The Language of Conversation

Part 1: Background Notes


Teaching experience already gained with this topic shows that it:

  1. creates pupil interest;

  2. produces in pupils informed attitudes in the place of uninformed ones, and heightens their observation of details relating to a key human activity;

  3. is worthwhile per se, and because of training in observation, the study techniques lead pupils to increased awareness of a number of things relevant to other studies of a more conventional nature.


    • actual knowledge of the nature of real conversation
    • actual knowledge of the nature of spoken prose
    • awareness of what authors are doing when they attempt to create a willing suspension of disbelief, or apparent realism of dialogue or dramatic effect.

While the study of the language of conversation might not give all English teachers as much intrinsic pleasure as a purely literary study, this is rarely true in the case of pupils, who find enjoyment in the fact that:

  1. they can participate in the study;
  2. they can analyse the language of conversation in depth, and
  3. they can formulate generalisations from observed facts.

If teachers are constantly aware of these possibilities many of the details sorted out in such study lead to comparisons and parallels being made with passages from novels, autobiographies and even from poetry (where the condensed nature of language relates to the elided forms of talk).

Teachers who still doubt the deep importance of this topic in the framework of both literary and humanistic studies are referred to Ch 1 (Introduction) of Investigating English Style (Crystal and Davy) which emphasises both the primacy of conver-sation in our experience, and its usefulness as a yardstick by which to measure more studied forms of language.

To quote Postman and Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, (Delacorte Press):

"If one accepts the rather obvious fact that language is almost always produced by human beings for human purposes to share human meanings, then the study of language is inseparable from the study of human situations. A language situation (ie. a human situation) is any human event in which language is used to share meanings. A poem is a language situation. So is a joke, an expression of condolence, an editorial, an advertisement, an argument, a T.V. newscast, a scientific report, a song, a menu."

So is conversation.

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