Forms and functions of talk by wantyou

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									                     Advanced Level English Language: Language and Occupational Groups

Forms and functions of talk

In studying language and occupation, you should consider particular forms (a memo, a briefing, an invoice) in
relation to their functions.

Some general functions of language in occupational contexts are:

       communicating information
       requesting help
       confirming arrangements

Can you think of others? What are the appropriate forms for these, in a range of contexts?

Language interactions may occur between or among those within a given occupation, or between those inside and
those outside (customers, clients, the “general public”). This distinction will affect significantly a speaker’s (or
writer’s) language choices. Some uses are exclusive, as when doctors share a common lexicon: ECG, CAT-scan,
myocardial infarction, prima gravida, which is opaque to outsiders. (Increasingly, outsiders are aware of the lexicon,
thanks to TV drama.) Some occupations are notorious for promoting neologisms, which may be used for individual
advancement within an organization (knowing the latest “buzz words”) rather than linguistic efficiency.

You should also look at how speech interactions reveal hierarchies, and changing attitudes to these. Do not assume
that greater explicit courtesy is shown to those of higher status – often the reverse is true. In a school, senior managers
will address the cleaners, lunchtime supervisors and clerical staff as Mr. or Mrs. while using first name for an
established teacher. To address someone by surname only is usually a mark of great familiarity (and thus of closeness,
even friendship). It is common in the UK among those who have attended independent (public) schools or held
commissions in the armed services.

Be aware of phatic tokens. Those of higher status will show this by other-oriented tokens: How are you getting on
with the new photocopier, then? The response may show acceptance of the hierarchical relationship, in a self-oriented
token: I prefer it to the old one, thanks. It is accepted, without question, that those of higher status will display interest
in the work, and perhaps personal lives, of those whose status is lower. But the reverse rarely happens – the clerical
worker does not ask the finance director how he or she is managing with the business’s five-year plan.
                    Advanced Level English Language: Language and Occupational Groups

Special lexis and meanings

Almost every occupation has its own special lexicon. That is there will be forms used only in the occupation, or with
meanings which are special to the occupation: justify means very different things to a printer and to a priest.

You may well be familiar with such special lexis, from your reading or knowledge of some occupations – those of
your parents or family, those you have met in weekend or holiday jobs. Think of an occupation (accountancy, law, the
armed services) or a general occupational area (IT, media, retail) and you may be able to think of its lexicon.
Teachers, for example, refer to their charges as kids, and talk about Baker Days, SATs, the Threshold or OFSTED.
And once a new term appears, it is rapidly subject to grammatical conversion so what begins as a noun-phrase (Office
for Standards in Education) becomes an acronym, using two letters of each element (OFSTED) and turns into a verb:
We were OFSTED-ed last week. (Far more common in spoken than in written English.)

To think of examples in an exam may be difficult (you lose time, searching for what is just out of reach), so it’s best to
prepare some in advance: think of the things you learned to do when you first used a computer, or started a holiday job
– what people said to you will have included some of the special lexis of the occupation. Listen to family or friends
speaking about work. Or simply ask someone to tell you about his or her job – don’t ask about the lexicon (you will
make them self-conscious): just let it appear! Another good approach is to look at job advertisements. Try these
extracts. Both come from job adverts in supplements of the Guardian newspaper. They appeared on consecutive days
(31 May/1 June 2000).

Extract 1

        “As part of our Quality Projects plan we have established an Initial Assessment Team to provide a first point
        of contact service through undertaking initial assessments of need, initial child protection enquiries and
        providing an early response for users.

        This is a new team which became operational in November 1999 and has a key role in ensuring our services
        meet our Quality Protects initiatives.

        We need a [job title appears here] to complete the team who can demonstrate high levels of practice
        competence of [noun phrase which identifies job] work.”

Extract 2

        “The [job title appears here] will be responsible for the commissioning of training events and outreach
        services, formation of teams with the appropriate expertise to deliver these services and co-ordinating the
        Help Desk. Candidates must have at least three years’ experience in supporting the use of [adjective
        identifying job] resources, including JISC-funded services, in an education environment and experience of
        organizing or delivering training and awareness events.”


The first extract is from an advertisement for a social worker, the second from one for a “User Services Manager” for
Information Technology at the Universities of Kent and Surrey. How quickly could you work out which was which?
You probably took only seconds to do so. What are the clues? One extract has repeated references to a team and initial
assessment (with no indication of who is assessing whom or what). Two big clues are key role and high levels of
practice. In the lexicon of social work (and sometimes now of education) good practice abounds – as if the label were
a guarantee of quality. The second extract also refers to teams, but has distinct clues in training events and Help Desk
(the current metaphor in many UK universities for the IT support systems used by staff and students).
                    Advanced Level English Language: Language and Occupational Groups
If you understand theories of meaning in language (semantics), you can easily apply what you know to any
occupation. Don’t confine yourself to nouns and verbs – try to find qualifiers, phrases and collocations that have
meanings specific to the occupation. If you hear the accused was proceeding in a northerly direction when I
apprehended him what kind of speaker are you looking for? If you hear Company, by the left –wait for it – qui-ick
march! who is speaking to whom? And if the speaker says I’m afraid you’ve caught a nasty bug which has upset your
tummy, where are you being patronised?

Registers and styles of writing

Many occupations make use of writing to communicate. In any kind of writing you should have a sense of appropriate
register. A GP might (one hopes not) address an adult patient in terms of nasty bugs and upset tummies. Writing
(probably a standard letter written by a secretary but signed by the GP) to refer the patient to a hospital consultant, the
doctor would certainly use a different register – full name of patient, technical description of the GP’s examination
and diagnosis, and so on.

The same writer would use a different style for a report to a scientific journal – some things would remain (essentially
the same medical lexicon) but first-person pronouns would be replaced by impersonal passive voice (examination
revealed rather than I examined her and found that).

A writer will have a sense of formality which should be relative to his or her purpose, and status relative to the readers
of what he or she writes. Note that formality is not an absolute or “either-or” quality of speech or writing: it is relative.
If you claim that a text is formal, you should be able to identify particular forms within it – don’t use formal merely to
indicate that the speaker or writer was trying hard to impress. Formality may be a way of expressing deference or
politeness, but it is not the same thing! Formality is often found at the beginning and end of a text – in the salutation
(Dear Mrs. Clinton) and the closure (I remain, Sir, your most humble and obdt. Servt.).

Because writing is different from speaking, some writers avoid the directness and immediacy of the common or
demotic register in which they speak, substituting polysyllabic and Latinate lexemes for shorter forms, especially
those of Anglo-Saxon provenance. It is perhaps a persistence of 18th century Poetic Diction – as if classical lexis is
more dignified and authoritative. Consider this example (from a real letter received by the author of this guide):

“In order not to let this situation drag on any further I am proposing to meet with those colleagues who are committed
to taking this matter forward for accreditation.”

Note the Latin-derived nouns (situation, colleagues, accreditation) and verbs (proposing, committed). Also
prominent are demonstratives (this, those) to refer to things previously mentioned. Demotic meet has acquired a
preposition acting adverbially (with). Meet with until recently was reserved for the special sense of suffering some
adversity – he met with a terrible fate. Readers of the letter (all of them schoolteachers) may want to pass an exam or
receive a certificate. Taking this matter forward for accreditation turns out to be quite useful because it fits a number
of different possible meanings, any of which might apply to an individual reader. If the reader visualises the metaphor
of taking this matter forward however, it seems strange. Is the metaphor an image of travel, or of moving to some
place where a reward or benefit is conferred? Of course, the reader is not expected to visualise the metaphor – but to
jump to the indirect meaning.

Letters in business and management may also be marked by use of subordinate clauses (Following further
discussions…), by passive constructions, use of impersonal forms (It was felt that…/There are…) and by choices
about whether to use singular or plural first-person forms: we for a business or collective decision, I only when the
writer wishes to emphasise an individual decision or attitude.

The same writer, in an e-mail or memo, is much more likely to use a demotic register, contractions (I’m for I am, and
so on), and incomplete sentence structures – the syntax of speech or what Professor Crystal calls “minor sentence
types” (Cambridge Encyclopedia of English Language, Cambridge, 1995, p. 216).
                    Advanced Level English Language: Language and Occupational Groups

Historical and contemporary changes

New media and technology have created new forms (or radically adapted old forms) of communication. These are
fascinating to linguists (they are quite easy to study – the data are readily available, and already in computer text
form) and a popular subject for students to investigate. You should certainly consider both electronic mail (e-mail)
and net meetings (the grown-up face of Internet relay chat – “chat rooms for business”).

Where the letter has a structure (sender’s address, recipient’s name and address, date, salutation and so on) petrified
by custom, e-mail has yet to achieve this. Writers of e-mails can be unsure how to open or close a message, while they
typically disregard conventions of spelling and punctuation, especially case-sensitivity, which apply to postal mail.
Emoticons (“smileys”) – like this: :-) are more likely to appear in e-mail than letters.

As language in society reflects general social attitudes and ideas, so, as the 21st Century begins, the trend to use
language less formally continues. Over longer time this may go into reverse – language history shows movement in
both directions. In the mid 18th Century literary English embraces formal diction and prescriptive syntax; in the 19 th
Century a massive increase of written business communication demands a high degree of formality. Why? Because
letters and contracts need a long shelf-life: they refer to products and services which may be delivered years from the
date of writing, or which carry guarantees for the life of the purchaser. Consumer protection has made much of this
redundant.

There are (and will be in future) reasons for written forms to move closer to, or further away from, spoken forms. If
you are alert, you should be able to see and hear this happening.

A quite different kind of change which occurs in all language but is very conspicuous in occupational language use is
grammatical conversion. As soon as a new term enters the language, it is likely to move into a new word category.
The most likely changes are noun to verb or verb to noun. Thus Hoover is now the generic noun for a
vacuum-cleaning device, but has become a verb: I must hoover the car. The same has happened to e-mail: you receive
e-mail (noun) but you also e-mail (verb) your friends. For conventional post US and UK English differ: in the UK we
write to people, post letters and receive post; in the USA our friends write each other (no to), mail letters and receive
mail. But for electronic mail, the lexicon does not change as it crosses the Atlantic.

Everyday functions and activities – role of interpersonal language in speech

In exploring language use in occupations you may wish to analyse speech, which you or others have recorded and
transcribed. In an exam, you may be given transcribed data to interpret. To do this well, you need to have a clear
theoretical model for conversational analysis. This is done more fully in a separate guide to features of spoken
language, but some parts of this guide are reproduced more briefly below.

Conversational maxims

The success of a conversation depends upon the various speakers’ approach to the interaction. The way in which
people try to make conversations work is sometimes called a co-operative principle. This can be explained by four
underlying rules or maxims. (They are also named Grice’s maxims, after the language philosopher, H.P. Grice.)
They are the maxims of quality, quantity, relevance and manner.

   Quality – speakers should tell the truth, not say what they think false, or make statements without evidence.
   Quantity –be as informative as is required for conversation to proceed; say neither too little, nor too much.
   Relevance – speakers’ contributions should relate clearly to the purpose of the exchange.
   Manner – speakers’ contributions should be clear, orderly and brief, avoiding obscurity and ambiguity.
                   Advanced Level English Language: Language and Occupational Groups

Speech acts

Many utterances are equivalent to actions. When someone says: “I name this ship” or “I now pronounce you man and
wife”, the utterance creates a new social or psychological reality. Such utterances can be analysed using a threefold
distinction: locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts.

   Locutionary acts – these are simply the speech acts which have taken place.
   Illocutionary acts – these refer to the real actions which are performed by the utterance, where saying equals
    doing, as in betting, plighting one’s troth, welcoming and warning.
   Perlocutionary acts – these refer to the effect of the utterance on the listener, who accepts the bet or pledge of
    marriage, is welcomed or warned.

Some linguists have attempted to classify illocutionary acts into a number of categories or types.

   Representatives – speaker is committed to the truth of a proposition: affirm, believe, conclude, deny, report
   Directives – speaker tries to get the hearer to do something: ask, challenge, command, dare, insist, request
   Commissives – speaker is committed to a (future) course of action: guarantee, pledge, promise, swear, vow
   Expressives – speaker expresses an attitude about state of affairs: apologize, deplore, congratulate, regret
   Declarations – the speaker alters the external status or condition of an object or situation, solely by making the
    utterance: I baptize you, I resign, I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you be dead, I name this ship...

Names and addresses

Some languages have different forms for you (French tu/vous, German du/Sie, for example). These may originally
have indicated number (vous and Sie) used for plural forms, but now show different levels of formality, with tu and du
being more familiar, vous and Sie more polite. In English this was shown historically by the contrast between you and
thou/thee. The thou form survives in some dialects, while other familiar forms are youse (Liverpool) and you-all
(southern USA). This is known as a T/V system of address.

In this system the V form is a marker of politeness or deference. It may also be a marker of status, with the V form
used to superiors, the T form to equals or inferiors. T forms are also used to express solidarity or intimacy. In
English, we also express status and attitude through titles, first names and last names. Titles are such things as
Professor, Dr, Sir, Dame, Fr. (Father), Mr, Mrs, Miss, Sr. (Sister). Note that we abbreviate some of these in writing,
but not in speaking. First names may be given names (Fred, Susan) but include epithets such as chief, guv, mate,
man, pal. Last names are usually family names. In general, use of these on their own suggests lack of deference (Oi,
Smith...) but in some contexts (public schools, the armed forces) they are norms. If one speaker uses title and last
name (TLN), and the other first name (FN) only, we infer difference in status.

In schools teachers use FN (or FNLN when reprimanding or being sarcastic) to pupils and receive T (Sir) or TLN
(Miss Smith) in reply. Miss is addressed to women teachers, even where the speaker knows them to be married.

In English avoidance of address is often acceptable – thus where French speakers say Bonsoir, Monsieur, English
speakers may say merely Good evening.
                    Advanced Level English Language: Language and Occupational Groups

Face and politeness strategies

Face (as in lose face) refers to a speaker’s sense of linguistic and social identity. Any speech act may impose on this
sense, and is therefore face threatening. And speakers have strategies for lessening the threat. Positive politeness
means being complimentary and gracious to the addressee (but if this is overdone, the speaker may alienate the other
party). Negative politeness is found in ways of mitigating the imposition:

       hedging: Er, could you, er, perhaps, close the, um , window?
       pessimism: I don’t suppose you could close the window, could you?
       indicating deference: Excuse me, sir, would you mind if I asked you to close the window?
       apologizing: I’m terribly sorry to put you out, but could you close the window?
       impersonalizing: The management requires all windows to be closed.

Phatic tokens

These show status by orienting comments to oneself, to the other, or to the general or prevailing situation (in England
this is usually the weather). Self-oriented phatic tokens are personal to the speaker: I’m not up to this, My feet are
killing me. Other-oriented tokens are related to the hearer: Do you work here? You seem to know what you’re doing.
A neutral token refers to the context or general state of affairs: Cold, isn’t it? Lovely flowers.

Taking turns

Conversations are based on speakers taking turns to make an utterance. Ideally, these come in adjacency pairs – an
initiation or request for information meets an immediate response. There may also be feedback to express satisfaction
or thanks. There are various devices for claiming and keeping a turn. Dropping intonation may signal that a point is
made, so a response is in order. Pauses for breath may also be taken as an opening. In order to keep the floor, a speaker
may take breaths in the middle of a clause, rather than at the end of it. This is using an utterance incompletor to
retain the speaking turn. Another device is to end a clause with a connective, such as and, therefore, so or but. Fillers
(er or um) are used to block others who wish to claim the turn.

Discourse features (writing or speech)

Some (perhaps most) occupations have specific kinds of discourse and written texts. You can analyse these,
especially looking at structural features which reflect the occupational purpose, context or origin of the text.
Examples might include a priest’s sermon, a manager’s briefing or a conference delegate’s key-note speech.

In looking at discourse, you look at the structure and the ways this is shown – what are the structure markers (pauses,
spoken “headings”, questions leading to answers, enumeration of points, repetition or recapitulation, adverbs or
adverb phrases, such as finally, and to conclude or and so, my fellow Americans). Look at stylistic devices and
pragmatic features which indicate the genre of the discourse, the context in which it appears and the speaker’s sense
of the audience.

Occupations to consider – use these to supply examples

If you find it hard to think of examples of occupations, you may find the following list helpful:

           Private sector – business, accountancy, IT, law, finance
           Media – print, broadcast, advertising, new media – e.g. Internet technologies and services
           Trades and crafts – building, farming, rag trade etc.
           Church, armed services, police, fire brigade, education, health service
           Any jobs of which you have experience – what special language forms do these use?
                  Advanced Level English Language: Language and Occupational Groups

Outline for revision

Forms and functions of talk

          Functions within occupation – communicate information, request help, confirm arrangement
          Insider to customer, client, outsider or peer to peer – inclusive and exclusive uses
          Hierarchical speech interactions – use of phatic tokens to reflect status

Special lexis and meanings

          Special lexicon – e.g. of computing, accountancy, medicine, teaching, the law
          Semantics – denotations and connotations different from those in common register

Registers and styles of writing

          Register and style related to purposes of writing in reports, memos, faxes, standard documents
          Degree of (in)formality in style of letter, fax, e-mail: address, salutation, closure and so on: NB formal
           and informal are relative; if you think a text is formal, look for the forms that show this!
          Lexis – preference for polysyllabic or Latinate diction over shorter Anglo-Saxon forms
          Pronoun choices – we or I for subject; referring to others in second or third person.
          Choice of active or passive voice; choice of verb mood and tense

Historical and contemporary changes

          Influence of new media and technology – new modes of communication (e-mail, net meetings)
          General social move to less degree of formality
          Grammatical conversion – e.g., noun (trial or OFSTED) to verb – The school was OFSTEDed

Everyday functions and activities – role of interpersonal language in speech

          Conversational maxims (H.P. Grice) – quality, quantity, relevance and manner
          Speech acts (J.L. Austin) – locutionary, illocutionary, perlocutionary acts, felicity conditions
          Illocutionary acts – representatives, directives, commissives, expressives and declarations
          Need for language features to reinforce occupational purpose – for example, team building
          Names and addresses, face and politeness strategies, phatic tokens, turn taking

Discourse features (writing or speech)

          Specific occupational discourse (e.g. in sermon, keynote speech, briefing, de-briefing)
          General features of discourse – pragmatics, deictics, stylistics, structure markers

Occupations to consider – use these to supply examples

          Private sector – business, accountancy, IT, law, finance
          Media – print, broadcast, advertising, new media – e.g. Internet technologies and services
          Trades and crafts – building, farming, rag trade etc.
          Church, armed services, police, fire brigade, education, health service
          Any jobs of which you have experience – what special language forms do these use?

								
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