Informal Conversations and Spontaneity

February 5, 2021grusha

Hello everyone, here is my article for February, which focuses on a couple of key features of informal conversations, which you will discuss in Unit 3, Area of Study 1. You will be asked to demonstrate your knowledge of these conversations with either short answer sections, analytical commentaries, or a combination of the two.

The first thing I will discuss about informal conversations is planning. Informal conversations are typically unplanned, or at least, significantly less planned than formal conversations. Consequently, non-fluency features are much more common. This does not mean that non-fluency features themselves subvert the formality of the conversation, which is determined by assessing its totality, however, the spontaneity often points to a less formal conversation. As their name suggests, non-fluency features are features of spoken discourse that disrupt the flow of speech, thereby showing a lack of planning (usually). These features all serve their own purpose, such as holding the floor, or ensuring that the interlocutor (person engaged in a conversation), can accurately express themselves and ensure that the listener knows exactly what they mean. Please do not give generic explanations, you will need to read the individual text, and show the specific role of that non-fluency feature, as it is used in a particular instance. Specificity is vital when analysing texts.

I am sure that the above paragraph has already given you an idea of what a non-fluency feature is, however, as they are not on the unit 1 and 2 study design anymore (at least from what I can see), I will quickly list some of the main ones for you here (examples are in single quotation marks):

  • Pause fillers (also known as voiced hesitations): something like, ‘um,’ or, ‘ah,’ a vocalised expression of uncertainty as to what to say next.
  • Pause: Make sure it is non-fluency and not for emphasis, but I really don’t think I need to explain what a pause is.
  • False start: ‘What are you… where are you,’ where a speaker changes what they are saying.
  • Self-correction (now referred to as a repair in the metalanguage): ‘I am ba.. bored,’ where a speaker corrects a mistake, such as mispronouncing a word.
  • Repetition: I shouldn’t need to explain what repetition is either, but again, make sure it is non-fluency repetition, as opposed to deliberate and emphatic repetition.

In addition to non-fluency features, another common feature of spontaneous, informal conversations, is long loosely connected syntactic structures, joined by coordinating conjunctions (usually, ‘and’). In working with clients, I have noticed that many schools do not discuss this in great detail (or at all in some cases), yet it is quite a common feature of informal conversations, and serves multiple purposes that are worthy of discussion, especially in analytical commentaries. I always explain these to clients by asking them to think of how a 5-year-old would recount the events of a recent weekend, ‘and then… and then… and then…’. This is the kind of structure to which I refer. The repeated use of the coordinating conjunction is usually to hold the floor and indicate that they are still talking, and the loose structure, usually indicates a lack of planning and preparation, which is most common in informal conversations, where social distance (not the 1.5m, social distance in English Language refers to the relationship between participants in terms of closeness and potential differences in status), is lesser and the relationship closer.

Furthermore, there are various features across the subsystems that come up regularly, but if I discussed them all, this would be as long as three or four essays, although some of the main ones include connected speech processes and discourse particles, both of which can, (DEPENDING ON THE CONTEXT IN WHICH THEY ARE USED), further help to subvert the formality, and often show a further lack of advanced planning.

Anyway, I hope that this discussion of some key features of spontaneous, informal conversations was useful to you, and that you are settling back into school well. I will have another article for you in March.

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