Errata for
Characteristic features of oral and written modes of language: Annotated bibliography

Bibliographic Reference for this Article

Frank, Lynn. 1983. Characteristic features of oral and written modes of language: Annotated bibliography. Notes on Linguistics 25:34-.

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    Corrected Bibliographic References
    Bennett, Tina L., and John Tracy Clinic. 1977. “An extended view of verb voice in written and spoken personal narratives.” Discourse across time and space (SCOPIL 5), edited by Elinor O. Keenan and T. L. Bennett. Los Angeles: University of Southern California. 43--49.

    “Examin[es] certain features of verbs in the written and spoken narratives of six university [freshman] students” (43). The researchers used the Labovian technique of having the subjects recount a near-death experience on tape. The night after they gave the narratives, they were assigned to give a written account of the narrative they had recounted in class. Students who had not told a story, wrote an account of what they had heard. To analyze each narrative, the authors “divided it up into clauses by means of predicate counting: each auxiliary, embedded or main verb, counted as the nucleus of one clause” (43).

    The article gives a comparison of the verbs found in oral and written narratives. The authors label oral narrative as unplanned discourse, and written narrative as planned discourse. This is different from E. Ochs's (1979--see main bibliography) definition of the same terms, in which Ochs uses both unplanned and planned in reference to oral discourse.

    Deibler, Ellis W., Jr. 1976. “Differences between written and oral styles in languages near Goroka.” READ 11:77--79.

    Finds that rules for elision of vowels and consonants in oral style are not acceptable for written style. Gives examples of contractions, shortened verbs, imperatives, sentence length, postscript sentences, hidden talk, names and places, and loan words that are acceptable in oral style but unacceptable in written style. He also tells how these missing features of oral style are compensated for in writing.

    De Vito, Joseph A. 1965. “Comprehension factors in oral and written discourse of skilled communicators.” Speech Monographs 32:124--128.

    Bases study on “300-word samples of written communication and the same number of samples of oral discourse by the same speech professors on the same topic” (128). The written samples differed from the oral “in that they included more words that were difficult, had greater verbal diversity, had greater density of ideas, and contained more sentences that were grammatically simple” (128).

    De Vito, Joseph A. 1967. “A linguistic analysis of spoken and written language.” Central States Speech Journal. 81--85.

    Conducts a study which “represents an attempt to differentiate spoken from written language on the basis of varying word order of parts of speech” (81). The frequency statistics are based on Charles C. Fries's system of form classes. (This system is illustrated more clearly in Blankenship 1962.)

    Oral language has more communicative signals (for example, “Well, in the first place”), more orientation signals (for example, “I can't think of what to say”), and more consciousness of projection terms (for example, “It seems to me”). Since written language depends mostly on substantive content, these oral language signals are not used. Written language is more impersonal than oral language. Nominal style is more impersonal, so it is used in written language.

    Dorson, Richard M. 1960. “Oral styles of American folk narrators.” Style in language, edited by Thomas A. Sebeok. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 27--52.

    Explores the style of seven folk narratives. The narratives reflect five storytelling traditions within American civilization. Structural and stylistic features of the tales are discussed, as well as the backgrounds of the tales and their narrators. Variation is observed between narrators within the same storytelling tradition. Dorson finds there are superior folk narrators, meaning that some narrators grope less for words, paint detailed settings, and are more able to keep to the story line.

    In written text as in oral, the writer is constantly revising his text. An important difference between oral and written texts is the audience. “The writer writes for a private reader, the teller speaks to visible listeners.… The narrator employs voice and body as well as words to dramatize his text.… The audience, too, conditions the performance, and so do external factors of time and place” (29).

    Duff, Martha. 1973. “Contrastive features of written and oral texts in Amuesha.” Notes on Translation 50:2--13.

    Lists features of oral texts that do not occur in written texts. In written texts, these features are compensated for by features that are characteristic of written style. That is, oral texts are distinguished by gestures and phonological features such as intonation, change in speech tempo, and change in voice quality. Organization, explicitness, and certain altered grammatical constructions occur in written texts to compensate for features that are characteristic of oral style. This article includes the oral and written texts of the same story. The author suggests ways of eliciting an oral text that will have some of the characteristics of written style.

    Farnsworth, Robin. 1976. “Developing a 'plain language' style.” READ 11:71--73.

    Tells how Farnsworth aims reading materials at a level that teenagers and young people can understand--young and old understand this plain language. Based on this goal, Farnsworth wrote materials with “more built-in redundancy, repetition,… amplification and paraphrase” (71). He also tried to incorporate some of the richness of oral style such as “factors of intonation, pause, loudness, eye contact, gestures, context, and exploitation of motives and hidden meanings” (73). Farnsworth does not say how he managed including these features of oral style in his writing or teaching, but he does say that the language helper should be encouraged to do it.

    Hooley, Bruce. 1976. “Development of editors for unwritten languages.” READ 11:80--84.

    Hooley found that when he transcribed an oral text and printed it without making changes, one of his language helpers was ashamed to read the story as it was told. So the language helper assisted Farnsworth in editing it. “The kind of thing he wanted to change included not only false starts, repetitions, and redundant material, but also some few grammatical constructions. Although his language had not been written before,” the language helper “still had a feel for what was 'right' in written texts” (82).

    Hooley's editor was not aware of the nature of his language when he first began to help Hooley, Gradually, he developed into an editor who knew “how his language operated, how the different parts went together” (83). Hooley does not give specific examples but, in conclusion, states the changes that needed to be made in general.

    Irwin, Barry. 1976. “Written and oral language in southern Chimbu.” READ 11:74--76.

    Discusses the adaptation of oral narrative to written narrative. Oral narrative discourse in southern Chimbu is composed of long sentences, in which there can be from one to six medial verbs followed by a final verb that carries the subject, tense, mood, and other grammatical information. In the oral form, information about the participants and context is left implied because it is already obvious to the audience present.

    The written form of a narrative includes more information about the participants and the context than the oral form by using shorter sentences, as well as by using grammatical structures available to compensate for otherwise awkward insertions. No examples are given of how sentences are shortened or how grammatical structures are used.

    Johnston, Ray. 1976. “Devising a written style in an unwritten language.” READ 11:66--70.

    States what must be compensated for when transcribing oral into written language. In written language, there is a loss of intonation patterns and face and hand gestures. There must be structural compensation in writing for these features of oral language. It also is necessary to edit out certain redundancies that are present in the oral text. It may be necessary to insert grammatical cues in the written text (for comprehension and appreciation) that do not exist in the oral text. Johnston emphasizes the participation of trained national editors for true acceptability of the written text. He discusses what editing is and what it is not, and makes suggestions for training vernacular editors. This article is helpful because it not only gives universal distinctions between oral and written style, but gives practical suggestions on how to train national editors to develop their own written style.

    Johnston, Ray. 1979. “Development of a literary mode In the languages of nonliterary communities.” New Guinea and neighboring areas: A sociolinguistic laboratory. The Hague: Mouton.

    Revision of Johnston 1977. (See main bibliography.)

    Ruddell, Robert E. 1965. “The effect of the similarity of oral and written patterns of language structure on reading comprehension.”Elementary English 42:403--410.

    Gives characteristics of structure that are variables affecting reading difficulty. They are

    • sentence length
    • number of simple sentences
    • number of prepositions or prepositional phrases
    • phrase length
    • percentage of sentences complete in one line
    • direct and indirect conversational style
    • complex language style, and
    • amplification of written material to account for the readers' background.

    These are commonly accepted characteristics.

    Ruddell finds that, among children, “reading comprehension is a function of the similarity of patterns of language structure in the reading material to oral patterns of language structure used by children” (1965:408). Reading comprehension scores on tests using oral language structure are higher than those from tests using low frequency patterns of oral language structure. Methods and procedures are given for the tests.

    Shillan, D. 1966. “Detecting meaning through speech: A method, and a retain for tune analysis of language.” META 11.3:85--88. (In Language and Language Behavior Abstracts 1.212A.)

    “The author … invokes the primacy of oral over written speech, and the necessity of basing analysis of even written speech on the spoken language. A study of phrasing must be developed,… along with a method of transcription which would apply equally to emotive or conceptual use of language. There would be practical applications both in fundamental research and in machine translation experiments.” (L & LB Abstracts 1.212A.)

    Shuy, Roger. 1981. “Relating research on oral language function to research on written discourse.” Paper presented at the 1981 meeting of the American Education Research Association, Los Angeles. (In revised form as “Analysis of language functions in dialogue journal writing.” Dialogue journal writing as a communicative event II, edited by Jana Staton, Roger Shuy, Joy Kreeft, and Mrs. R. Washington: CAL, 1982.)

    Proposes a method of teaching children to write that follows the stages children go through when they are learning to talk. Children learn oral language at home and are allowed to go through a developmental stage, which is less formal. Written language is learned at school, and is expected to be formal--students are not able to pass through casual and consultative stages. When a student learning to write is not taken through these developmental stages, he will most likely not be aware of the characteristics of oral language that need to be compensated for in written language. He will fall into the trap of writing without giving sufficient background information, redundancy, and so forth. One way for children to begin to develop their writing ability and to build on what they know is by the writing of letters, which is “a casual, interactive, functional kind of writing” (12). One of the commonly recurring functions of language is the complaint. Children complain from the moment of their birth. Shuy studied a group of letters, which consisted mostly of complaints, between a teacher and her students. This study showed the development of the students' writing skills, and their ability to communicate.

    Shuy concludes from a comparison of the letters that “if this analysis is accurate, it appears that the learning of writing is developmental and 1) grows out of oral language ability, 2) moves from casual to consultative, and 3) is domain specific, at least initially” (22).

    Applying this article to newly literate societies, Shuy might say that not only children, but also adults should learn to write in the same developmental stages they went through to learn to speak. Ideally, in a newly literate society, people gifted in writing will emerge who can act as consultants for the new writers. They can show how functional writing is, and encourage the writers to use it in a casual manner at first, thereby developing an interest in writing and ability.

    Staton, Jana. 1981. “'It's just not gonna' come down in one little sentence': A study of discourse in dialogue journal writing.” Paper presented at the 1981 meeting of the American Education Research Association, Los Angeles. (In revised form inDialogue journal writing as a communicative event II, edited by Jana Staton, Roger Shuy, Joy Kreeft, and Mrs. R. Washington: CAL, 1982.)

    Describes project of a sixth grade teacher and her students. The students wrote letters to their teacher and she responded every night. The purpose of this project was to develop the skill of writing, and to give the opportunity to students to view writing as a functional form of communication. The teacher responded along the rules suggested by Grice 1975, and Searle 1969, “to be relevant to the topics and to offer new information, to express sincerely what one believes and feels” (4). See Shuy 1981 (above), for more on the same project.

    Staton, Jana (editor). 1982. “Spoken and written language: Exploring orality and literacy.” (Advances in discourse processes IX.) Norwood: Ablex.

    Builds on past research on oral and literate tradition. The book is divided into three parts:

    • Part 1 is “Examining differences in spoken and written languages.”
    • Part 2, “Traveling along oral and written continua,” “further explore[s] the relationship between spoken and written language and suggest[s] ways that what has been associated with one mode can be seen in discourse of the other” (xvi).
    • Part 3, “Experiencing change in traditions,” discusses what happens to a culture that is changing from an oral to a written tradition, or vice-versa.

    Robin Lakoff, in the final chapter, states that modern technological society depends mostly on the oral medium as a form of communication, and that we must adapt to this change. The next volume in this series will also be devoted to spoken and written language.

    Vansina, Jan. 1965. Oral tradition. Translated by H. M. Wright. Chicago: Aldine.

    Rejects the hypothesis that there is a marked difference between oral and written style of texts:

    Some time ago, Jousse, in an article that aroused a great deal of interest, maintained that the whole of oral literature was subjected to formal laws--mainly syntactical--which made it clearly distinguishable from written literature. Whatever the oral text might be, and from whatever culture it came from, it would be found to obey formal rules of some kind. His thesis, which was mainly based on biblical texts, is by no means convincing. The only marked difference between written and oral literature of fairly regular occurrence is that repetition is more frequently employed in oral literature. But there is no special form belonging to oral literature alone (55).

    Vansina says that there is not much difference between the form of oral and written literature. But he also says that oral literature has both outward and inward formal structure. He states:

    Analysis of the outward formal structure and of the internal structure of a testimony is extremely useful. It throws light on the problem of how the testimony was transmitted, is a guide for purposes of comparison of testimonies, makes it possible to discover the sources of error and falsification, and clarifies the question of interpretation of the testimony (63).

    This book is helpful, because even though it dismisses any marked differences of style between oral and written texts, it describes the internal and external structure of a Burundi oral text thoroughly. There are no written Burundi texts to compare with, in order to affirm or reject Vansina's statement that there is not much difference between oral and written literature.

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