and McCarthy supports Cheshire’s views suggesting that the grammar of spoken English is very different to the grammar of written English. Although some would disagree such as Honey as he believes that ‘standard English is far and away the most dominant’ and sees no difference between written and spoken English and even said that the ‘two genres’ have been growing closer in the recent years. But Overall I do agree with Cheshire that written and spoken English are different in many ways and yet there is far less research into this and the grammar of spoken English that differs from the grammar of written English tends to just be written off as ‘non standard’ when this might not be the case at all.


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