Spoken English/ Written
English: From Corpus to
Curriculum to Classroom
Ronald Carter
School of English Studies, University of
Nottingham, UK
A Noun Cline

Glass cracks more quickly the harder you
press on it.

Cracks in glass grow faster the more
pressure is put on.

The rate of glass crack growth depends
on the magnitude of the applied stress.

Glass crack growth rate is associated
with applied stress magnitude.
(Halliday, 1989)
Written Language
First staged at the Glasgow Citizens in 1994,
and described by Williams as being a
'comedy of death', the play sees Everett cast
brilliantly against type as the rich dying
widow Flora Goforth.
A corpus-based approach



Corpus (pl. corpora): a large, principled
collection of texts, spoken and/or written.
BNC; WSC; MICASE.
Based on the one billion word Cambridge
International Corpus (CIC) of both BrE and
AmE, including CANCODE, an extensive
written corpus, a business English corpus and a
dedicated academic corpus.
Facts and figures …
Using a corpus gives us useful statistics about:



frequency
differences between spoken and written
grammar
social and contextual aspects
Top 40 most frequent words: 5m spoken
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
THE
I
AND
YOU
IT
TO
A
YEAH
THAT
OF
IN
WAS
IT'S
KNOW
MM
IS
ER
BUT
SO
THEY
ON
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
OH
WE
HAVE
NO
LAUGHS
WELL
LIKE
WHAT
DO
RIGHT
JUST
HE
FOR
ERM
BE
THIS
ALL
THERE
GOT
[Speakers are discussing the cost of veterinary
treatment and surgery for a sick animal]
<S1> Let’s see ... we’ve already spent
fifty for him and I want him to spend
another hundred
<S2> Well
<S1> But that’s better than pins
<S2> Right
<S1> And surgery
<S2> Which would be another two
hundred or
<S3> Yeah it’s more for a surgery
<S1> Let’s see ... we’ve already spent
fifty for him and I want him to
spend another hundred
<S2> Well
<S1> But that’s better than pins
<S2> Right
<S1> And surgery
<S2> Which would be another two
hundred or
<S3> Yeah it’s more for a surgery
<S1> Let’s see ... we’ve already spent
fifty for him and I want him to
spend another hundred
<S2> Well
<S1> But that’s better than pins
<S2> Right
<S1> And surgery
<S2> Which would be another two
hundred or
<S3> Yeah it’s more for a surgery
<S1> Let’s see ... we’ve already spent
fifty for him and I want him to
spend another hundred
<S2> Well
<S1> But that’s better than pins
<S2> Right
<S1> And surgery
<S2> Which would be another two
hundred or
<S3> Yeah it’s more for a surgery
<S1> Let’s see ... we’ve already spent
fifty for him and I want him to
spend another hundred
<S2> Well
<S1> But that’s better than pins
<S2> Right
<S1> And surgery
<S2> Which would be another two
hundred or
<S3> Yeah it’s more for a surgery
Spoken language

Writers orientate more towards norms, speakers orient
towards each other

Writing is more off-line and not time bound; speech is
more online and in real time

Spoken language:
absence of ‘sentences’
‘incomplete’ utterances
jointly produced utterances
flexible structures.

Small words are big words (well, right, just, at all, sort
of, I mean) and often have pragmatic functions.
w
e
of
al
l
ho
w
th
at
ev
er
li k
e
ea
n
fu
n
Im
ea
rl y
tim
e
sm
om
en
t
th
e
ha
t
th
in
gs
kn
ow
an
d
yo
u
al
l
m
co
up
l
he
at
t
a
occs in 5m wds spoken
Words v. Chunks
1200
1000
800
600
400
200
0
Ellipsis
•Didn’t know that film was on tonight? (I)
•Sounds good to me. (That/It)
•Lots of things to tell you about the trip to
Barcelona. (There are)
A: Are you going to Leeds this weekend?
B: Yes, I must. (go this weekend)
Tails
•She’s a very good swimmer, Jenny is.
•It’s difficult to eat isn’t it, spaghetti?
•We’re going to have steak and fries, we
are.
•It can leave you feeling very weak, it can,
though, apparently, shingles,can’t it?
There is and There are
Existential There
There’s three other people still to come
There’s lots of cars in the car park

Deictic There
There’s your pills
There’s his shoes

Good or Bad?

What happens is that there are 15
members of the Security Council, there's
five permanent members and the five
permanent members have got the veto.
English in the World

First Language Speakers:


Mandarin Chinese:
English:
Hindi:
Spanish:
Russian:
Bengali:

Additional or Second or Foreign Language Speakers:


English:
Chinese:
2 billion by
30 million by
2020.
2020.

Spanish:
25 million by
2020.




1.2 billion
508 million
487 million
417 million
277 million
211 million
from Graddol (2007)
Teaching and testing spoken English: Some
issues and problems
The ELF issue
 The EAL issue
 The single ‘literate’ speaker issue
 The visual issue
 Fluency problem
 The confluence problem

Fluency: what is it?
Fluency: Speakers use Standard English
produce smooth continuous talk,
maintaining flow, and are grammatically
accurate.
Dysfluency: Speakers are hesitant, sloppy,
can’t remember words, repeat themselves
and code switch between languages
Repetition and Confluence

Dyu: did you, [pause 0.9 secs] er, did you you see
David at the meeting, er, last night, no, the night
before, wasn’t it?
(CIC corpus)

…so what did Marketing do they did it that way
and they introduced, [mm, right], yeah, and last
year they introduced eight new products in just six
months eight that’s huge, it is, isn’t it? You know
what I mean?
(CIC corpus)
Repetition and Negotiating Understanding

Functions: Can be both speaker or hearer-oriented:
strategic planning
turn-sensitive
vagueness
clarification and confirmation
summarising
holding the floor
emphasis

Organisational and transactional v. Interpersonal and
relational

Implications for testing?
Speakers, listeners and
confluence
<S01> do you think it is affected by your
faith, like you were saying you [<S02> mm,
right, yeah] have any kind of moral
standards or not, like hooliganising and
stuff, I mean, do you think that’s because
of…of your faith or do you think that’s
because well because of society or
whatever?
(CIC)
Cross Lingual Spoken and Written
Viki:
Sue:
Viki:
Sue:
Viki:
Sue:
Viki:
Sue:
Viki:
it’s snowing quite strong outside....be careful
I will, thx
wei wei...lei dim ar?
ok, la, juz got bk from Amsterdam loh, how r u?
ok la.. I have 9 tmrw
haha, I have 2-4 ........sooooooooooo happy
che...anyway...have your rash gone?
yes, but I have scar oh...ho ugly ar!
icic...ng gan yiu la...still a pretty girl, haha!!
[Cantonese translations: wei wei…lei dim ar – hi, how are you?;
ng gan yiu la – it doesn’t matter; ar,loh and la are
discourse markers in Cantonese]
Spoken to Written
Could you email Kyle Barber and ask him for a quote
for a laptop? Said we’d let Tatchell have one for himself
as part of the deal. Compaq or Toshiba. At least 420Mb
hard disk and 16Mb RAM. Good deal, tell David.
Worth the laptop. More in the pipeline. (Inter company
email)
Right, so there I was sitting in Mick Jagger’s kitchen
while he went about making us both afternoon tea.
Well, you can imagine how long it took to get him to
talk about the band’s latest album. Exactly. You’ve got
it. Over two minutes. (The Daily Telegraph Magazine 19/9/2004).
Spoken English: summary

Spoken language has specific forms: ellipsis, tails;
flexible clause structure; vague language.

Spoken language has forms that were unnoticed in
the past; new metalanguage is needed and
traditional terms are not always adequate.

There are structures that are frequent in speech and
infrequent in writing and vice-versa; but note the
particular challenge of the growing continua
between speech and writing.
Spoken communication

Fluency has been under-theorised. Teaching of
spoken English still works from assumptions of
correctness based on written language norms.

Spoken language focuses on speakers and
listeners. Speakers and listeners co-create and
orient towards each other. Fluency is confluence.

Teaching and curricula need to recognise the
needs of 21st century spoken communication
through English and to develop appropriate
testing mechanisms. To this end corpora can
provide a starting point.
References
Biber, D et al, (1999) The Longman Grammar of Spoken
and Written English (Longman, Harlow)
Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006) Cambridge English
Grammar: A Comprehensive Guide to Spoken and
Written Grammar and Usage (CUP: Cambridge)
Cornbleet, S and Carter, R (2001) The Language of
Speech and Writing (Routledge, London)
Halliday, M.A.K. (1989) Spoken and Written Language
(OUP Oxford).
O’ Keeffe, A, McCarthy, M. and Carter, R. From Corpus
to Classroom (CUP: Cambridge)
Pridham, F (2001) The Language of Conversation
(Routledge, London).
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