A genre is a particular class of communicative events presenting similar structure, style and content (Swales 1990: 58). In the past, the concept of genre was mainly associated with rhetoric and literary criticism, but today, with the development of linguistic studies, it is examined in relation to language use and second language learning. In fact, knowing the conventions of specific or common-use genres can help language learners to better replicate some discursive practices and also use more appropriate language.
We can distinguish various genres of spoken language, depending on the situational context, including the medium of communication (telephone, computer,TV etc.), the speakers’ aims (socialising, informing, persuading, criticising etc) and the relationship between speakers (friendly or distant):
Interview: an occasion when somebody is asked questions about their life and opinions.
Conversation: an informal occasion in which people exchange news and ideas.
Conversation is usually:
Many of our exchanges do not have a real purpose but are meant to create a pleasant atmosphere and establish rapport. Especially in some situations, for example in the small space of a lift, people tend to feel embarassed if they do not exchange at least a few words on some unimportant topic. Usually the weather seems to be the safest topic of conversation; maybe, it is not very interesting whether “it’s beeen raining for days” or “it’s finally getting warmer”, but everybody is affected by the weather and capable of commenting on it.
Also enquiries after somebody’s health may be an attempt at creating a good atmosphere and being polite, rather than meant to elicit information. In fact, we do not really expect our interlocutor to respond to the opening “How are you?” by giving a full account of their health problems.
This way of using language for socialising rather than for a transactional purpose is called phatic.
Listen to James talking about the weather at Elllo.org
Take notice that in this case, besides the phatic element “Let’s talk about something”, there is also an informative core “What’s the weather like in Japan?”
A conversation is usually very lively with many different contributions in a generally orderly sequence. It is the speakers who regulate the flow and sequence of contributions according to the following moves:
However, there may be at times some minor disruption when people talk over each other and their voices overlap.
Listen to the conversation between Crystal and George at Elllo.org
Take notice of:
Conversation is characterised by:
A speech act is an utterance, that is a stretch of language, which results in some kind of action.
I’m going to help you.
I’ll give you my course notes.
The Prime Minister has declared a state of war.
Spoken language is characterised by varying degrees of directness.
Both utterances are produced in the same context: somebody in front of a television set prevents other people from watching their favourite programme. However, the tone is dramatically different: the first one is direct and even blunt, while the second is more indirect and polite.
Let’s examine the second utterance more closely.
You’re standing in front of the TV.
This looks like a statement with an informative core but it is an indirect request to move away from the TV screen.
In our everyday exchanges we very often use indirect language. Can you point out the implicit messages conveyed by the sentences below?.
It is very cold in here = Can you close the window? Or Can you turn up heating? (implicit meanings)
KEY TO THE ACTIVITY
The choice of directness or indirectness may depend on the speaker’s face: this is the public self-image of a person, referring to the social, emotional and interpersonal sense of self. Each of us has two opposite faces:
Positive face: the need to be accepted, and liked by others, to be treated as a member of the same group.
Negative face: the need to be independent, to have freedom of action, and not to be imposed on by others. (see Yule 1996: 60-62).
Depending on which face we put up, we can be more direct and outspoken or more indirect and tentative.
Excuse me, Mr.Buckingham, but can I talk to you for a minute?: indirect approach, negative face
Hey, Bucky, got a minute?: direct approach, positive face.
S. Cornbleet, R. Carter, 2001, The Language of Speech and Writing, London, Routledge.
J. M. Swales, 1990, Genre Analysis. English in academic and research settings, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
G. Yule, 1996, Pragmatics, Oxford, Oxford University Press.