In Chapter 6 we suggested that any individual speaker is likely to be competent in a number of speech events which are distinguishable by a range of formal characteristics.
Still pursuing the question of what might be meant by an individual’s language ability and how such ability might be assessed, we change our perspective on communicative competence to explore the kind of skills needed for controlling the more formal styles in the linguistic repertoire.
Spoken language may be divided broadly (according to function) into the categories of message-oriented speech and listener-oriented speech (Brown, 1982). A rather similar division of language events into planned and unplanned discourse has been proposed (Ochs, 1979), and we shall examine the characteristics of these two discourse types here. Since this categorisation cuts across spoken and written channels, we look briefly at some of the organisational devices used to structure spoken and written language (see also Chapter 3 for a more general examination of the different functions of speech and writing). Next, we examine the discourse structure of a characteristically planned speech event—the interview.
We have already noted that most people, even those who deal professionally with language, have a very hazy idea of what spoken language—especially informal spoken language—is like. There is a strong general tendency to characterise speech in terms of writing with comments such as ‘Doubt has a silent b’; ‘What does it say in the papers?’; ‘He drops letters off the ends of words like huntin’ and shootin’’ (Stubbs, 1980:22). In fact, spoken language is primary and written language a later development in terms both of the individual and the community; but as some kinds of formal speech are organised in a manner similar to written language, the relationship between the two channels is complicated. When the nature of everyday spoken language is discussed, it is frequently characterised as lacking in explicitness, ambiguous, incomplete and repetitive. We turn our attention now to this general characterisation.