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Spoken English and Written EnglishWhat are the main differences between spoken English...

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aimen | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted November 16, 2010 at 1:30 PM via web

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Spoken English and Written English

What are the main differences between spoken English and its written variety? Please answer in detail. 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 16, 2010 at 1:46 PM (Answer #2)

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To me, the main difference is that spoken English is much less formal and much less organized.

When we speak, we tend to speak in fairly short sentences (or even in sentence fragments).  We tend to use slang words and to insert things like "you know" or "you see" to show that we are paying attention to our listener.  We do not tend to speak in paragraphs, either.

When writing, however, we tend to use long, multi-clause sentences and to aggregate those sentences into paragraphs.  Very few people, when speaking regular spoken English, would actually utter a sentence like the last sentence (or even like this one).

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted November 16, 2010 at 2:29 PM (Answer #3)

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I agree with the previous poster in the points made: spoken English tends to be less formal, less organized or structured, and full of terms that might serve to fill in gaps or give us a little more time to think (e.g. "uh").

It may seem obvious, but another difference is that many important distinctions that we make when we're writing -- such as distinguishing between "principal" and "principle" or (for the most part) between "effect" and "affect" -- disappear when we're talking. The vowels in every unstressed syllable (in Standard American English, at least) are reduced to what's called a schwa (again, the "uh" sound!).

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 16, 2010 at 3:10 PM (Answer #4)

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Especially in certain geographical areas, there is a marked difference between spoken and written English.  In the South, for instance, many people who are actually quite well educated, employ a great deal of colloquialisms in their speech that they would exclude from their writing which would be in Standard English.

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howesk | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted November 18, 2010 at 5:33 AM (Answer #5)

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The biggest thing I try to stress to my students is the difference between formality in spoken and written English. In written English, especially in academia, the point of view should almost always be third person. We rarely, if ever, speak in third person about our own thoughts. In writing, one shouldn't use the word "you" to address the reader, but "one" or "the reader".

Grammar is, of course, only evident in written English, as when speaking we emote things like commas with pauses and changes in tone. This can be hard for some students to grasp.

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 18, 2010 at 1:03 PM (Answer #6)

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The biggest thing I try to stress to my students is the difference between formality in spoken and written English. In written English, especially in academia, the point of view should almost always be third person. We rarely, if ever, speak in third person about our own thoughts. In writing, one shouldn't use the word "you" to address the reader, but "one" or "the reader".

Grammar is, of course, only evident in written English, as when speaking we emote things like commas with pauses and changes in tone. This can be hard for some students to grasp.

I was going to say this very rule.  It drives me nuts in both spoken AND written English, but have you noticed how acceptable it has become to verbally answer questions in the "2nd person"?

I find professional atheletes do it the most.  The interviewer asks, "How does it feel, coming off a big win like that and knowing you have to turn around and do it again next week?"  The answer inevitably comes in the form that everyone watching and listening has experienced such pressure: "Oh you know, you get out there and you see and hear your fans cheering you on, and you just know you can do it.  You feel like you can do anything, even with that kind of pressure, when you've got the fans behind you like that, you know?"

Meanwhile I'm thinking, "No, I really don't know.  My career-pressure has unfortunately never been supported by hundreds of thousands of cheering fans."

My other thought (in response to your question) is to look at the way teenagers (and many others now, sadly) have begun writing on the internet (whether email, social networking, or blogs, etc).  It seems everyone is looking for new ways to express "voice" that are wholly unconventional and so far unnacceptable in the respected publication world.  For example, I've noticed several people who insert things like (sarcastically) before a comment in order to ensure that everyone knows the comment is ironic.  I think it is a little sad, in a way, that we've become so overt.  I think it has also encouraged redundancy, an epidemic in student-writing.

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted November 18, 2010 at 2:51 PM (Answer #7)

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To #6, regarding sports talk:

Have you noticed the way sportscasters will say, "He's about as good a defensive third baseman as there is in the National League," instead of "He's a great defensive third baseman"?  Or they'll say: "That's about as good a curveball as he's thrown all evening," instead of, "that was a really sharpbreaking curve"?

Here's another one.  If the Mets are playing a game, is it a "Met" game or a "Mets" game?  I understand that David Wright, for example, is a "Met," but it seems to me that a game played by the whole team is a "Mets" game.  Of course noone cares what teachers and enotes editors think; they all say "Met" game. 

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.)

And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted November 18, 2010 at 3:58 PM (Answer #8)

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I most certainly would agree that there is a difference between casual conversational English and formal written English, but what I find sad is that students seem less and less interested in learning what is correct so that their writing can be more academic and formal.  I will correct a grammar point in their speech and they will truly look at me as if I am nuts.  They say: "I did really good on that test"  -- I say, "Yes, you did very well."  They say, "Between you and I, that test was awful."  I say, "Yes, between you and me, I plan to give you extra credit."  They don't even hear that I have subtly corrected them!  Don't even get me started on who and whom used to ask questions....

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted November 19, 2010 at 7:02 AM (Answer #9)

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To #6, regarding sports talk:

Have you noticed the way sportscasters will say, "He's about as good a defensive third baseman as there is in the National League," instead of "He's a great defensive third baseman"?  Or they'll say: "That's about as good a curveball as he's thrown all evening," instead of, "that was a really sharpbreaking curve"?

Here's another one.  If the Mets are playing a game, is it a "Met" game or a "Mets" game?  I understand that David Wright, for example, is a "Met," but it seems to me that a game played by the whole team is a "Mets" game.  Of course noone cares what teachers and enotes editors think; they all say "Met" game. 

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.)

And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

The end punctuation goes inside the final parenthesis, I'd say, because the entire comment (made up of two sentences) is parenthetical.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted November 27, 2010 at 2:24 PM (Answer #10)

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In addition to the more formal structure of some written English over spoken English, there is something else to consider. As speakers, we have a tendency to get lazy with our speech and pronunciation. For example sometimes we pronounce words as homophones even though they are not. For example:hour/our and pen/pin. 

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted November 27, 2010 at 4:31 PM (Answer #11)

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In addition to the more formal structure of some written English over spoken English, there is something else to consider. As speakers, we have a tendency to get lazy with our speech and pronunciation. For example sometimes we pronounce words as homophones even though they are not. For example:hour/our and pen/pin. 

Here in Brooklyn, NY, I know people who cannot distinguish between beer and bear, or steal and stale. 

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted December 1, 2010 at 9:00 AM (Answer #12)

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In addition to the more formal structure of some written English over spoken English, there is something else to consider. As speakers, we have a tendency to get lazy with our speech and pronunciation. For example sometimes we pronounce words as homophones even though they are not. For example:hour/our and pen/pin. 

C.M. Millward, in A Biography of the English Language, calls this idea of laziness the "principle of least effort."

This principle, Millward says, can explain many isolated cases of language change, such as the general pronunciation of “bitter” in a way that resembles the word “bidder.” (We use our vocal cords when we pronounce the vowels on both sides of the “tt” in “bitter,” and most of us simply find it easier to use our vocal cords throughout the entire word rather than to deactivate our vocal cords for the “tt” part only to have to reactivate them for the rest of the word.)

The principle of least effort doesn’t explain everything, though. Sometimes we find forms of English that are more complex than the Standard English that is often held up as the correct (non-“lazy”) form. Many native speakers in the American South do not make a clear distinction between the pronunciation of “pen” and “pin,” for example, but they sometimes make more distinctions between vowels than other speakers of English.

I’m from central Oklahoma (i.e. not a Southerner), and I’m amazed every time that I hear people from the South (where I now live and work) making clear distinctions between sounds and words when I don’t. For example, I often hear people using three very different versions of an “a” sound in the following words: “merry,” “marry,” and “Mary.”

Laziness isn’t the only thing at work. Or, at the very least, no one group of speakers is lazy all the time.

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aroua | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted December 7, 2010 at 12:41 PM (Answer #13)

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the difference between spoken english and written english resides at ytwo levels one is language formality two is language refrence to socilogical items for instance the spoken language is rather formal but written english is rather formal, more complexe and even sophisticated.

at the sociolinguistic level, written language could not infer us to the social belonging, it is rather neutral whereas the spoken english could infer us of the belonging of a speaker to a specified state and even class which creates the dialects.

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted December 7, 2010 at 3:25 PM (Answer #14)

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In reply to #10: C.M. Millward, in A Biography of the English Language, calls this idea of laziness the "principle of least effort."

This principle, Millward says, can explain many isolated cases of language change, such as the general pronunciation of “bitter” in a way that resembles the word “bidder.” (We use our vocal cords when we pronounce the vowels on both sides of the “tt” in “bitter,” and most of us simply find it easier to use our vocal cords throughout the entire word rather than to deactivate our vocal cords for the “tt” part only to have to reactivate them for the rest of the word.)

The principle of least effort doesn’t explain everything, though. Sometimes we find forms of English that are more complex than the Standard English that is often held up as the correct (non-“lazy”) form. Many native speakers in the American South do not make a clear distinction between the pronunciation of “pen” and “pin,” for example, but they sometimes make more distinctions between vowels than other speakers of English.

I’m from central Oklahoma (i.e. not a Southerner), and I’m amazed every time that I hear people from the South (where I now live and work) making clear distinctions between sounds and words when I don’t. For example, I often hear people using three very different versions of an “a” sound in the following words: “merry,” “marry,” and “Mary.”

Laziness isn’t the only thing at work. Or, at the very least, no one group of speakers is lazy all the time.

All of the people are lazy some of the time, and some of the people are lazy all of the time, but you can't say that all of the people are lazy all of the time.  Or something like that, as often quoted from Abe Lincoln.

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bhlewis | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:34 PM (Answer #15)

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The trend towards slang and internet speech may be harmful in professional and academic writing, when clarity is essential, but I can't help but think that it is empowering to people who have never felt capable in writing. It is unifying and equalizing in that it allows every writer to feel as if he was actually communicating and not speaking what, to them, may be a foreign language.

That said, a person who is writing for a purpose other than personal communication needs to be able to use the critical thinking skills necessary in professional written English to actually have a thought that can be taken seriously.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted December 19, 2010 at 11:43 PM (Answer #16)

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I also do a lot of ESL (English as a second language) teaching and one frustrating aspect, both for the students and myself, is that they have to 'unlearn' some of the rules they have been studying so long in written English. If they don't, their speech sounds stilted, wooden and very outdated! Particularly for the younger ones, it's important that they learn to speak colloquially so that they sound authentic to peers in their host families. Then they must return to perfect grammar for writing!

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 31, 2010 at 6:49 PM (Answer #17)

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In my opinion, written English is generally more formal. Good writing is clear and concise. And it can be worked  and reworked to achieve the best possible results when others read a piece.

Spoken English is more relaxed. It flies along like stream-of-consciousness writing: words tumble out and there is no way to edit them after they have been "released."

There is a time and place for everything. The importance of different kinds of communication is knowing when to use writing with a formal style, and when to speak casually or more carefully.

In either case, the way we speak or write makes an impact on others that hear us or read our work. Where the spoken word may blur over time, once something is put in writing, it is there, forever, to speak for us when we may not be able to do so: and that is why it is so important to be careful what one puts on paper, and how the writing is presented.

Written language is like a job interview, where spoken language is more like text messaging—short cuts and all.

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kkennedy13 | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:59 PM (Answer #18)

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Spoken English has the advantage of being able to convey nuanced meanings through the tone of voice, cadence of speech, and stresses or inflections of the voice.  In written English, these subtle differences have to be supplied by the reader in response to the words chosen by the writer and/or in the actual formatting and display of the words. A writer could try to convey a halting or hesitant speech with the use of ellipses and broken phrases.

Spoken English can be recursive in process.  The speaker can make immediate course corrections and the listener will probably be able to easily follow.  Spoken English can be a social and interactive process in real time.    With written English, the dialogue is always one-sided and the reader does not benefit from immediate clarification by the writer.  The only feedback and interaction comes from the reader's interpretation of the writing.  This ambiguity can be a plus with creative writing. The spoken word can be more easily misconstrued and misunderstood under certain circumstances. Writing can always be referred to for re-clarification.

The written word can be permanent and possibly more damaging.  It has a positive or negative lasting influence way beyond the life of the writer.  The spoken word is more transient and is lost almost as quickly as it is spoken.

I do hope that written English maintains its unique character and does not slip more and more into the realm of spoken discourse.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 10, 2011 at 6:25 PM (Answer #19)

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There is a sense that we are all rather bilingual and simply have to learn when to speak which language. The formal language or writing is essential to know but used much less often than the more informal spoken language we use in conversations and discussions. Knowing when to use each is a trick, sometimes, especially in today's increasingly casual world.

Lori Steinbach

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted January 17, 2011 at 2:50 PM (Answer #20)

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I agree that there is, and should remain, a clear distinction between written and oral language - but I am unsure where the language of e-mail, text and social networking sites should fit. I am an incurable pedant and find myself hyperventilating at incorrect apostrophes and spelling errors (I was distressed only yeaterday that my local supermarket had 'confectionary' on sale). However, I am more tolerant with the spoken word. I am not sure where my feelings lie with the more stream-of-consciousness writing that our digital age promotes - but I can feel myself becoming a dinosaur!

PS - what does 'word' mean as a single response to a comment? It was used twice on tv yesterday!

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted January 22, 2011 at 6:50 PM (Answer #21)

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To #6, regarding sports talk:

Have you noticed the way sportscasters will say, "He's about as good a defensive third baseman as there is in the National League," instead of "He's a great defensive third baseman"?  Or they'll say: "That's about as good a curveball as he's thrown all evening," instead of, "that was a really sharpbreaking curve"?

Here's another one.  If the Mets are playing a game, is it a "Met" game or a "Mets" game?  I understand that David Wright, for example, is a "Met," but it seems to me that a game played by the whole team is a "Mets" game.  Of course noone cares what teachers and enotes editors think; they all say "Met" game. 

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.)

And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.) And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

For a parenthetical that both begins and ends within the parentheses, the punctuation falls within (not so if the parenthetical is within a sentence however). (It all depends upon the completeness of the unit and the function of the parenthetical.) For instance (in addition to the first for instance), if I add a parenthetical comment in this sentence, it will fall under the governance of the sentence punctuation, won't it? (Punctuation can be said to govern, true?) But if I add a comment that is something of an aside and a separate sentence in its own right, I may separate it entirely and then, since it is governed by its own punctuation, I may set the whole kit and kaboodle within its own parentheses and grace it with its own internal punctuation. (I think it's rather fun to write these examples.)

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted January 22, 2011 at 7:48 PM (Answer #22)

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In reply to #7:

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.) And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

For a parenthetical that both begins and ends within the parentheses, the punctuation falls within (not so if the parenthetical is within a sentence however). (It all depends upon the completeness of the unit and the function of the parenthetical.) For instance (in addition to the first for instance), if I add a parenthetical comment in this sentence, it will fall under the governance of the sentence punctuation, won't it? (Punctuation can be said to govern, true?) But if I add a comment that is something of an aside and a separate sentence in its own right, I may separate it entirely and then, since it is governed by its own punctuation, I may set the whole kit and kaboodle within its own parentheses and grace it with its own internal punctuation. (I think it's rather fun to write these examples.)

Punctuation doesn't govern; it rules.

Except, of course, when it's excessive.  A writer at the the New Yorker once got upset at Harold Ross, the publisher, for insisting on so many commas; the writer said that when Ross's biography is written, it should be titled The Era of the Comma Man.

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tibitibi | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 16, 2012 at 12:29 PM (Answer #23)

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generally the spoken and written discourse are both equal and imporatant .in a sense that they both serves different essential purposes in lives if human beings ,although written discourse is sometimes regarded as a superior than spoken discourse for a different reasons.

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