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We live in a literate society. That means that we have two main forms of
communication: oral and written. It is obvious that written communication is not only the
written form of oral communication; we speak in a different way than we write. Oral and
written communication have different features. Written language is permanent, because it
consists of marks on a surface, and it is space-bound. It does not receive immediate
feedback. Spoken language, on the other way, is non-permanent and it is usually
spontaneous and unplanned. It is time-bound, and speakers receive immediate
feedback, because they interact face to face. It can be considered as a kind of social
relationship. In this topic, we will focus on oral language.

I will divide this topic into 4 different areas. First, I will define the terms communication
and oral communication, establishing a comparison between speech and writing. Then, I
will deal with the main elements and norms governing oral communication, In my third
section, I will look at some routines ad formulae associated to oral communication.
Finally, I’ll centre my attention on oral communication strategies.
??, s.f. UCLES FIRST CERTIFICATE. s.l.:s.n.
Crystal, 2006. How language works. s.l.:??.
Halliday, 1985. Spoken and Written Language. s.l.:???.

1.1Spoken and written communication
Communication is widely understood as the exchange and negotiation of information
between at least two individuals through a common code. Among all the communication
codes which are used by human beings: music, kinesics, sign language, etc- written and
spoken language are the most efficient for the transmission and reception of information,
thoughts, feelings, experience and opinions. In addition, these linguistic codes are the
ones which best define human communication, since most of the messages we send and
receive are expressed through such codes, the majority of them orally.
The history of language study illustrates changing attitudes concerning the relationship
between writing and speech. For several centuries, the written language held an
outstanding place because it was the medium of literature and as such considered a
source of linguistic excellence thus the rules of grammar were illustrated exclusively from
written texts. By contrast the everyday spoken language was ignored as object of study
because of its lack of care and organization. This approach changed in the 20th century
when linguists pointed out that speech is many thousands of years older than writing
because it was the primary medium of communication among all the people and it
develops naturally in children whereas writing systems are derivative, that is to say,
mostly based on the sounds of speech. Because of this emphasis on the spoken
language, many linguists came to think of written language as a secondary skill used only
for sophisticated purposes by a minority of communities and writing became excluded
from the primary object of linguistic sciences.
There is no sense in the view that one medium of communication is “better” than the
other. Whatever their historical relationship, the fact remains that modern society makes
available to its members two very different systems of communication to fulfil different
communicative needs.
1.2 Oral communication
Focusing on the subject of this topic, oral communication can be defined as a two-way
process in which both speaker and hearer must be present in the same situational
context, unless we talk about special cases of oral communication such as telephone
conversations. Oral communication involves the productive skill of speaking and the
receptive skill of listening. Both speaker and listener have a positive function to perform:
the speaker must encode the message, while the listener must decode or interpret it.
Speech and writing differ in several ways. Now we will refer to some of the features of
oral communication:
1. Speakers may refer to the shared environment (people, objects…) by pointing with
gestures or by using pointing words. However, writers must make explicit references to
objects, people and places.
2. Speakers can make use of non-verbal communication such as body language,
gestures and the use of stress and intonation.
3. In speech you can check you are being understood and encouraged by “listener
markers” (mm, yes, gestures) and you can backtrack and fill in information you may
have omitted.


Having dealt with the main features of oral communication, I will move on to consider
the main elements and norms in communication. The nature of oral communication
makes oral discourse contain redundant information.
2.1. Act of communication
Thus, it is important to point out that it is not only the words we utter that matter, but
also many other linguistic and extra linguistic elements which reinforce our words.
According to Jakobson (1896-1982, structuralist, Prague), all acts of communication are
based on 6 constituents (T.3):

 Issuer/encoder/addresser: The participant who is the source of information and

addresses a message to another one. His job is to encode the info.
 Receiver/addressee/decoder: The participant who gets the message. It can be, or not,
the one selected by the issuer. E.g. if a person overhears a private conversation, s/he
is the receiver but not the selected one.
 Message: The intended information the issuer wants to transmit.
 Channel: The physical medium used to transmit the message.
 Code: The group of system of signs in which the message is expressed. It can be
linguistic (a language) or non-linguistic, but it must to be known by both the issuer to
encode the message and the receiver to decode it.
 Context: The overall situation surrounding the communication process, which will help
them to code and decode the message.

2.2. Elements
At a linguistic level, prosodic features provide us with that extra information needed to
help oral communication.
 Stress occurs when we give more emphasis to some parts of the utterance than to
other parts: we can make a syllable stand out with respect to its neighbouring
syllables in a word or we can make some words stand out with respect to the rest of
the words in a longer utterance. Within a word one or more stresses can be found: the
primary stress (the most important one) and the secondary stress: ,secre 'tarial.
It is very important for students of English as a second language to become
accustomed to stressing the correct syllable, as failure to do so could confuse the
listener. Moreover, the meaning of some words changes depending on the stress, e.g.
‘transport is a noun while trans’port is a verb.

 Emphasis gives sense to what we say. In a sentence there are words that must be
highlighted as the most interesting so as to understand the correct meaning and
sense of the utterance. E.g. “Did you tell him that we were going?” implies that he
may not be supposed to know.
 Rhythm is determined by the succession of prominent and non-prominent syllables in
an utterance. Contrasts in rhythm are very important to give expressiveness and
sense to our speech. It should be noted that rhythm in English differs from Spanish.
Closely connected with rhythm is pause, which can be divided into:
- Predictable pauses are those that are necessary for the speaker to take a breath
or to separate grammatical units. They fit naturally into rhythmic groups: Over
there, just above that hill, is the town where I was born.
- Unpredictable pauses are those caused by hesitation or false starts, and may
occur at any point in an utterance. They can contribute to keeping attention, as
they allow voice inflection, change of intonation and change of meaning: I like all
his novels, especially ... er, I've forgotten the title.
However, if they are used wrongly they can be confusing for the hearer, like the
use of inadequate punctuation in a written text.
 Intonation is the rising and falling of voice during speech. For example, in statements
we generally use falling intonation and in questions we use rising intonation. Usually
the native speaker will only depart from these norms if he wishes to show a special
effect, such as anger or incredulity. Foreign learners must take into account the
different intonations. Failure to do so will result in them sounding bored, or being
misunderstood as not polite or enthusiastic enough.

However, oral communication is not just about oral means. In fact there are a number
of extra-linguistic elements that are used in order to add weight to the words and
messages that we are trying to communicate.

2.2. Linguistic elements

In spontaneous speech, we do three things at once: planning what to say next, saying
what we have already planned and monitoring what we are saying. If we are not
expressing the meaning we intended to express, we will self-correct. All these actions,
performed at the same time, influence and, to some extent, govern our speech.
In this point we are going to analyse the main elements and rules of spoken language,
which are governed by the above-mentioned elements.

 Non fluency features, such as hesitations, false starts, repetitions, fillers… They are
considered to be normal, so that they are usually not noticed by the interlocutor. One
of the most common ones is the constant use of “and” as a linking device.
 Grammar features: In oral language, we use simple and incomplete sentences, little
subordination, use of active rather than passive forms, theme-rheme structure (T.29),
repetition of basic syntactic structures and discourse markers.
 Lexical features: The vocabulary is less sophisticated in oral than in written
language, and we make a frequent use of generalized vocabulary such as thing, stuff,
place... Oral English is also characterised by the frequent use of multi-word verbs. In
general, according to Halliday, spoken language presents a “low lexical density”,
contrary to written language, characterised by a “high lexical density”.

All these features are influenced by the context, which is usually informal in natural
conversations; these features appear to a bigger or a lesser extent according to the
formality of the situation. E.g.: the grammar structure and vocabulary of a pub
conversation will be different than that of a job interview.

2.3. Extra-linguistic elements

At an extra linguistic level in oral discourse, it is important to consider non-verbal
elements of communication (paralinguistic features) such as facial expression, body
attitudes, gestures, etc. All these features make spoken language much more meaningful
for communication, but at the same time they make it much more complex, both in the
encoding and decoding processes.
Most features of non-verbal communication are language and culture specific and are
learned in the same way verbal behaviour is learned. For example, raising the index and
middle finger is a symbol of victory in Spanish, regardless the side the fingers are facing.
But, the same gesture in English, when the palm of the hand is facing the speaker, it’s
considered offensive.

Communicative acts can be analysed from two different points of view: in terms of
meaning (which is the intended meaning, how it is transmitted, whether the listener
understands it or not…) or as a form of interaction among people. All the rules and norms
that govern social interchanges do also apply in conversation:

- Consideration for others, that is to say, avoiding offence. Edmonson stated it in
his “hearer-support maxim”: allow the listener to take part in the conversation,
and don’t challenge or interrupt him/her too often.
- Phatic communion (Malinowski - topic 3 ). It is fulfilled by those utterances whose
only function is to keep the channel open and to show a nice relationship, such
as greetings and farewell formulae.
Malinowski was a social anthropologist and ethnographer who studied
the language of several speech communities. He thought that speakers
convey both social and propositional meanings when they speak.

Regarding the rules governing oral communication, it is important to mention that

speech events are governed by rules of appropriateness, coherence and cohesion.
 Appropriateness is related to the fact that people chose the language variety and the
appropriate register according to the situation. In order to do so, they take into
account factors such as: the topic, the channel of communication, the purpose or the
degree of formality.
 Coherence can be defined as the property of texts of selecting information and
organizing the communicative structure in a certain way.
 Cohesion refers to the ways in which sentences are related to each other forming a
cohesive unit. Halliday (1989) defined four devices by which cohesion is created:
- Reference: an element introduced at one place in the text can be taken as a
reference point for something that follows or precedes it. Reference is achieved
through anaphoric and cataphoric elements.
- Ellipsis: A clause or part of a clause may be understood by the device of
positive omission. E.g. Will you go and get it? No, not me. (I won’t go and get it)
- Conjunction. It involves linking two sentences adding different shades of
meaning: time, condition, cause, addition, clarification and opposition. E.g.
when, if, because, in addition to…
- Lexical cohesion: Continuity may be achieved by the choice of words, taking
into consideration semantic and collocational aspects. E.g. fish and chips
The “existence” of the rules of speaking does not imply that they have always to be
followed. In fact, they are broken many times in everyday conversation, especially in
intercultural communication.