The Language of Conversation

B. Conversation and Discussion

There is a distinction to be drawn between a conversation and a discussion. A conversation as has been pointed out is "aimless"; discussion is conversation for a purpose. A literature tutorial at a university discusses a particular literary text - that is the purpose for which they have assembled. But members of the same tutorial thrown together at a party may talk about the same text but this time as part of a conversation.

One feature of spoken English found in conversation that is mentioned by Wilkinson (p. 30) is redundancy as expressed by features such as word repetitions and renewals. Now while it is right to describe such features as being redundant by the standards of written English, it would be wrong to think that such features serve no useful function in conversation. Retracing one's steps is for example an important feature which enables one to make sure that the message gets across in the form that most adequately serves to express it. Word repetitions serve not only for emphasis sometimes but also give the speaker a chance to think ahead. But more generally redundancy is an important feature of conversational English because the listener can catch something he may have missed or not quite understood. In written English a reader can retrace his steps, work back and forth across a sentence or refer back to earlier sentences if he is held up in understanding a sentence. Because the message is before him in a permanent form, the writer need not give superfluous means of expression. For this reason redundancy in written English is usually regarded as ineffective communication. But in conversational English it is a means of ensuring that none of the meaning is lost. Redundancy provides a further opportunity for picking up what the speaker is saying. Redundancy in spoken English therefore may be a form of courtesy to the listener as well as an aid to the speaker in considering how he is to proceed next.

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