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VARIETIES OF LANGUAGE

 

The functioning of the literary language in various spheres of human activity and with different aims of communication has resulted in its differentiation. This differentiation is predetermined by two distinct factors, namely, the actual situation in which the language is being used and the aim of the communication.

The actual situation of the communication has evolved two varieties of languagethe spoken and the written. The varying aims of the communication have caused the literary language to fall into a number of self-sufficient systems (functional styles of language).

Of the two varieties of language, diachronically the spoken is primary and the written is secondary. Each of these varieties has developed its own features and qualities which in many ways may be regarded as opposed to each other.

The situation in which the spoken variety of language is used and in which it develops, can be described concisely as the presence of an interlocutor. The written variety, on the contrary, presupposes the absence of an interlocutor. The spoken language is maintained in the form of a dialogue, the written in the form of a monologue. The spoken language has a considerable advantage over the written, in that the human voice comes into play. This is a powerful means of modulating the utterance, as are all kinds of gestures, which, together with the intonation, give additional information.

The written language has to seek means to compensate for what it lacks. Therefore the written utterance will inevitably be more diffuse, more explanatory. In other words, it has to produce an enlarged representation of the communication in order to be explicit enough.

The forms of the written language replace those of the spoken language when dissemination of ideas is the purpose in view. It is the written variety of language with its careful organization and deliberate choice of words and constructions that can have political, cultural and educational influence on a wide and scattered public.

In the long process of its functioning, the written language has acquired its own characteristic features emanating from the need to amplify the utterance, which is an essential point in the written language.

The gap between the spoken and written varieties of language, wider or narrower at different periods in the development of the literary lan-

 


guage, will always remain apparent due to the difference in circumstances in which the two are used. Here is an example showing the difference.

"Marvellous beast, a fox. Great places for wild life, these wooded chines; so steep you can't disturb thempigeons, jays, woodpeckers, rabbits, foxes, hares, pheasantsevery mortal thing."

Its written counterpart would run as follows: 'What a marvelous beast a fox is! These wooded chines are splendid places for wild life. They are so steep that one can't disturb anything. Therefore one can see every imaginable creature herepigeons, jays, woodpeckers, rabbits, foxes, hares and pheasants.'



The use of the peculiarities of the spoken variety in the written language, or vice versa, the peculiarities of the written language in lively speech, will always produce a ludicrous effect. In this connection A. S. Pushkin wrote:

"The written language is constantly being enlivened by expressions born in conversation but must not give up what it has acquired in the course of centuries. To use the spoken language only, means not to know the language."1

It must be borne in mind that in the belles-lettres style there may appear elements of colloquial language (a form of the spoken variety), but it will always be stylized to a greater or lesser degree by the writer. The term 'belles-lettres' itself suggests the use of the written language. The spoken language by its very nature is spontaneous, momentary, fleeting. It vanishes after having fulfilled its purpose, which is to communicate a thought, no matter whether it is trivial or really important. The idea remains, the language dissolves in it. The written language, on the contrary, lives together with the idea it expresses.

A trustworthy observation on the difference between the spoken and written varieties of language is made by Prof. Archibald A. Hill in his "An Analysis of 'The Windhover'."

"Ordinary speech is ephemeral, meant to be reacted to and forgotten. ...chains in speech, therefore, work mostly forward and over a fairly short span. In literature they can also work backward and there can be more than one chain running at a time, so that a given item can have one meaning in one span, a different one in a second."2

The spoken language cannot be detached from the user of it, the speaker, who is unable to view it from the outside. The written language, on the contrary, can be detached from the writer, enabling him to look upon his utterance objectively and giving him the opportunity to correct and improve what has been put on paper. That is why it is said that the written language bears a greater volume of responsibility than its spoken counterpart.

The spoken variety differs from the written language (that is, in its written representation) phonetically, morphologically, lexically and syntactically. Thus, of morphological forms the spoken language common-

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1 . . . . 12, 96

2 In PMLA, v. LXX, No. 5, p. 976.

ly uses contracted forms, as 'he'd' (he would), 'she's' (she is) 'I'd've' (I would have). It must be remembered that we touch upon the differences between the two varieties of the English language within standard (literary) English. However, some forms of the vernacular do make their way into the oral (spoken) variety of standard English. They are, as it were, on the way to be admitted into the standard. Such are, for example, the use of don't instead of doesn't, as in "It's a wonder his father don't take him in his bank" (Dreiser); he instead of him, as in "I used to play tennis with he and Mrs. Antolini" (Salinger); I says, ain't (instead of am not, is not, are not), them instead of these or those, as in "Them's some of your chaps, ain't they?" (Tressell); Leggo='let go', hellova='hell of a' and others.

These morphological and phonetic peculiarities are sometimes regarded as violations of grammar rules caused by a certain carelessness which accompanies the quick tempo of colloquial speech or an excited state of mind. Others are typical of territorial or social dialects. The following passage is illustrative in this respect:

"Mum, I've asked a young lady to come to tea tomorrow. Is that all right?"

"You done what?" asked Mrs. Sunbury, for a moment forgetting her grammar.

"You heard, mum." (Maugham)

Some of these improprieties are now recognized as being legitimate forms of colloquial English. Thus, Prof. H. Whitehall of Indiana University now admits that "Colloquial spoken English often uses them as the plural form of this and that, written English uses these and those. Them men have arrived."1

The most striking difference between the spoken and written language is, however, in the vocabulary used. There are words and phrases typically colloquial, on the one hand, and typically bookish, on the other. This problem will be dealt with in detail in the next chapter. Such words and phrases as 'sloppy', 'to be gone on somebody' (= to be violently in love with); 'I take it' (= I understand); 'a sort of; 'to hob-nob with' (= to be very familiar with) and others immediately mark the utterance as being colloquial, that is, belonging to the spoken variety of language. They are rarely found in the author's narrative unless special stylistic aims are pursued. When set against ordinary neutral words or literary bookish words and expressions, they produce a marked stylistic effect. Here is an example:

He says you were struck off the rolls for something. Removed from the Register is the correct expression, placidly interrupted the doctor. (Maugham)

Here are some more examples of present-day colloquial phrases which are gaining ground in standard English but which are strongly felt to be colloquial: 'How come?' (= Why? How does that happen?), 'What

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1 Whitehall, H. Structural Essentials of English. N. Y., 1956, p. 104.


time do you make it?', 'so much the better', 'to be up to something', 'to buddy-buddy together' (= to be friends).

The spoken language makes ample use of intensifying words. These are interjections and words with strong emotive meaning, as oaths, swearwords and adjectives which have lost their primary meaning and only serve the purpose of intensifying the emotional charge of the utterance. Here are some examples:

"I'd sure like to hear some more about them people." (Don Gordon)

"In fact, you ought to be darn glad you went to Burtingame." (L. Ford)

"He put my goddam paper down..." (Salinger)

The words 'here' and 'there' are also used to reinforce the demonstrative pronouns, as in:

"If I can get a talk with this here servant..." said Weller.

"That there food is good."

"Is this 'ere (here) hall (all) you've done?" he shouts out.

There is another characteristic feature of colloquial language, namely, the insertion into the utterance of words without any meaning, which are appropriately called "fill-ups" or empty words. To some extent they give a touch of completeness to the sentence if used at the end of it or, if used in the middle, help the speaker to fill the gap when unable to find the proper word. Illustrative is the use of 'and all' in Holden's speech in Salinger's novel "The Catcher in the Rye." Here are some examples:

"She looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around in her blue coat and alt."

"... splendid and clear-thinking and all."

"... he is my brother and all."

Such words and set expressions as well, so to say, you see, you know, you understand, and all, as well as what may be called "mumbling words" like -m-m, er-r, also belong to the category of fill-ups.

The syntactical peculiarities of the spoken language are perhaps not so striking as the lexical ones, but more than any other features they reveal the true nature of the spoken variety of language, that is, the situational character of the communication.

The first of them is what is erroneously called ellipsis, that is, the omission of parts of the utterance easily supplied by the situation in which the communication takes place. These are in fact not omissions, but the regular absence of parts unnecessary in lively conversation when there are two or more people speaking. Here are some absolutely normal and legitimate constructions which have missing elements in the spoken language, elements which are, however, indispensable in the written language:

"Tell you what."

"Who you with? (Who are you with?)"

"Care to hear my ideas about it?"

"Ever go back to England?"

"Just doing a short story to kill the time."

A second feature is the tendency to use the direct word-order in questions or omit the auxiliary verb, leaving it to the intonation to indicate the grammatical meaning of the sentence, for example:

"Scrooge knew Marley was dead?" (Dickens) "Miss Holland look after you and all that?"

Unfinished sentences are also typical of the spoken language, for example, 'If you behave like that I'll....'

There is a syntactical structure with a tautological subject which is also considered characteristic of colloquial English. It is a construction in which two subjects are used where one is sufficient reference. Usually they are noun and pronoun, as in:

'He was a kind boy, Harry.' 'Helen, she was there. Ask her.'

In the spoken language it is very natural to have a string of sentences without any connections or linked with and, that servant of all work, for example:

'Came home late. Had supper and went to bed. Couldn't sleep, of course. The evening had been too much of a strain.'

It has already been pointed out that the spoken variety of language is far more emotional than its counterpart, due mainly to the advantage the human voice supplies. This emotiveness of colloquial language has produced a number of syntactical structures which so far have been little investigated and the meaning of which can hardly be discerned without a proper intonation design. Here are some of them:

"Isn't she cute!"

"Don't you tell me that."

"A witch she is!"

"And didn't she come over on the same boat as myself!"

"He fair beats me, does James!"

"Clever girl that she is!"

"You are telling me!"

"There you have the man!"

"Somebody is going to touch you with a broomstick!"

The characteristic syntactical features of the written variety of language can easily be perceived by the student of language. As the situation must be made clear by the context, the utterance becomes more exact. That means the relations between the parts of the utterance must be precise. Hence the abundance of all kinds of conjunctions, adverbial phrases and other means which may serve as connectives. As someone has said, a clear writer is always conscious of a reader over his shoulder. He must explain. Most of the connecting words were evolved in the written language and for the most part are used only there. Such connectives as moreover, furthermore, likewise, similarly, nevertheless, on the contrary, however, presently, eventually, therefore, in connection

 


with, hereinafter, henceforth, have a decidedly bookish flavour and are seldom used in ordinary conversation.

Another syntactical feature of the written language is its use of complicated sentence-units. The written language prefers hypotaxis to parataxis; long periods are more frequent than short utterances. The monologue character- of the written language forcibly demands logical coherence of the ideas expressed and the breaking of the utterance into observable spans; hence units like the supra-phrasal unit and the paragraph (see pp. 193198).

The words and word-combinations of the written language have also gained recognition as a separate layer of the English vocabulary. Richard D. Altick, Prof. of English at the Ohio State University, calls many phrases that tend to be bookish "space-wasters". These are despite the fact (= although); in the matter of (= about); a long period of time (= a long time); in the capacity of (= as); resembling in nature (= like); reach a decision (= decide); met with the approval of Jones (= Jones approved); announced himself to be in favour of (= said he favoured) and others. However, these "space-wasters" cannot always be so easily dispensed with, and Prof. Altick seems not to take into consideration the subtle difference in meaning carried by such pairs as in the capacity of and as, resembling in nature and like. Of course, there are the "hightalkers" who frequently over-indulge in bookishness of expression, thus causing a natural protest on the part of ordinary readers. J. D. Adams, an American linguist and critic, gives an example of such over-bookishness from an Academy of Science report:

"The evolution of an optimum scientific payload will require a continuing dialogue among all potential investigators and the engineers responsible for implementing their scientific goals."

Then he gives what he calls a "possible translation":

"Finding the right cargo will require continuing conferences of those working on the project."1

It is worthy of note that most of the ridicule poured on the bookish language used by different writers is concentrated on the vocabulary. Little or no mockery is made of the syntactical pattern, even though in the long run it is this feature that has as great a weight as any of the others in distinguishing the written from the spoken language. The syntactical structure, no matter how complicated it may be, reflects the essential difference between the two varieties of language, and is accepted without question: Any syntactical pattern of the written variety will always show the interrelation between the parts of the utterance, so there is nothing to hinder the reader in grasping the whole. This is the case with prose writing.

With regard to poetry, the situation is somewhat different. Recent observations on the peculiarities of the language of modern English and American poetry have proved that it is mainly the breach of syntactical laws that hinders understanding to a degree that the message

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1 "Speaking of Books". The N. Y. Times Book Review, March 29, 1964.

becomes undecodable. Coherence and logical unity backed up by purely linguistic means is therefore an essential property of the written variety of language.

The bookish vocabulary, one of the notable properties of the written language, may, on the contrary, go beyond the grasping powers of even the most intelligent reader and may very frequently need inter pretation.

 


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 455


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