In What Ways May Different Groups Of English Speakers Differ In Their Conversation Style? Essay
In What Ways May Different Groups Of English Speakers Differ In Their Conversation Style?
In what ways may different groups of English speakers differ in their conversation style?
For word restriction purposes the focus for this essay will be primarily on material from chapter one of the Open University course book 2 (CB 2) and The Open University audio cassette 3 band 3(AU3B3). It would be most interesting to look at all the different examples of different groups; unfortunately doing this would mean exceeding the word limit. Therefore the focus will be restricted to only three or four different groups.
First of all it is a good idea to examine the semantics behind the phrase of “conversation style” before looking at the different groups of English speakers.
“Conversation is without doubt the foundation stone of the social world – human beings learn to talk in it, find a mate with it, are socialized through it, rise in social hierarchy as a result of it, and, it is suggested, may even develop mental illness because of it.”
(Beattie, 1983, p.2) 1
This is a very captivating statement and helps to sum up the incredible power that the actual word “conversation” has in the social world Due to lack of more precise materialistic evidence, it is possibly more interesting to look at “conversation style” and then briefly discuss the different styles that exist amongst social groups giving specific examples rather than focusing on one specific area only (such as gender). That would make it easier to find out if there are any resemblances amongst the different social groups and their conversation styles.
The term “conversation” can be interpreted in a multiplicity of different ways. The varieties range from a formal speech (that has been pre-scripted and is just simply read out) to a casual conversation between friends. As a result of this wide range of speech types, there are great many different conversation styles present. Conversation is not necessarily simply informal talk between speakers; it can also be used in more loser terms for example to give sense of the diversity of ways in which English is used in modern society in everyday talk. Everyday talk refers to anything from political speech making to language at work. The idea of conversation is also about how people are using language to express and pursue relationships.
What does “conversation style” actually mean? A “conversation” is a means of “communicating” with others. The “style” here refers to the combination of features that relate to meaning and management of conversation such as rhythm, pronunciation or intonation. The style of an individual is said to be related to his/her social background, his/her class, his/her age and/or his/her gender. There are a great variety of styles within even one particular social group. It can be said that generally each individual has his/her specific “style” of talking.2
In modern society there are a great many different groups of English speakers and they vary widely in the way that they communicate with each other or with different groups. There are many interesting investigations taking place. It would now be appealing to have a look at what sorts of investigations have been made and how these groups of English speakers differ in their conversation style
There is an interesting example of how people with different socio-cultural backgrounds can differ in conversation style in CB 2. (The example being referred to is on page 17.) It is based on a study by Deborah Tannen (year unknown). A group of what primarily appear to be all Americans, however one selection comes from California, and the second from New York and there is one woman from England meet for dinner. Deborah Tannen’s first discovery was how dominant the New Yorkers were in conversation throughout their meal. They were so dominant that even the Californians picked up on how dominant they were.
One of these Californian men remarked upon how the New Yorkers conversations tended to overlap a great deal more than in California that in California at least people pause between conversations. The Californians also thought that the New Yorkers tended to ask a great deal of personal questions, their response to this was just that it was “their” way of being polite. As for the English woman, the Americans found her hard to understand as her intonations were very monotonous. Deborah Tannen’s findings are parallel to other studies that have been carried out amongst other cultural groups or gender groups, as shown in the following paragraphs.
Another interesting issue brought up in chapter one of CB 2 is that of gender differences. Most men appear to be under the impression that it is women who dominate in conversations. They always have the tendency of saying that women talk too much. However, recent research has found that in fact when women are amongst a mixed group of male and female members will talk less than the men.
The women are also found to be less competitive and more cooperative in conversations. Women are also said to use more tag questions, intensifiers and hedges. According to research, women are the dominant compliment givers. They also tend to use rhetoric more often than men such as “What a nice dress!” It is could also be due to the way that woman are brought up, having a less dominant position in society or perhaps due to the way that men and women are in different subcultures even as children. In the latter, this could lead to misunderstandings between the sexes because of the way men and women interpret different speech behaviours.
There is one particular ethnic group that fluctuates in conversation style which is the Aboriginal English group found in minority groups across Australia. Aboriginal English has been found to differ from Standard Australian English. Diane Keats researched on Aboriginal English groups in Australia and discovered that particularly in the more rural areas of Australia there were several distinctive features that were different from Standard Australian English. She found that they differed from the Standard in pronunciation, vocabulary and even actual interaction between people was different. There were even difficulties that arose when the Aboriginal groups mixed with the Standard groups. It is particularly when they communicate cross-culturally that problems and misunderstandings may occur.
For example, in Aboriginal society it is natural to have frequent silences in a conversation. It is a particular sign of politeness allowing for the other person to opt their opinion. Sometimes the answer or the conversation itself even, will last over a time period of several days. There are several reasons why they are unlike the Standard Australian groups, amongst others it is due to their different ways of living.
“The Aboriginal people experience much personal privacy, unlike the mainstream Australian society, through their indirect style of verbal interaction.” (CB 2, chapter one, p.28) An example of their indirect style is the use of direct questions to elicit orientation such as asking “You been to shop?” The speaker appears to demonstrate known or presumed information for conformation or rejection. They tend not to make direct requests; they rather use indirect forms if they have a specific request such as “Can you give me a lift to town?” They will ask “You going to town?” They are also very discrete about their own opinions. If they discover that they have conflicting opinions they will minimize their own opinions.
There are some more typical features in the transcription of the conversation between two Aboriginal English women on AU03B2. (See Appendix A) The first thing noticeable in the transcript is the frequency in which the deletion of the letter “h” occurs. Already in the Lorina’s first line the letter has been deleted. And the way both women say “yea” instead of “yeah”. There is also a tendency for utterances to latch on to another with pausing takes place repeatedly such as when they are talking about a big frog. Their sentences are regularly incomplete und unstructured such as in the very first sentence “‘Igh school was all right, I reckon, in Bourke” this is not a grammatically correct sentence structure and an incomplete sentence at the time when Lorina says “In Weel. Yea”. This is the sort of expression a person uses when thinking and speaking simultaneously.
A final aspect, other then the ones listed in the Study Guide is their use of verb tenses. For instance, when Karen says “Sit down there, never used to move.” she started a sentence in the present tense “sit” and finished in the past tense “used to”. This is interesting as this can also occur amongst Standard English speakers when talking fast. After reading the transcript, the comprehension of what the two women said, becomes easier. If the tape is listened to on its own it can be quite hard at times to understand as the pronunciations do not sound like the Standard English, whereas the transcript, with the exception of a few slightly more Aboriginal features, mirrors the Standard English much more strongly. Diane Eades research showed that there are still problems in communication style between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal social groups in Australia that are worked on to this day.
It is also interesting to briefly look at the extract on p.15 of CB 2 about the conversation between a policeman and a black man in the 1960s. This today is often considered to be a form of racism. It is intriguing to see how “bad” language was used back in the 1960s even by law enforcers. The policeman has used the typical racist term of “boy” as term of address for the black man, if the man had been white he would not have referred to him as “boy”. People, white people, “labelled” black people as trouble makers. So you were immediately categorized a criminal just if you had darker skin.
It is extremely shocking that a police man would have even used name-calling to address the black man, before even knowing anything about him. If you are black then you must be evil, that has been an ideal for many people until fairly recently. However this exists to a certain extent even today, in that due to the fact that in Europe there are many black drug dealers from Northern Africa so that as soon as someone who is black shows up in a well-known drug dealing area, they are frequently then instantly questioned by the police.
The way different groups of English speakers vary in their “conversation styles” is a fascinating and fairly broad topic to examine. It appears that there is no actual “Universal Standard English”. There is a world-wide (not just refined to the United States of America) multicultural mosaic/ melting pot3 of cultural groups even within a single language society which is to a certain degree trying hard to mould into a salad bowl4. An ideal solution would be a mixture of a melting pot and a salad bowl where people are still able to maintain their own cultural habits and can still communicate with other social group easily.
A final point to make is that it is also important to realise how essential language is when engaging in social activities and relationships. Hence, to notice how language and society are interlinked. Language and indeed communication is used to share knowledge and experience between speakers. Communication is also about binding people together in order to allow them to negotiate joint understandings of the world. Communication has different functions in different contexts. This could be due to age difference and respect from the pupil’s part. Without language society could not exist to the same extent by which it does today.
* CB 2 refers to Maybin, J. and Mercer, N.(2002) , Using English from conversation to canon, The Open University and Routledge
* Transcription of conversation between two Aboriginal English women in Australia taken from Study Guide 2, Open University
> Maybin, J. and Mercer, N.(2002) , Using English from conversation to canon, The Open University and Routledge
> U210 Audio Cassette 3, Band 3, The Open University
> Study Guide 2,U210, The Open University
1 Introduction section 1.1. p 5 in CB 2
2 Section 1.4 p 16 in Chapter 1 of CB 2
3 lots of different cultural groups living together (perhaps an ideal way of living)
4 loss of individual identity to become a uniform cultural group (cultural assimilation)
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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