Spontaneous Spoken Language: Syntax and Discourse

Spontaneous Spoken Language: Syntax and Discourse

Spontaneous Spoken Language: Syntax and Discourse

Spontaneous Spoken Language: Syntax and Discourse

Synopsis

Jim Miller and Regina Weinert investigate syntactic structure and the organization of discourse in spontaneous spoken language. Using data from English, German, and Russian, they develop a systematic analysis of spoken English and highlight properties that hold across languages. The authors argue that the differences in syntax and the construction of discourse between spontaneous speech and written language bear on various areas of linguistic theory, apart from having obvious implications for syntactic analysis. In particular, they bear on typology, Chomskyan theories of first language acquisition, and the perennial problem of language in education. In current typological practice written and spontaneous spoken texts are often compared; the authors show convincingly that typological research should compare like with like. The consequences for Chomskyan, and indeed all, theories of first language acquisition flow from the central fact that children acquire spoken language but learn written language.

Excerpt

This book has taken longer to write than we expected. It began as an account of the syntactic structures and discourse devices to be found in spontaneous spoken language. It gradually developed into a comparison of syntax and discourse in spontaneous spoken English, Russian, and German. One motive was to make linguists in English-speaking countries aware of the work that has been carried out elsewhere; another motive was to gather cross-language evidence to support the view that we were dealing with regular structures and not with performance errors. The book also developed into an attempt to demonstrate that the growing body of analyses of spontaneous spoken language was relevant to a number of areas in theoretical linguistics: received views of constructions in particular languages, to theories of the on-line processing of spoken language by humans, to theoretical work in typology, and, perhaps most crucially, to theories of first language acquisition.

The book has its roots in two research projects. The first is a project on the syntax of Scottish English carded out by Jim Miller and Keith Brown in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, between 1977 and 1980. That project was supported by the UK Social Sciences Research Council. The second project is part of the work being carried out in the Human Communication Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh. The HCRC is supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The University of Hull Research Support Fund made possible the collection of additional German data. We thank Gillian Razzaki, who collected and transcribed the German Map Task dialogues.

Numerous colleagues and friends have helped us along the route. Phil Carr discussed various issues at length and commented in detail on an earlier version of Chapter 8, as did Henry Thompson and Nigel Vincent. John Anderson, Ellen Bard, and Bob Ladd provided salutary comments on an earlier version of Chapter 2. Jim Hurford and Caroline Heycock gave us thorough critiques of what is now Chapters 7 and 8. Gill Brown read an earlier paper which was a summary of Chapters 3 and 8 and furnished data and comments from her own work on spoken English. Ronnie Cann was always willing to answer questions and discuss points in the middle of Head-of-Department business. Lesley Milroy read the entire manuscript and her critique enabled us to considerably improve the text. Julie Read of the Department of Linguistics, Latrobe University, Melbourne discussed . . .

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