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Introduction to English Syntax

Series:

Rolf Kreyer and Joybrato Mukherjee

This book provides an overview of basic syntactic categories, analytical methods and theoretical frameworks that are needed for a comprehensive and systematic description and analysis of the syntax of English as it is spoken and written today. It is therefore useful for students of the English language but also for teachers who are looking for an overview of traditional syntactic analysis. In addition, the book explores various related aspects, such as syntactic variation, the relation between syntax and semantics, and psycholinguistic approaches to syntax. One focus throughout is to introduce the reader to the ‘art’ or science of syntactic argumentation. Almost all of the examples that are found in this book are drawn from language corpora – each syntactic concept, therefore, is exemplified by authentic language data.

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8 Same Same but Different? Spoken and Written Syntax

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8.1 Does spoken language have structure? The above question may seem a bit odd. After all, we know that both speech and writing are based on a set of rules, which we call 'grammar'. Accordingly, we would assume that spoken language (here understood as spontaneous spoken speech, as in face-to-face or telephone conversation) shows regular structures similar to those of written language. However, the question above may seem more reasonable if we take into account the common assumption that spoken language is a more or less unrefined and formless variant of the written lan- guage. Note that some decades ago, even linguists and grammarians still were of this opinion, described by Lyons (1981: 11) as the 'bias of traditional grammar'. Until recently, grammarians have been concerned almost exclusively with the language of literature and have taken little account of every- day colloquial speech. All too often they have treated the norms of lit- erary usage as the norms of correctness for the language itself and have condemned colloquial usage, in so far as it differs from literary usage, as ungrammatical, slovenly or even illogical. (Lyons 1981: 11) Although today this bias seems to have been overcome by (hopefully) all lin- guists we still feel its repercussions amongst lay people. A particularly nice ex- ample of this (although maybe slightly outdated) is provided by Halliday (1989: 77), who discusses the view on spoken language expressed by an author who introduces students to the craft of writing. The author presents a transcript...

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