This paper serves as an introductory investigation into the grammar of spoken English. More specifically, this paper will analyze selected features of spoken language which are significantly different from written language or features of spoken language not found in written language. The features analyzed also have a high rate of occurrence in the spoken language. The ultimate goal of this investigation is the development of English Language Teaching materials which will address the features detailed.
What is the hallmark of fluency? Certainly no one is ever judged as fluent without showing competence in the production of acceptably fluent speech. Standard English is not a widely spoken variety; it is mostly written. However, it has become the dominant model for instruction (Rühlemann, 2008, p. 674-5). If the dominant model for instruction is based on a primarily written variety of the language, what service does this do to learners who wish to gain competence in the spoken language?
For example, discourse particles are considered an essential part of language which learners should master. Without them, learners “may come across as unnatural, dogmatic and/or incoherent” (Lam, 2009, p.1-2). Discourse particles, however, exist in the spoken realm, and their instruction in a Standard English curriculum may not be guaranteed.
Conversational grammar is sometimes considered a deviant or substandard form of the written language, as if the spoken word is an offshoot of the written word. Contractions provide us with an excellent counterexample. Contractions are “institutionalized spoken reductions” (Quirk, et al., 1985, p. 123) originating from the spoken language which are now accepted as legitimate written forms. The conversational register is obviously as valid as various written forms, and as such it warrants instruction specifically tailored to mastering the spoken language.
For this paper, I have chosen to investigate some features of the spoken language which are highly common in the conversation register or are typically exclusive to the spoken language. First, I will discuss some of the high frequency lexical verbs in the spoken language, both single and multi-word. Next, I will investigate lexical bundles which commonly occur in the spoken language. Lastly, I will present some smaller units which occur frequently in spoken language and serve purposes which are not typically used in writing.
The Usual Suspects
Despite the huge number of verbs available in the English language, there are a small number of verbs which occur with a relatively high frequency in conversation. Here I am only considering lexical verbs as opposed to auxiliary or modal verbs, which are also common, albeit for different reasons. Of all the single-word lexical verbs, get is the most frequently used in the spoken register, and it is also the single most common verb in any register with more than 9000 occurrences per million...