Topic 5 – Oral communication. Elements and rules of speech. Routines and formulae. Strategies of oral communication.

Topic 5 – Oral communication. Elements and rules of speech. Routines and formulae. Strategies of oral communication.



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. On the nature of communication: origins and general features.

2.2. Language and communication.

2.3. Language, communication and social behavior.

2.4. Oral communication and language learning: from an oral tradition to a communicative approach.

2.4.1. Earlier times: religious sources and oral tradition. Up to XVIth century.

2.4.2. First approaches to the oral component in language teaching. XVIIth and XVIIIth


2.4.3. Approaches to the oral component in the XIXth century.

2.4.4. Current trends in XXth century: a communicative approach.

2.5. An assessment model of communicative competence: a basis for oral discourse analysis.

2.6. Theoretical approaches to oral discourse analysis.

2.6.1. A Speech Act Theory.

2.6.2. Grice’s cooperative principle and conversational maxims.

2.6.3. Conversational Analysis and Turn-Taking.

2.6.4. Conversational Analysis and Adjacency Pairs.


3.1. Elements governing oral discourse.

3.1.1. Linguistic elements.

3.1.2. Non-linguistic elements.

3.2. Rules governing oral discourse.

3.2.1. Rules of usage.

3.2.2. Rules of use.

3.2.3. Conversational studies.




6.1. New directions from an educational approach.

6.2. Implications into language teaching.




1.1. Aims of the unit.

In this study, we shall approach the notion of oral communication and its general features in relation to the field of language teaching. This survey will be developed into three main sections. The first part is an attempt to introduce the reader to the historical development of the notion of oral communication from its anthropological origins to a vast literature on a theory of language learning , providing the reader with the most relevant present-day approaches in language learning research on this issue. The aim of this analysis is to examine briefly the components of communicative competence and to explore the nature and the different functions of spoken language, with particular reference to components governing oral discourse. We shall examine the notion of communication from a diachronic perspective, analysing its development from its origins to the prominent role it plays nowadays in language and language learning theories.

In the second part, a revision of the literature shall lead us, first, towards the treatment of oral discourse within the framework of a communicative approach, and secondly, towards a revision of the main oral components in different subsections. Among those components to be considered in the third section of our study, we include elements and rules governing oral discourse; everyday routines and formulaic speech, and specific strategies in oral communication.

The third section deals with general patterns of discourse regarding elements and rules. Hence, our study starts first with an analysis of the linguistic and non- linguistic elements taking part in oral discourse. In next sections, it then turns to routines and formulaic language, regarding rules of usage and rules of use within the prominent role of conversational studies. To finish with, and in conjunction to our goal, discourse strategies will be examined.

Furthermore in the sixth section, we shall consider new directions in language learning research, and current implications on language teaching, regarding the treatment of speaking and listening skills as part of the oral component. Finally, a conclusion will provide again a brief historical overview of the treatment given to the oral component by a language le arning theory. Bibliography will be fully listed at the end of this survey for readers to check further references.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

Numerous sources have contributed to provide an overall basis for the development of the unit. A valuable introduction to the anthropological origins of language is given by Juan Goytisolo, Chairman of the International Jury Speech (UNESCO), and David Crystal, Linguistics (1985). For a historical overview of the development of the notion of oral communication regarding language teaching , see Halliday, Explorations in the Functions of Language (1973); Tricia Hedge, Teaching and learning in the Language Classroom (2000); Brown and Yule, Teaching the Spoken Language (1983); and Canale and Swain, Theoretical bases of commu nicative approaches to second language teaching and testing (1980). Among the many general works that incorporate the studies on communicative competence, see Hymes, On Communicative Competence (1972); Brown and Yule, Discourse Analysis (1983); and Canale, From Communicative Competence to Communicative Language Pedagogy (1983). The most complete record of current publications on discourse analysis and conversational studies is published by van Dijk, Text and Context: Explorations in the Semantics and Pragma tics of Discourse (1977); Goffman, Forms of Talk (1981); Krauss, Language, cognition and communication (1993); Sperber and Wilson, Relevance: Communication and cognition (1986); Austin , How to do things with words (1962); Searle , Speech Acts: An essay in the philosophy of language (1969); and Searle, Indirect speech acts (1985). For further references to future directions and implications on language teaching, see B.O.E. (2002), B.O.E. (2002); Council of Europe Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessme nt. A Common European Framework of reference. (1998); and Tricia Hedge, Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (2000).


We shall provide in this section a linguistic backgroun d for the notion of oral communication, concerning human communication systems and its main features, in order to establish a link between the notion of communication and the concept of language concerning human social behavior. All these terms are interrelated as they serve as a basis for communicative event processes and their description.

Once the link between language, communication and social behavior is established, we will give a broad account of how the oral component has been approached through history, from an oral tradition to a communicative approach, since language is handed down from one generation to another by a process of teaching and learning. This historical and educational approach will progressively lead us to the main current theories and theorists on the issue of oral discourse and communicative event processes.

Upon this basis, we will move on towards a description of a linguistic theory on oral discourse in terms of a speech act theory and conversational analysis, where we will approach this concepts within the framework of discourse analysis and the most relevant figures in this field.

As a result, the third section will examine mainly elements, rules, routines and strategies in a speaking act, in order to understand the notion of oral communication and the nature of its social behavior implications.

2.1. On the nature of communication: origins and general features.

Research in cultural anthropology has shown quite clearly that the origins of communication are to be found in the very early stages of life when there was a need for animals and humans to communicate so as to carry out basic activities of everyday life, such as hunting, eating, or breeding among others. However, even the most primitive cultures had a constant need to express their feelings and ideas by other means than gutural sounds and body movements as animals did. Human beings constant preoccupation was how to turn thoughts into words.

It is worth, at this point, establishing a distinction between human and animal systems of communication whose features differ in the way they produce and express their intentions. So far, the most important feature of human language is the auditory-vocal channel which, in ancient times, allowed human beings to produce messages and, therefore to help language develop. Among other main features, we may mention the possibility of exchanging messages among individuals; a sense of displacement in an oral interaction in space and time which animals do not have; the arbitrariness of signs where words and meanings have no a priori connection; and finally, the possibility of a traditional transmission as language is handed down from one generation to another by a process of teaching and learning.

From a theory of language, we shall define the notion of communication in terms of its main features regarding the oral component, thus types and elements. First, in relation to types of communication, we distinguish mainly two, thus verbal and non-verbal codes. Firstly, verbal communication is related to those acts in which the code is the language , both oral and written.

Thus, giving a speech and writing a letter are both instances of verbal communication. Secondly, when dealing with non-verbal devices, we refer to communicative uses involving visual and tactile modes, such as kinesics, body movements, and also paralinguistic devices drawn from sounds (whistling), sight (morse) or touch (Braille). According to Goytisolo (2001), the oral tradition in public performances is involves the participation of the five senses as the public sees, listens, smells, tastes, and touches.

Thirdly, regarding elements in the communication process, we will follow the Russian linguist Roman Jakobson and his productive model on language theory which explains how all acts of communication, be they written or oral, are based on six constituent elements (1960).It is worth noting at this point that, within the aim of this unit, we shall relate Jakobson’s elements to their respective components in oral communication.

Briefly, according to Jakobson, the Addresser/encoder (speaker) sends a Message (oral utterance) to the Addressee/ decoder (listener). Messages are embedded in or refer to Contexts which the Addressee must be able to grasp and perhaps even verbalize. The Addresser and Addressee need to partially share a Code (language as verbal, and symbols as non-verbal devices) between them, that is, the rules governing the relationship between the Message and its context; and the Message is sent through a physical channel (air) and Contact, a psychological connection, is established between Addresser and Addressee so that they may enter and stay in communication (1960).

2.2. Language and communication.

Linguists often say that language and communication are not the same thing, and certain ly this is true. People can and do communicate without language, and species that do not use language, which include all except Homo Sapiens, seem able to communicate adequately for their purposes, with and without language. If language were nothing more than a tool for communication, it would warrant social psychologists’ interest (Krauss & Chiu 1993). However, there are common features to the notions of language and communication, such as purposes and elements (participants).

Main contributions on describ ing communication purposes are given by the anthropologist Malinowsky who claimed in the early twentieth century for two main purposes, thus a pragmatic purpose related to the practical use of language both oral and written, and also, a ritual purpose associated to ceremonies and ancient chants. More recently, another definition comes from Halliday (1973) who defines language as an instrument of social interaction with a clear communicative purpose . Moreover, Brown and Yule (1973) established a useful distinction between two basic language functions, thus transactional and interactional, whose communication purpose was mainly to maintain social relationships through speech.

Regarding participants, according to Johnson (1981), oral communication is depicted as an activity involving two (or more) people in which the participants are both hearers and speakers having to react to what they hear and making their contributions at high speed. In the interaction process, he adds, each participant has to be able to interpret what is said to him and reply to what has just been said reflecting their own intentions. We are talking, then, about an interactive situation directly related and dependent on the communicative function and the speech situation involving speaker and hearer. As we shall see in next section, the way participants interact in a communicative event has much to do with social psychology as social life constitute an intrinsic part of the way language is used.

2.3. Language and social behavior.

As we may perceive, language pervades social life. It is the principal vehicle for the transmission of cultural knowledge, and the primary means by which we gain access to the contents of others’ minds. Language is involved in most of the phenomena that lie at the core of social psychology, thus attitude change, social perception, personal identity, social interaction, and stereotyping among others. Moreover, for social psychologists, language typically is the medium by which subjects’ responses are elicited, and in which they respond. For instance, in social psychological research, more often than not, language plays a role in both stimulus and response (Krauss & Chiu 1993).

Just as language use is present in social life, the elements of social life constitute an intrinsic part or the way language is used. Linguists regard language as an abstract structure that exists independently of specific instances of usage. However, any communicative exchange is situated in a social context that constrains the linguistic forms participants use. How these participants define the social situation, their perceptions of what others know, think and believe, and the claims they make about their own and others’ identities will affect the form and content or their acts of speaking.

The ways la nguages are used are constrained by the way they are constructed, particularly the linguistic rules that govern the permissible usage forms, for instance, grammatical rules. Language has been defined as an abstract set of principles that specify the relations between a sequence of sounds and a sequence of meanings. Thus, the sound of a door slamming may express the slammer’s exasperation eloquently, but language conveys meaning in an importantly different way. For present purposes, we will think about language as a set of complex, organized systems that operate in concert when any particular act of speaking is under revision with respect to levels of analysis that have significance for social behavior (Miller 1975).

In the first level of analysis, we find that languages are made up of four systems, the phonological, the morphological, the syntactic , and the semantic which, taken together, constitute its grammar. Firstly, the phonological system is concerned with the analysis of an acoustic signal into a sequence of speech sounds, thus consonants, vowels, and syllables, that are distinctive for a particular language or dialect. Out of the variety of sounds the human vocal tract is capable of producing, each language selects a small subset that constitute that language’s phonemes, or elementary units of sound. Secondly, the morphological system is concerned with the way words and meaningful subwords are constructed out of these phonological elements. Thirdly, the syntactic system is concerned with the organization of these morphological elements into higher level units, such as phrases and sentences. Finally, the semantic system is concerned with the meanings of these higher level units.

At another level of analysis, acts of speaking can be regarded as actions intended to accomplish a specific purposes by verbal means. Looked at this way, according to Austin (1962) and Searle (1969, 1985), utterances can be thought of as speech acts that can be identified in terms of their intended purposes, thus assertions, questions, requests among others. However, we must bear in mind that the grammatical form does not determine the speech act an utterance represents. For instance, two similar utterances like “How can I get to Central Park?” and “Could you tell me how I can get to Central Park?” are both in the interrogative mode, but they constitute quite different speech acts. Considerations on this sort require a distinction be drawn between the semantic or literal meaning of an utterance and its intended meaning. Acts of speaking are imbedded in a discourse made up of a coherently related sequence of such acts. Thus, conversation and narratives are two types of discourse, and each has a formal structure that constrains participants’ acts of speaking.

The sections that follow review how oral communication has been approached from a language learning theory in four periods in history, thus earlier times up to the sixteenth century; first

approaches during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; approaches in the nineteenth century, and finally, current approaches in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We believe that this literature review will help the reader understand the role of religion, oral tradition, and language teaching approaches in the development of oral commun ication studies and research. We also believe that a clearer understanding of the social nature of the situations in which language is used will deepen our general understanding of the principles and mechanisms that underlie language use, and in particular, oral discourse. Later sections will draw upon linguistic concepts introduced above.

2.4. Oral communication and language learning: from an oral tradition to a communicative approach.

2.4.1. Earlier times: religious sources and oral tradition. Up to XVIth century.

As Juan Goytisolo (2001) stated in his speech on defending threaten cultures at the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible heritage of Humanity, we must first examine our historical knowledge of both oral and written cultures so as to provide ourselves a cultural identity in society. The fact that the existence of homo sapiens and appearance of language can be traced back some forty or fifty thousand years whereas the first evidence of writing is from 3500 B.C., reveals the antiquity or the oral patrimony of humanity. Therefore, the period which encompasses primary orality is consequently ten times the length of the era of writing. Since ancient times, tribal chiefs, chamans, bards and story-tellers have been in charge of preserving and memorising for the future the narratives of the past. Goytisolo also says that nowadays, it is difficult to find continuers of an oral tradition entirely unpolluted by writing and its technological and visual extensions in our present society, governed by mass communication. He mentions a growing disequilibrium when observing that only seventy-eight of the three thousand languages now spoken in the world possess a living literature based on one of the hundred and six alphabets created throughout history. In other words, hundreds and hundreds of languages used today on our planet have no written form and their communication is exclusively oral.

Goytisolo further points out that acquiring knowledge of this primary orality is an anthropological task in the field of literature and oral narrative. If all cultures are based on language, that is, a combination of spoken and heard sounds, this oral communication which involves numerous kinetic and corporal elements, has undergone over the centuries a series of changes as the existence of writing and awareness of the latter have gradually changed the mentality of bards, chamans, tribal chiefs and narrators.The usual forms of popular and traditional expression were oral literature, music, dance , games, mythology, rituals, and even architecture. Besides, cultural places were also important to provide a framework for cultural activities to take place in a concentrated manner. Thus, sites for story-telling, rituals,marketplaces, and festivals. The time for a regularly occurring event was also a part of oral tradition, for instance, daily rituals, annual processions, and regular performances.

Anthropological studies account for non-verbal codes used by humans as improved systems of communication before language was developed. Thus, an art that sprang from the tangible, were probably grimaces, gestures, pauses, and laughter as bodily paralinguistic movements that belong to a situation which is not exclusively oral but it is part of an extraordinary heritage linked to public performances.

To perform in public is to be linked to a considerable body of religious tradition and myth in many cultures concerning the nature and origins of language (Crystal 1985). That transitional period between sounds and speech was to be characterized by a connection between divinity and language. Therefore, words were regarded as having a separate existence in reality, and as to have embodied the nature of things to be used deliberately to control and influence events. According to the anthropologist Malinowsky, it was believed that if words controlled things, then their power could be intensified by saying them over and over again. Therefore, magic formulae, incantations, rhythmical listing of proper names, and many other rites exemplify the intensifying power of words.

Many primitive tribes thought that evils, or people, could be controlled by language in these traditions. There are many examples in folklore of forbidden names which, when discovered, were thought to break the evil spell or their ow ners. Thus, names such as Tom-tit-tot, Vargaluska, or the famous Rumpelstiltzkin. In a tribal community, to utter the name of a dead person would bring the evil of death upon themselves. In Homeric Verses , we find a conclusive demonstration that Homer’s he xameters were a result of the requirements of public recital in the agora, a specific situation that imposed recourse to easily remembered epithets, sayings, phrases and formulas.

Also, in the Roman levies , too, the authorities took good care to enrol first men with auspicious names, such as Felix or Victor, and the like so as not to bother people’s death spirit. Examples of this kind abound in the history of cultures and they simply indicate how deeply ideas about language can come to be ingrained within the individual psyche, and testify to the existence of a language awareness which exercised considerable influence in the development of language as a system of signs. Yet, it was the language of worship which first put an end to the oral traditions in an attempt to preserve in texts their early stages of orality, secondly, the invention of typography in 1440, and nowadays, the modern revolution in computing. Also, in recent decades there has been a fertile investigation of the origin and evolution of Vedic hymns, Biblical narrative and the European literatures of the early Middle Ages . Within Spanish literature prior to the invention of the printing press, in the fourteenth century, we may mention the bardic literature of the various popular Songbooks and the masterpiece that is the Archpriest of Hita’s Book of Good Love.

2.4.2. First approaches to the oral component in language teaching. XVIIth and XVIIIth century.

Historically speaking, it is not too difficult to find evidence of the main themes and issues which indicate the respectable ancestry and variegated history of language study. Language has always been so closely tied in with such fields as philosophy, logic, rhetoric, literary criticism, language teaching, and religion that it is rare to find great thinkers of any period who do not at some point in their work comment on the role of language in relation to their ideas (Crystal 1985).

We have found mainly two references to the oral component as a link to language teaching in the seventeenth century with a strong religious component. For instance, the theologian Jan Amos Komensky (1592-1670), Comenius, already stated the reasons for learning a foreign language claiming that through language, we come to a closer understanding of the world. He states indirectly the role of the oral component to the religious issue when saying that modern languages are degenerate forms of an original tongue that was taken from us at the Tower of Babel.

This religious concern towards language is also present in other contemporary works. Thus, in The Leviathan (1660), the philosopher Thomas Hobbes devoted chapter IV “Of Speech” to oral discourse with a strong religious component. In his account of the nature of mankind, he states that the first author of speech was God himself, that instructed Adam how to name such creatures as He presented to this sight. Moreover, in this extract, he makes a religious reference to the wide variety of languages worldwide and also, he addresses language teaching as one of the main purposes of learning languages when saying that at the tower of Babel, man was forced to disperse themselves and the variety of tongues taught into several parts of the world.

It is worh pointing out that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the status of Latin changed from a living language that learners needed to be able to read, write in, and speak to a dead language which was studied just as an intellectual exercise. During this period, language teaching crystallized in Europe, and the analysis of the grammar and rhetoric of Classical Latin were the current models for language teaching. It was not until the eighteenth century that modern languages began to enter the curriculum of European schools and progressively developed from grammatical to more communicative approaches focusing on oral skills, thus listening and speaking. A progressive account of the development in the treatment of the oral component from the eighteenth century on is the aim of our next section.

2.4.3. Approaches to the oral component in the XIXth century.

As we have mentioned above, a grammar translation method was the dominant foreign language teaching method in Europe from the 1840s to the 1940s. However, even as early as the mid- nineteenth century , there was a greater demand for ability to speak foreign languages, and various reformers began to reconsider the nature of language and of learning. Among them, we may mention an Englishman, T. Pendergast, and two Frenchmen, C. Marcel and F. Gouin. However, their ideas did not become widespread because they were outside of the established educational circles.

One of the most relevant early contributions to a communicative approach concerning the oral component with no religious links emerged from an empirical study carried out by François Gouin in his work L’art d’enseigner et d’étudier les langue ( 1880). In his work, he gave an account of the relevance of the oral component when learning languages. He describes his own efforts to learn German by learning grammar with no success at all. Then, during a visit to France, he observed how his nephew, who six months before did not utter a word in German, could hold on in a conversation with logical sequences just by watching German workers in his village. This convinced him of the inefficiency of his own methods as the child became active by conversing with adults with no grammar lessons. What he had done, according to Gouin, was to continually ask questions, climb all over the place, and watch what the workers were doing. Back at home, the child reflected on his experience, and then recited it to his listeners, ten times over, with variations, attempting to produce a logical sequence of activities. To Gouin, the learner then progresses from experience, to ordering that experience, and then to acting it out. This conception of teaching presents language in concrete, active situations, as communicative approches account for nowadays.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was an increasing emphasis on the oral component as linguists such as Henry Sweet of England, Wilhelm Vietor of Germany, and Paul Passy of France became interested in the problem of the best way to teach languages. They believed that language teaching should be based on scientific knowledge about language , and that it should begin with speaking and expand to other skills. Also, that words and sentences should be presented in context, that grammar should be taught inductively, and that translation should, for the most part, be avoided. These ideas spread, they were known as the Direct Method , the first of the natural methods.

2.4.4. Current trends in XXth century: a communicative approach.

In the field of psychology, in the early to mid -1900s, behaviorism has had a great effect on language teaching studying animal behaviour first, and moving towards human behavior later. One of the most famous of these scientists was Skinner who worked on oral skills in language learning. He theorized that a child repeats words and combinations of words that are praised and thus learns language. Behaviorist the orists believed that languages were made up of a series of habits, and that if learners could develop all these habits, they would speak the language well. From these theories arose the audio- lingual method, which is based on using drills for the formation of good language habits by means of oral skills such as listening and speaking.

During the mid to late twentieth century, great changes took place after World War II, with particular influence on language teaching and learning. Since language diversity greatly increased, there were more opportunities for international travel and business, and international social and cultural exchanges. As a result, renewed attempts were made in the 1950s and 1960s which constituted the starting point for more communicative approaches in language teaching. Several factors influences this further development. First, the use of new technology in language teaching at the level of oral skills, such as tape recorders, radios, TV, and computers. Secondly, research studies on bilingualism and thirdly, the establishment of methodological innovations, such as the already mentioned audio-lingual method.

It is in this context that the linguist Noam Chomsky challenged the behaviorist model of language learning and proposed a theory called Transformational Generative Grammar. Chomsky’s theory claims for an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogeneous speech community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions […] in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance (1965). He also established a distinction between the notions of competence and performance, being competence the implicit or explicit knowledge of the system of the language whereas performance addresses to the actual production and comprehension of language in specific instances of language use. However, Chomsky states that linguistic knowledge is separated from sociocultural features.

Chomsky’s distinction served as basis for work of many other researchers such as the American anthropologist Dell Hymes , who claimed that native speakers know more than just grammatical competence . In his work On communicative competence (1972), he included not only grammatical competence, but also sociolinguistic and contextual competences. Following a tradition on sociolinguistics, Hymes had a broader view of the notion of communicative competence as the underlying knowledge a speaker has of the rules of grammar including phonology, orthography, syntax, lexicon, and semantics, and the rules for their use in socially appropriate circumstances. Therefore, we understand competence as the knowledge of rules of grammar, and performance, the way the rules are used. As we may observe, the oral component is directly addressed in this approach.

In the following sections, the communicative approach will provide the framework for a model assessment with a communicative competence theory where the four competences at work in a communicative event will be examined in order to state the different sections which constitute the development of this study. Thus, elements and rules, everyday routines and formulaic speech, and strategies governing the oral discourse.

2.5. An assessment model of communicative competence: a basis for oral discourse analysis.

In the 1970s and 1980s, an approach to emerged both in Europe and North America focusing on the work of anthropologists, sociologists, and sociolinguists on foreign and second language teaching. In the 1980s, the rapid application of a teaching tasks system broken down into units gave prominence to more interactive views of language teaching, which became to be known as the Communicative Approach or simply Communicative Language Teaching . Besides, language was considered as social behaviour, seeing the primary goal of language teaching as the development of the learner’s communicative competence.

Learners were considered to need both rules of use to produce language appropriate to particular situations, and strategies for effective communication. Scholars such as Hymes (1972), Halliday (1970), Canale and Swain (1980) or Chomsky (1957) levelled their contributions and criticisms at structural linguistic theories claiming for more communicative approaches on language teaching, where interactive processes of communication received priority. Upon this basis, the introduction of cultural studies is an important aspect of communicative competence as communicating with people from other cultures involves not only linguistic appropriateness but also pragmatic appropriateness in the use of verbal and non-verbal behavior. This issue is the aim of an ethnography of communication theory in order to approach a foreign language from a pragmatic and linguistic point of view.

One of the principles of Communicative Language Teaching is the concept of communicative competence. The term, introduced by Hymes (1972), implies the knowledge of language rules, and of how these rules are used to understand and produce appropriate language in a variety of sociocultural settings . We must point out that this concept demonstrated a shift of emphasis among linguists away from a narrow focus on language as a formal system. Hymes was concerned with the social and cultural knowledge which a speaker needs in order to understand and use linguistic forms. His view, therefore, encompasses not only knowledge but also the ability to put that knowledge into use in communication.

The verbal part of communicative competence comprises all the so-called four skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing. It is important to highlight this, since there is a very common misunderstanding that communicative competence only refers to the ability to speak. It is both productive and receptive. Hymes stated that native speakers know more than just grammatical competence. So far, he expands the Chomskyan notions of grammaticality (competence) and acceptability (performance) into four parameters subsumed under the heading of communicative competence. The four competences at work regarding the elements and rules of oral discourse are as follows: linguistic competence, pragmatic competence, discourse competence, strategic competence, and fluency (Hedge 2000).

First, the linguistic competence , as it deals with linguistic and non- linguistic devices in the oral interaction.This heading subsumes, according to Canale and Swain (1980) all knowledge of lexical items and of rules of morphology, syntax, sentence -grammar semantics and phonology . It therefore refers to having control over the purely linguistic aspe cts of the language code itself, regarding verbal and non- verbal codes. This corresponds to Hymes’ grammatical aspect and includes knowledge of the lexicon, syntax, phonology and semantics. Besides, it involves rules of formulations and constraints for students to match sound and meaning; to form words and sentences using vocabulary; to use language through spelling and pronunciation; and to handle linguistic semantics.

Secondly, the pragmatic competence as it also deals with the knowledge the learner has to acquire the sociocultural rules of language. Regarding the rules of discourse, it is defined in terms of the mastery of how to combine grammatical forms and meanings (Canale and Swain 1980). When we deal with appropriateness of form, we refer to the extent to which a given meaning is represented in both verbal and non -verbal form that is proper in a given sociolinguistic context. Moreover, according to Hedge (2000), in order to achieve successful communication, the spoken or written message must also be appropriate to the social context in which it is produced. This is the role of sociolinguistic competence , which is concerned with the social knowledge necessary to select the language forms that are appropriate in different settings, and with people in different roles and with different status. This competence enables a speaker to be contextually appropriate or in Hymes’s words (1972), to know when to speak, when not, what to talk about with whom, when, where and in what manner.

Thirdly, the rules of use and usage, proposed by Widdowson (1978) have to do with the discourse competence. Here, usage refers to the manifestation of the knowledge of a language system and use means the realization of the language system as meaningful communicative behavior. Discourse analysis is primarily concerned with the ways in which individual sentences connect together to form a communicative message.

This competence addresses directly to the mastery of how to combine grammatical forms and meanings to achieve a unified spok en or written text in different genres (Canale and Swain 1980) by means of cohesion in form and coherence in meaning. Cohesion deals with how utterances are linked structurally and facilitates interpretation of a text by means of cohesion devices, such as pronouns, synonyms, ellipsis, conjunctions and parallel structures to relate individual utterances and to indicate how a group of utterances is to be understood as a text. Yet, coherence refers to the relatioships among the different meanings in a text, where these meanings may be literal meanings, communicative functions, and attitudes.

Finally, we come to the fourth competence at work, the strategic competence. (Canale 1983) where verbal and nonverbal communication strategies may be called into action to compensate for breakdowns in communication due to performance variables or due to insufficient competence. This may be achieved by paraphrase, circumlocution, repetition, hesistation, avoidance, guessing as well as shifts in register and style. Hedge (2000) points out that strategic competence consists of using communication strategies which are used by learners to compensate for their limited linguistic competence in expressing what they want to say.

The term fluency relates to language production, and it is normally associated with speech. It is the ability to link units of speech together with facility and without inappropriate slowness, or undue hesitation.

2.6. Theoretical approaches to oral discourse. The role of pragmatics on discourse analysis and conversational studies.

Within the framework of communicative competences, in this section we shall describe the research that is relevant to this area, in order to provide a theoretical possible to distinguish several different traditions as regards methodology and theoretical orientations. Among the most relevant figures in this field, we may mention Austin, Searle, Grice and Goffman whose contributions are still at work.. First of all, there is a tradition of statistical studies of linguistic material, but often without any clear distinction between spoken and written material (Johansson & Stenström 1991), and therefore not reviewed in our study.

Secondly, another approach is the discourse analytic tradition based on speech act theory.

According to Brown (1994), discourse analysis, a branch of linguistics and, in fact, an extension of the linguistics model, deals with language in context beyond the level of the sentence, enabling us to follow the implications of a given utterance. It contributes towards an understanding of cognitive processes. These analysis are conceived both as a grammar of discourse as it is socially oriented, and also, as a linguist application concerning cohesion and coherence. The Prague School linguists had introduced discourse into the agenda of mainstream linguistics through the functional linguistic study.

Also, many studies of spoken language have been carried out from a mainly sociological or sociolinguistic perspective. This is true, for instance, of the influential tradition called Conversation Analysis which is the sociological counterpart of discourse analysis whose practisers give an autonomous status. It is a branch of ethnomethodology where talk , which is rule governed, becomes the object of an investigation of social structures and relations, and the structure of a conversation is identified, focusing on the devices for managing the interaction and constructing joint meaning. Conversational mechanisms are, thus turn-taking and the notion of adjacency pairs, examined in next subsections. Besides, conversational analysis is used as a means of understanding second language acquisition of communication strategies (Faerch and Kasper 1983), including the negotiation of meaning and the compensatory strategies non-native speakers use when they have an incomplete knowledge of a foreign language.

In the study of interaction phenomena, the following phenomena have been described recently as follows: turn taking and different types of sequences such as sequences of topics, speech acts, and subactivities (Brown & Yule 1983). In the area of feedback, the most extensive studies have been studied before under different headings, such as interjections, back-channelling, return words (Sigurd 1984), reactives, and response words. There is pote ntially a close interrelation between discourse and conversational analysis and pragmatics (Searle 1969), taking into account social and cognitive structures.

It is worth noting, then, that communicative intentions cannot be maped onto word strings. Rathe r, speakers must select from a variety of potential alternative formulations the ones that most successfully express the meanings they want to convey. As a result, for the addressee, decoding the literal meaning of a message is only a first step in the process of comprehension; an addtional step of inference is required to derive the communicative intention that underlies it. Approaches that focus on the role of communicative intentions in communication reflect what will be called the Intentionalist paradig m (Krauss & Chiu 1993). Fundamental to the intentionalis paradigm are two sets of ideas that are basic to pragmatic theory: speech act theory and the cooperative principle. Both concepts are to be reviewed respectively within the framework of discourse analysis and conversational analysis.

2.6.1. A Speech Act Theory.

Speech act theory was inspired by the work of the British philosopher J.L. Austin whose postumously published lectures How to do things with words (1962, 1975) influenced a number of students of la nguage including the philosopher John Searle (1969, 1985), who established speech act theory as a major framework for the study of human communication. In contrast to the assumptions of structuralism where langue is seen as a system, over parole concerning the speech act, speech act theory holds that the investigation of structure always presupposes something about meanings, language use, and extralinguistic functions.

In How to Do Things with Words, Austin (1962) starts by enunciating a distinction betwee n constative and performative utterances. According to him, an utterance, which originally is a spoken word or string of spoken words with no particular forethought or intention to communicate a meaning, becomes constative if it describes some state of affairs whose correspondence with the facts is either true or false. Performatives, on the other hand, do not describe or report or constate anything as true or false. It is worth mentioning here that the attitude of the person performing the linguistic act, his thoughts, feelings, or intentions is of great relevance at this distinction.

Furthermore, Austin (1962) and Searle (1969)conceptualized speech acts as comprising three components. First, the locutionary act, the act of saying something as the actual form of an utterance. Second, the illocutionary act, as the communicative force of the utterance. Third, the perlocutionary act, depicted as the communicative effect of the utterance upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience, of the speaker, or of other persons. In other words, a locutionary act has meaning; it produces an understandable utterance. An illocutionary act has force; it is informed with a certain tone, attitude, feeling, motive, or intention, and a perlocutionary act has consequence; it has an effect upon the addressee.

Searle (1969) summarizes Austin’s speech acts, divided into verdictives, commissives, exercitives, behabitives, and expositives, under five categories. Thus, firstly, assertives to tell people how things are by stating; secondly, directives to try to get people to do things by means of commanding and requesting; thirdly, expressives, to express our feelings and attitudes by thinking, forgiving, or blaming; fourthly, declaratives to bring about changes through our utterances by means of bringing about correspondence between the propositional content and reality, through baptizing, naming, appointing or sacking; and finally, commissives to commit ourselves to some future actions by promising and offering. It is also possible to do more than one of these things at the same time. Although these speech acts are abstract notions and do not necessarily or uniquely correspond to particular English verbs, Searle (like Austin before him) lists a number of English verbs as examples of the different types of speech acts .

In examining what people say to one another, we can use Searle’s classification in trying to understand what people are doing with language. In a speech act we may find greetings, questions or requests for information, assertions or responses and assessments. Once we start to look at actual interaction, for instance, a conversation, we realize that we need a unit of analysis wider than Speech Act. What people say to one another partly acquires its meaning from the sequence within which it occurs, for example, an answer to a question. For this reason, conversation analysts introduced the notions of Cooperative Principle, Turn – Taking and Adjacency Pair, by Grice and Goffman respectively.

2.6.2. Grice’s cooperative principle and conversational maxims.

The English language philosopher H. Paul Grice (1969) was not the first to recognize that non- literal meanings posed a problem for theories of language use, but he was among the first to explain the processes that allow speakers to convey, and addressees to identify, communicative intentions that are expressed non-literally, as for him, meaning is seen as a kind of intending , and the hearer’s or reader’s recognition that the speaker or writer means something by x is part of the meaning of x.

His insight that the communicative use of language rests on a set of implicit understandings among language users has had an important influence in both linguistics and social psychology. In a set of influential papers, Grice (1957, 1969, 1975) argued that conversation is an intrinsically cooperative endeavor. To communicate participants will implicitly adherre to a set of conventions, collectively termed the Cooperative Principle , by making their messages conform to four general rule s or maxims where speakers shape their utterances to be understood by hearers. Thus, the maxims are quality, quantity, relation and manner.

First, quality envisages messages to be truthful; quantity , by means of which messages should be as informative as is required, but not more informative; relation, for messages to be relevant; and manner, where messages should be clear, brief and orderly.

2.6.3. Conversational Analysis and Turn-Taking.

A main feature of conversations is that they tend to follow the convention of turn taking . Simply, this is where one person waits for the other to finish his/her utterance before contributing their own. This is as much a utilitarian convention as mere manners – a conversation, given the aforementioned definition, would logically cease to take place if the agents involved insisted on speaking even when it was plain that the other was trying to contribute.

It is, additionally, comforting to know that the other person respects your opinions enough not to continually interrupt you. The best example of this occurs in the Houses of Parliament – a supposed debating chamber which is often anything but, due to the failure of the members to observe the turn-taking code. Note, however, that a person rarely explicitly states that they have finished their utterance and are now awaiting yours. Intriguing exceptions to this are in two-way radios, where many social and psychological cues are lacking, and thus it is more difficult for speakers to follow turn-taking.

The potential for one to reply can be missed, deliberately or not, so that the first person may contribute once more. Failure to realise this can result in an awkward pause or a cacophany of competing voices in a large crowd.

2.6.4. Conversational Analysis and Adjacency Pairs.

Another fundamental feature of conversation is the idea of adjacency pairs . Posited by Goffman (1976), an example would be found in a question-answer session. Both conversing parties are aware that a response is required to a question; moreover, a partic ular response to a given question. I might invite a friend into my house and ask: “Would you like a biscuit?” To which the adjacency pair response is expected to be either “Yes” or “No”. My friend may be allergic to chocolate, however, and place an insertion sequence into the response: “Do you have any ginger snaps?” the reply to which would cause him to modify his answer accordingly.

In the above consideration of turn-taking, such observations may be used in our social interactions when the second agent did not take their opportunity to respond to the first, and the implication is that they have nothing to say about the topic. But perhaps the transition relevance place was one in which the second agent was in fact selected, but failed to respond, or responded in an inappropriate manner.

This infinity of responses is what makes language so entertaining, and in the above cases the speakers might make inferences about the reasons for incorrect responses . These may be not to have responded because he did not understand the question, or not to agree with the interlocutor. As Goffman notes, a silence often reveals an unwillingness to answer. Dispreferred responses tend to be preceded by a pause, and feature a declination component which is the non-acceptance of the first part of the adjacency pair. Not responding at all to the above question is one such – and has been dubbed an attributable silence, thus, a silence which in fact communicates certain information about the non-speaker.

It has been noted that various physical cues, such as gestures or expressions, are in play during orthodox face-to-face exchanges, and these are obviously lacking in a telephone conversation. Since humans are so adept at speaking over the phone, it is easy to conclude that the cues are not as important as once imagined – we manage without them so well, after all. However, this argument does not take into account the cues one picks up from the voice – it is quite easy to detect if somebody is confident, or nervous on the phone, from the words they use, the pauses, the tone and pronunciations of the words. In short, we may be able to substitute these auditory cues for more conventional physical cues , and then empathise with the other person. This way, we could be visualising, or at least imagining with a fair degree of accuracy, how the person is feeling, and gaining cues that way.

Once we have introduced a theoretical framework on the various theories and research on oral discourse, we shall examine the components of spoken discourse unde r different headings in order to provide a relevant account of the communicative event. In our next section, the first heading appears under the name of elements and rules governing oral discourse, where the notions of a speech theory, cooperative principles and their implicatures will be under revision.


Given that it is possible to separate a text from the communicative event in which it occurs, we may go on to explore the relatioship between text features and components of events. These can be described in terms of rules governing oral discourse, norms or, following Grice’s terminology, maxims.

So far, this section will be divided into two sections, first, linguistic elements at work and non- linguistic ele ments.Secondly, rules of oral discourse focussing on rules of use, rules of usage and conversational studies.

3.1. Elements governing oral discourse.

Elements governing oral discourse are approached in terms of a communicative event, which is described as a sociocultural unit where the components of which serve to define salient elements of context within which the text becomes significant. Also, communicative behavior is not limited to the creation of oral texts, and correspondences are likely to be found concerning paralinguistics, kinesics and proxemics in oral interaction.

3.1.1. Linguistic elements.

Regarding the linguistic level in oral discourse, the phonological system is involved and is concerned with the analysis of acoustic signals into a sequence of speech sounds, thus consonants, vowels, and syllables. At this level, we find certain prosodic elements which provide us with information about the oral interaction. Thus, stress, rhythm and intonation. Also, routines are to be dealt with, but in a further section (Halliday 1985).

Regarding stress , it is present in an oral interaction when we give more emphasis to some parts of the utterance than to other segments. It is a signalling to make a syllable stand out with respect to its neighbouring syllables in a word or to the rest of words in a longer utterance. We may establish a distinction between two types of stress markers, thus primary stress and secondary stress within the same word. Primary stress is the main marker within the word and secondary stress is a less important marker.

Foreign language learners must be concerned with the relevant role of primary stress, as a change of stress within a word may change the whole meaning of it. For instance, a word like record may change its meaning from verb to noun if a student does not apply the righ primary stress on it.The concept of emphasis is closely related, then, to stress. Emphasis is essential in an oral exchange of information as it gives the message a non-literal meaning, providing foreign language students with a choice to highlight the information they may consider important at the speaking act.

Another important element which characterizes oral interaction is rhythm, which is determined by the succession of prominent and non-prominent syllables in an utterance. We will observe a quick and monotonous rhythm if prominent and non prominent syllables take place in short equal units of time, though not easy to find in authentic speech. On the contrary, rhythm will be inexistent and chaotic if longer and irregular units of time take place in an utterance or speech act.

Then, we may observe that the term establishes a relationship between accents and pauses, which, used properly, contribute to keeping attention by allowing voice inflection, change of intonation and change of meaning. Pauses may be characterized by being predictable or not with a rhythm group. Thus, they coincide the boundaries of the rhythm groups by fitting in naturally, or break them as it happens in spontaneous speech. Predictable pauses are, then, those required for the speakers to take breath between sentences or to separate grammatical units, and unpredictable pauses are those brought about by false starts or hesitation.

The third prosodic element is intonation which is characterized in general terms by the rising and falling of voice during speech, depending on the type of utterance we may produce. In case of statements, we will use falling intonation whereas in questions we use rising intonation. As we will see, intonation and rhythm play an important role when expressing attitudes and emotions.

As a general rule, speakers use a normal intonation when taking part in an oral interaction, but depending on the meaning the speakers may convey, they will use a different tone within the utterance. The tone is responsible for changes of meaning or for expressing special attitudes in the speaker, such as enthusiasm, sadness, anger, or exasperation. Three types of intonation are involved in a real situation. Thus, falling and rising tones, upper and lower range tones, and wide and narrow range of tones. Respectively, they refer first, to certainty, determination or confidence when we use falling tones in order to be conclusive whereas indecision, doubt and uncertainty is expressed by means of rising tones to be inconclusive. Secondly, excitement and animation on the part of the speaker is expressed by upper range tones whereas an unanimated attitude corresponds to lower ranges. Finally, in order to express emotional attitudes, we use a wide range of tone whereas in order to be unemotive, we rather use a narrow range tone.

3.1.2. Non-linguistic elements.

As they speak, people often gesture, nod their heads, change their postures and facial expressions, and redirect the focus of their gaze. Although these behaviors are not linguistic by a strict definition of that term, their close coordination with the speech they accompany suggests that they are relevant to an account of language use, and also, can occur apart from the context of speech, spontaneous or voluntarily.

Conversational speech is often accompanied by gesture , and the relation of these hand movements to the speech are usually regarded as communicative devices whose function is to amplify or underscore information conveyed in the accompanying speech. According to one of the icons of American linguists, Edward Sapir, people respond to gesture with extreme alertness, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known to none, and understood by all (Sapir 1921). Gestures are then, to be classified in different types, such as emblems or symbolic gestures as essentially hand signs with well established meanings (thumbs -up and V for victory, pointing, denial, and refusing). In contrast, we may find simple and repetit ive rhythmic hand movements coordinated with sentence prosody, called batons, as using head and shoulders. Also, unplanned gestures that accompany spontaneour speech, called gesticulations, representational gestures, or lexical movements, related to semantic content of speech in order to describe things like size, strength or speed.

Concerning facial expression, it deals with an automatic response to an internal state although they can be controlled voluntarily to a considerable extent, and are used in soc ial situations to convey a variety of kinds of information (smiling and happiness). Changes in addressees’ facial expressions allows the addressee to express understanding concern, agreement, or confirmation where expressions such as smiles and head nods as considered as back-channels.

In relation to gaze direction, a variety of kinds of significance has been attributed to both the amount of time participants spend looking at each other, and to the points in the speech stream at which those glances occur, such as staring, watching, peering or looking among others. As proximity, body-orientation or touching, gazing may express the communicators’ social distance, by means of looking up to or looking down to.

The primary medium by which language is expressed, speech, also contains a good deal of information that can be considered nonverbal. A speaker’s voice transmits individuating information concerning his or her age, gender, region of origin, social class, and so on. In addition to this relatively static information, transient changes in vocal quality provide information about changes in the speaker’s internal state, such as hesitation or interjections. Changes in a speaker’s affective states usually are accompanied by changes in the acoustic properties of his or her voice (Krauss and Chiu 1993), and listeners seem capable of interpreting these changes, even when the quality of the speech is badly degraded, or the language is one the listener does not understand.

3.2. Rules governing oral discourse.

According to the Ministry of Education, since Spain entered the European Community, there is a need for learning a foreign language in order to communicate with other European countries. Within this context, the Spanish Educational System (B.O.E.), within the framework of the Educational Reform, establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages, and claims for a progressive development of communicative competence in a specific language.

Educational and professional reasons justify the presence of foreign languages in the curricula at different educational levels. Students, then, are intended to be able to carry out several communication tasks with specific communicative goals within specific contexts. In order to get these goals, several strategies as well as linguistic and discursive skills come into force in a given context. Therefore, a communicative competence theory accounts for rules of usage and rules of use in order to get a proficiency level in a foreign language within the framework of social interaction, personal, professional or educational fields.

Then, rules of usage are concerned with the language users’ knowledge of linguistic or grammatical rules (linguistic or grammatical competence) whereas rules of use are concerned with the language users’ability to use his knowledge of linguistic rules in order to achieve effectiveness of communication, that is, discourse, sociolinguistic and strategic competences. As the main aim for students is to improve their educational and professional life from a global perspective, rules involve two different implications, thus, the achievement of communication effectiveness, and their appropriateness in specific social and cultural contexts.

To sum up, the learning of a foreign language is intended to broaden the students’s intellectual knowledge as well as to broaden their knowledge on other ways of life and social organization different to their own. Furthermore, the aim is to get information on international issues, to broaden their professional interests and consolidate social values to promote the development of international communication.

3.2.1. Rules of usage.

As we have previously seen, language is the principal vehicle for the transmission of cultural knowledge, and the primary means by which we gain access to the contents of others’ minds. It is also considered as the ability to speak and be understood by others. This involves an ability to produce and therefore, understand the same sounds produced by others. The ways languages are used are constrained by the way they are constructed, particularly the linguistic rules that govern the permissible usage forms, for instance, grammatical rules. Language is defined as an abstract set of principles that specify the relations between a sequence of sounds and a sequence of meanings, and is analysed in terms of four levels of organization. Thus, the phonological, the morphological, the syntactic , and the semantic levels which, taken together, constitute its grammar .

Firstly, the phonological system is concerned with the phonological knowledge a speaker has in order to produce sounds which form meaningful sentences. For instance, an analysis of an acoustic signal into a sequence of speech sounds, thus consonants, vowels, and syllables, will allow the speaker to distinguish plural, past, and adverb endings, as well as to recognize foreign accents that are distinctive for a particular language or dialect or produce voiced or voiceless stops, fricatives or plosives sounds in their appropriate contexts.

Besides, when learning a foreign language, speakers may be aware of the variety of sounds the human vocal tract is capable of producing selecting language’s phonemes, or elementary units of sound according to how speech sounds occur and how to follow regular rules in the target language.

Secondly, the morphological system is concerned with the way words and meaningful subwords are constructed out of these phonological elements. Morphology involves internal structures by means of which the speakers are able to recognize whether a word belongs to the target language or not. This is achieved by means of morphological rules that follow a regular pattern, such as suffixes and prefixes. These rules that determine the phonetic form of certain patterns, such as plural, regular simple past or gerunds, are named morphophonemic rules, as they are applied by both morphology and phonoloby.

Therefore, when a non-native word is added to the target language, they do it by means of morphological rules which belong to that vernacular language, such as derivation, compounding, blending or back-formation. Then, we may easily distinguish a Spanglish word or a loan from another country, as siesta and paella, entering the dictionary of the target language as part of their language and culture.

Thirdly, the syntactic system is concerned with that part of grammar which stands for speakers’ knowledge of how to structure phrases and sentences in an appropriate and accurate way. As mentioned above, knowing a language not only implies linguistic knowledge but also the ability to arrange the appropriate organization of morphological elements into higher level units, such as phrases and sentences.

Special attention is paid to the sequence of wording, as we may find grammatical and ungrammatical sentences as the rules of syntax do not always account for the grammaticality of sentences. We may find ambiguity or double meaning in expressions which may lead the speaker to wrong assumptions on the meaning of the utterance. Also, by means of word seque ncing , syntactic rules reveal the relations between the words in a sentence as they are orderly governed, for instance, subject, verb, and adverbs. To sum up, this ability to produce utterances in an appropriate and coherent way has to do with the creative aspect of language as the speaker may produce an unlimited number of sentences, as a main feature of language usage.

Finally, the semantic system is concerned with the meanings of these higher level units. Semantics is concerned with the linguistic competence in terms of a capacity to produce meaning within an utterance. The arbitrariness of language implies to comprehend sentences because we know the meaning of individual words. Nevertheless, speaking a language not only involves knowing the meaning of words but also knowing how to combine language rules to convey meaning within an utterance. Thus, we may find rules involved in the semantics of the sentence, such as subject-verb concord in terms of third person singular; rules to interpret phrasal verbs within prepositional phrases; different nuances brought about semantic fields in verbs, such as the degree of loudness when speaking (shouting and whispering), the time nuance when looking (watching, staring, or gazing), or the degree of touch (stroking or hitting) among others.

However, linguistic rules do not follow a strict pattern in everyday use. We may distinguish mainly three types of semantic rule violation. Thus, anomaly when a speaker may create a non- understandable word or utterance because of a non appropriate use of a semantic rule; a poetic use of malformations is metaphors, with no literal meaning but connected to abstract meaning; and finally, idioms , in which the meaning of an expression may not be related to the individual meaning of its parts as it makes no sense as they are culturally embedded. For instance, phrasal verbs.

3.2.2. Rules of use.

From a discourse-based approach, the notion of use means the realization of the language system as meaningful communication linked to the aspects of performance. This notion is based on the effectiveness for communication, by means of which an utterance with a well-formed grammatical structure may or may not have a sufficient value for communication in a given context.

As we have previously mentioned, within the context of a communicative competence theory, our current educational system claims for a progressive development of communicative competence in a specific language. Students are intended to be able to carry out several communication tasks with specif ic communicative goals within specific contexts by means of linguistic and discursive skills.

Regarding rules of use in order to get a proficiency level in a foreign language, students are concerned with the language users’ability to use his knowledge of linguistic rules, that is, discourse, sociolinguistic and strategic competences.

Students, then, are intended to apply their linguistic knowledge to how to construct discourse within the textual competence according to three main rules of appropriateness, coherence and cohesion, as main discourse devices. Considerations on this sort require a distinction be drawn between the semantic or literal meaning of an utterance and its intended meaning.

Concerning appropriateness, any language presents variations within a linguistic community. Each member speaks or writes in a different way and their acts of speaking are imbedded in a discourse, both conversation and narrative type, made up of a coherently related sequence of acts and appropriateness in context. Besid es, these types of discourse have a formal structure that constrains participants’ acts of speaking and each person chooses the language variety and the appropriate register according to the situation, thus the issue, channel of communication, purpose, and degree of formality.

Another discourse device is coherence which deals with the use of information in a speech act regarding the selection of relevant or irrelevant information, and the organization of the communicative structure in a certain way, such as introduction, development and conclusion. The amount of information may be necessary and relevant, or on the contrary, redundant and irrelevant. Unnecessary repetition of what is already known or already mentioned stops communication from being successful at comprehending the important unknown parts of the speech act. Speakers are intended to select not only the structure of the content of messages but also to organize information in a logical and comprehensible way in order to avoid break downs in communication. Besides, phonology and syntactic fields play an important role when emphasizing important information by means of stressing the relevant information through different tones and accents, and word sequencing, when new information is emphasized at the beginning or the end of an utterance in order to focus the attention of the addressee on new items.

Regarding cohesion, there is a wide range of semantic and syntactic relations within a sentence in order to relate our speech act forming a cohesive unit by means of reference, ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical organization. We will develop these concepts following Halliday (1985) and his work An Introduction to Functional Grammar. Firstly, according to Halliday, reference relates to a participant or circumstantial element introduced at one place in the text that can be taken as a reference point for something that follows, such as the definite article (the) and personal pronouns (he, she, we, they). Ellipsis is defined as a clause, or a part of a clause, or a part of a verbal or nominal group, that may be presupposed at a subsequent place in the text by the device of positive omission , like in short answers (Yes, I can; No, I don’t). Since conjunction is a clause or clause complex, or some longer stretch of text, it may be related to what follows it by one or other of a specific set of semantic relations . According to Halliday, the most general categories are those of opposition and clarification, addition and variation, and the temporal and causal-conditional. The continuity in a text is established by means of lexical cohesion through the choice of words. This may take the form of word repetition; or the choice of a word that is related in some way to a previous one either semantically or collocationally. Many researchers, among them, Widdowson (1978) claimed that, in a speech act, cohesion and coherence must be described in terms of rules of use and depicted as procedures concerning grammatical devices. He envisages cohesion as a rule of use, and coherence to be a rules of usage.

3.2.3. Conversational Studies.

Conversational studies demonstrate how spoken English adapts to incorporate many functions and accommodates a vast variety of registers and contexts in a speech act. Cultural influence on speech and the implications of this for the second language speaker are two main tenets within current speech and communication theories. Conversation is the main means by which humans communicate, and is thus vital for full and rich social interaction. An obvious definition of conversation is a process of talking where at least two participants freely alternate in speaking as they interact with their social environment.. However, the analysis of conversation is not a simple matter. It has been taken up by pioneering sociologists known as ethnomethodologists. Ethnomethodology was a sociological and pragmatic type of quantitative methods looking at the dynamics of conversation used by agents.

There is potentially a close interrelation between discourse and conversational analysis and pragmatics (Searle 1969), taking into account social and cognitive structures. They are interrelated with language in use, and in particular, with communicative events and communicative functions, the role of speech acts where language is an instrument of action. In fact, conversational analysis with its sociological origins and its emphasis on social interaction, regards all its work as concerned with social action.

This tradition on cultural studies was first introduced in a language teaching theory in the early 1920s and improved in the 1970s by the notion of the ethnography of communication, a concept coined by Dell Hymes. It refers to a methodology based in anthropology and linguistics allowing people to study human interaction in context. Ethnographers adhering to Hymes’ methodology attempt to analyze patterns of communication as part of cultural knowledge and behavior. Besides, cultural relativity sees communicative practices as an important part of what members of a particular culture know and do (Hymes 1972). They acknowledge speech situations, speech events, and speech acts as units of communicative practice and attempt to situate these events in context in order to analyze them.

Hymes’ (1972) well-known SPEAKING heuristic where capital le tters acknowledge for different aspects in communicative competence, serves as a framework within which the ethnographer examines several components of speech events as follows. S stands for setting and scene (physical circumstances); P refers to participants including speaker, sender and addresser; E means end (purposes and goals); A stands for act sequence (message form and content); K deals with key (tone and manner); I stands for instrumentalities (verbal, non-verbal and physical channel); N refers to norms of interaction (specific proprieties attached to speaking), and interpretation (interpretation of norms within cultural belief system); and finally, genre referring to textual categories.

This interpretation of communicative competence can serve as a useful guide to help second language learners to distinguish important elements of cultural communication as they learn to observe and analyze discourse practices of the target culture in context. As for actual ethnographers, second language learners must have the opportunity to access the viewpoints of natives of the culture being studied in order to interpret culturally defined behaviors. The issue of culture under study will be discussed in our next section where different interpretations of communicative competence are examined from early approaches to present-day studies.

Within a conversational analysis, we find mainly two features of conversations. First, what we understand under the convention of turn taking. Simply, this is where one person waits for the other to finish his/her utterance before contributing their own. The potential for one to reply can be missed, deliberately or not, so that the first person may contribute once more. Sacks (1978) suggests that, historically speaking, there is an underlying rule in conversation, as Greek and Roman societies had within an oratory discipline where at least and not more thatn one party talks at a time. For him, there are three main levels in turn -taking. The first level refers to the highest degree of control he can select the next speaker either by naming or alluding to him or her. In a second degree of control, the next utterance may be constrained by the speaker but without being selected by a particular speaker. Finally, the third degree of control is to select neither the next speaker nor utterance and leave it to one of the other participants.

Another fundamental feature of conversation is the idea of adjacency pairs, proposed by Goffman (1976) and later developed by Sacks (1978). By this concept, a conversation is described as a string of at least two turns. An example would be found in a question-answer session where exchanges in which the first part of the pair predicts the occurrence of the second, thus ‘How are you?’ and ‘Fine, thanks. And you?’ Both conversing parties are aware that a response is required to a question. Moreover, a particular response to a given question is expressed by means of greetings, challenges, offers, complaints, invitations, warnings, announcements, farewells and phone conversations.

Furthermore, another contribution to conversational analysis, as we have previously mentioned, was Grice’s (1967) Cooperative Principle . He proposed a set of norms expected in conversation, and formulated them as a universal to help account for the high degree of implicitness in conversation and the required relation between rule -governed meaning and force. Therefore, Grice analyzes cooperation as involving four categories of maxims expected in conversation. Thus, the first maxim is quantity which involves speakers to give enough and not too much information. Secondly, within quality , they are genuine and sincere, speaking truth or facts. The third maxim, relation, makes reference to utterances which are relative to the context of the speech. Finally, manner represents speakers who try to present meaning clearly and concisely, avoiding ambiguity. They are direct and straightforward.

Within conversational structure, another distinction is identified by Brown and Yule (1994), and it is the one between ‘short turns’ and ‘long turns’. They define them as follows: A short turn consists of only one or two utterances, a long turn consists of a string of utterances which may last as long as an hour’s lecture…what is required of a speaker in a long turn is considerably more demanding than what is required of a speaker in a short turn . As soon as a speaker ‘takes the floor’ for a long turn, tells an anecdote, tells a joke, explains how something works, justifies a position, describes an individual, and so on, he takes responsibility for creating a structured sequence of utterances which must help the listener to create a coherent mental representation of what he is trying to say. Besides, what the speaker says must be coherently structured. Possible examples of everyday situations which might require longer turns from the speakers are such things as narrating personal experiences, participating in job interviews, arguing points of view, describing processes or locations and so on.


Everyday routines and formulaic speech follow a tradition on cultural studies, called an ethnography of communication. Also, they deal with the terms coined in the 1960s by the philosopher J. L. Austin, in How to Do Things with Words (1962), to refer to acts performed by utterances which conveyed information, in particular to those which require questions and answers as a formulaic speech. Within a speech act theory, we may distinguish a conventional semantic theory by studying the effects of locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutory acts. They mean respectively, performative utterances on speakers and hearers that result through or as a result of speech, secondly, acts that occur in speech, and thirdly, responses which hearers called perlocutionary acts.

There are a wide range of kinds of speech act. Among the most relevant surveys on speech act theories, we shall mention John R. Searle, who in his work Speech Acts in 1979, recognizes five types. Firstly, representative speech act, where speakers are committed in varying degrees to the truth of the propositions they have uttered, by means of swearing, believing, and reporting. Secondly, directives, where speakers try to get hearers to do something by commanding, requesting, or urging. Thirdly, commissives, which commit speakers in varying degrees to courses of action by means of promising, vowing, and undertaking. Fourthly, declarations, whereby speakers alter states of affairs by performing such speech acts as I now pronounce you man and wife. Fifth, expressives, where speakers express attitudes, such as congratulating and apologizing.

According to Austin (1962), in order to be successful, speech acts have to meet certain conditions. Thus, a marriage ceremony can only be performed by someone with the authority to do so, and with the consent of the parties agreeing to the marriage. Speech acts may be direct or indirect. For instance, compare Shut the door, please and Hey, it’s cold in here , both of which are directives.

Also, according to Seaville and Troike (1982) in his work The Ethnography of Communication, linguistic routines are fixed utterances or sequences of utterances which must be considered as single units, because meaning cannot be derived from consideration of any segment apart from the whole . The routine itself, they add, fulfils the communicative function, and in this respect is performative in nature. In order to make effective discourse productions, learners need to approach their speeches from a conscious sociolinguistic perspective, in order to get considerable cultural information about communicative settings and roles. Routines are also analysed in terms of length, from single syllables to whole sentences, such as ‘See you!’ and ‘I am looking forward to seeing you again!’ A sequence of sentences may be memorized as fixed phrases , and consequently, some of them are learnt earlier and others, later. For instance, the first routines a student learns in class are commands, such as ‘Sit down or stand up’, requests, such as ‘May I come in, please?’ or Can I have a rubber, please?’. Routines structure is mainly given by a sociolinguistic and cultural approach to language.

Non-native speakers may not grasp the nuances regarding a certain type of utterance patterns, such as greeting routines or phone conversation patterns, which have no meaning apart from a phatic function and introductory sentences. Within an educational context, main researches on the field of cross-cultural rethorical considerations, such as Holmes and Brown (1987) and Wolfson (1981), point out that it is not the responsibility of the language teacher qua linguist to enforce foreign language standards of behavior, linguistic or otherwise. Rather, it is the teacher’s job to equip students to express themselves in exactly the ways they choose to do so-rudely, tactfully, or in an elaborately polite manner.

Understanding routines require a cultural knowledge because they are generally abstract in meaning and must be interpreted at a non literal level. What we want to prevent them being unintentionally rude or subservient. Without overstressing the constraints on participants, it is clear that space-time loci, organisational context, conventional forms of messages, and preceding communications, in fact all components of communicative events, serve to increasingly restrict the range of available choices.

Thus, Holmes and Brown (1987) address three types of failure. Firstly, a pragmatic failure which involves the inability to understand what is meant by what is said. Secondly, the pragmalinguistic failure which is caused by mistaken beliefs about pragmatic force of utterance. Finally, the sociopragmatic failure which is given by different beliefs about rights and mentionables. People usually reject consciously routines and rituals when they are meaningless and empty of meaning, thus condolences, funeral rituals, weddings, masses and invitations among others.

Another instance is brought about by Wolfson (1981) in developing sociocultural awareness.

According to this model, this type of awareness will lead to a discussion of the differences between the cultural and social values of a first language learner and the foreign language community. He goes further on studying cross-cultural miscommunication in the field of compliments, when learners from a different cultural background do not understand certain behavior rules from the foreign language target culture. Hence, ritual contexts involve formulaic language with great cultural significance. The meaning of symbols cannot be interpreted in isolation but in context. For instance, a funeral ritual is different in Europe and in America. Both routines and formulaic speech meaning depend on shared beliefs and values within the speech community coded into a sensitivity to cultural communication patterns.

The literature on cross-cultural communication breakdown is vast, as it is related to a number of aspects such as size of imposition; taboos; different judgement of power and social distance between different cultures; and different cultural values and priorities. Therefore, important pedagogic advantages may be expected from further developing this approach. These include more realistic learning activities, improved motivation, new types of achievable objectives, , and the potential to transform a passive attitude to authentic texts into an active engagement in developing the effectiveness of communication practices in a classroom setting.


In this section we address the fourth area of Communicative Competence. In the words of Canale (1983), strategic competence is the verbal and nonverbal communication strategies that may be called into action to compensate for breakdowns in communication due to performance variables or due to insuff icient competence.This is quite a complex area but in a simplified way we can describe it as the type of knowledge which we need to sustain communication with someone. This may be achieved by paraphrase, circumlocution, repetition, hesistation, avoidance, guessing as well as shifts in register and style. According to Canale and Swain (1980), strategic competence is useful in various circumstances as for instance, the early stages of second language learning where communicative competence can be present with just strategic and socio-linguistic competence.

This approach has been supported by other researchers, such as Savignon and Tarone. Thus, Savignon (1983) notes that one can communicate non-verbally in the absence of grammatical or discourse competence provided there is a cooperative interlocutor. Besides, she points out the necessity and the sufficiency for the inclusion of strategic competence as a component of communicative competence at all levels as it demonstrates that regardless of experience and level of proficiency one never knows all a language. This also illustrates the negotiation of meaning involved in the use of strategic competence as noted in Tarone (1981).

Another criterion on strategic competence proposed by Tarone (1981) for the speaker to recognize a meta-linguistic problem is the use of the strategies to help getting the meaning across. Tarone includes a requierement for the use of strategic competence by which the speaker has to be aware that the linguistic structure needed to convey his meaning is not available to him or to the hearer. As will be seen later, strategic competence is essential in conversation and we argue for the necessity and sufficiency of this competence.


6.1 New directions in language teaching.

According to Hedge (2000), since the introduction of communicative approaches, the ability to communicate effectively in English has become one of the main goals in European Language Teaching. The Council of Europe (1998), in response to the need for international co-operation and professional mobility among European countries, has recently published a document, Modern languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of reference, in which the acquisition of communicative and pragmatic competence in a second language is emphasised. Both contributed strongly to the development of ‘the communicative classroom’, increasing the emphasis on teaching the spoken language.

Although students recognize the importance of developing communicative skills in the target language, they often have a passive attitude towards speaking in the classroom. Students generally have fewer problems in taking short turns, since they are required to give minimal responses to participate in a conversation with the teacher or classmates based on simple exchanges. They tend to be reluctant, however, to expose themselves in the classroom, making it very difficult to get them to speak at any length. My concern derives from the problem of how to actually get learners speaking in a meaningful way in the classroom.

Moreover, one of the proposed models for school-leaving examination, is to get the students’competence in the foreign language to be assessed by means of an oral interview. During the interview, students will be expected to report on and discuss topics related specifically to the syllabus. They will be therefore required to produce an extended piece of spoken English. Thus, the particular need to develop students’ competence in using spoken language for informative purposes is of crucial importance. This model makes particular reference to the development of the skills involved in producing long turns of transactional speech.

Similarly, the Spanish Educational System states (B.O.E. 2002) that there is a need for learning a foreign language in order to communicate with other European countries, and a need for emphasizing the role of a foreign language which gets relevance as a multilingual and multicultural identity. Within this context, getting a proficiency level in a foreign language implies educational and professional reasons which justify the presence of foreign languages in the curricula at different educational levels. It means to have access to other cultures and customs as well as to foster interpersonal relationships which help individuals develop a due respect towards other countries, their native speakers and their culture. This sociocultural framework allows learners to better understand their own language, and therefore, their own culture.

The European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish Educational System within the framework of the Educational Reform, establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages, and claims for a progressive development of communicative competence in a specific language. Students, then, are intended to be able to carry out several communication tasks with specific communicative goals within specific contexts. In order to get these goals, several strategies as well as linguistic and discursive skills come into force in a given context. Thus, foreign language activities are provided within the framework of social interaction, personal, professional or educational fields.

Therefore, in order to develop the above mentioned communication tasks in our present educational system, a communicative competence theory includes the following subcompetences. Firstly, the linguistic competence (semantic, morphosyntactic and phonological). Secondly, the discourse competence (language functions, speech acts, and conversations). Thirdly, the sociolinguistic competence (social conventions, routines and formulaic speech, communicative intentions, and registers among others). Fourthly, the strategic competence will be included as a subcompetence of communicative competence within this educational framework. So far, students will make use of this competence in a natural and systematic way in order to achieve the effectiveness of communication through the different communication skills, thus, productive (oral and written communication), receptive (oral and written comprehension within verbal and non-verbal codes), and interactional.

6.2. Implications into language teaching.

In recent years, this has started to change, partly because of better technical aids for the collection, storage and analysis of spoken language data, but also because of a growing awareness among researchers of the importance of spoken language studies for a deeper understanding of the human linguistic faculty and human linguistic communication. Today, the area of spoken language studies is a rapidly growing research field, but it is still true that, for most languages in the world, detailed and comprehensive studies of spoken language are lacking. There is a great need for better general theories of the structure of spoken language and its function in human communication in different social activities.

Today, pronunciation teaching is experiencing a new resurgence, fuelled largely by the increasing awareness of the communicative function of suprasegmental features in spoken discourse (Brown and Yule 1983). In the late 80’s, researchers called for a more top-down approach to pronunciation teaching (Pennington 1989) emphasizing the broader, more meaningful aspects of phonology in connected speech rather than practice with isolated sounds, thus ushering pronunciation back into the communicative fold. Materials writers responded with a wealth of courses and recipe books focusing on suprasegmental pronunciation (Bradford 1988, Gilbert 1984, Rogerson & Gilbert

1990). A closer look at such materials, however, reveals that, with notable exceptions (Cunningham 1991), most commercially produced course books on pronunciation today present activities remarkably similar to the audiolingual texts of the 50’s, relying heavily on mechanical drilling of decontextualized words and sentences. While professing to teach the more communicative aspects of pronunciation, many such texts go about it in a decidedly uncommunicative way. The more pronunciation teaching materials have changed, it seems, the more they have stayed the same.


Speaking is a language skill that uses complex and intricate forms to convey meaning. In many ways, through its nature, itis the most difficult of all the language skills to study. Speech is where language is most instantly adaptable; it is where culture impinges on form and where second language speakers find their confidence threatened through the diversity of registers, genres and styles that make up the first language speaker’s day to day interaction. Language represents the deepest manifestation of a culture, and people’s values systems, including those taken over from the group of which they are part, play a substantial role in the way they use not only their first language but also subsequently acquired ones. This section, then, will be focusing on the discourse level, that is, the level of language beyond that of the sentence, considered in its context.

Students should be encouraged to talk from a very early stage since, from a linguistic point of view, as spoken language is relatively less demanding than written language. However, Brown and Yule (1983) state that the problems in the spoken language are going to be much more concerned with online production, and with the question of how to find meaningful opportunities for individual students to practise using a rather minimal knowledge of the foreign language in a flexible and inventive manner, than with linguistic complexity . Furthermore, according to the acquisitionist view, learners should not be put under undue pressure to produce spoken language at the earliest possible stage, since they may well require a ‘silent period’ in which to absorb and process linguistic input.

A review of the literature in this survey revealed that although recent developments in foreign language education have indicated a trend towards approaching the acquisition of a second language in terms of communicative competence, there is a growing interest in traditional resources have proven inadequate. Students are expected to learn to function properly in the target language and culture, both interpreting and producing meaning with members of the target culture. However, providing experiences for contact with language in context has been problematic. Limited access to the target culture has forced teachers to rely on textbooks and other classroom materials in teaching language, and these materials may not necessarily furnish a sufficiently rich environment for the acquisition of communicative competence, including many aspects of discourse activity, such as paralinguistic and extralinguistic behavior. Hypermedia and multimedia environments may provide a more appropriate setting for students to experience the target language in its cultural context.

Also, pronunciation teaching materials are envisaged to be used in the future. Contemporary materials for the teaching of pronunciation, while still retaining many of the characteristics of traditional audiolingual texts, have begun to incorporate more meaningful and communicative practice, an increased emphasis on suprasegmentals, and other features such as consciousness raising and self-monitoring which reflect current research into the acquisition of second language phonology.

To conclude this section we may say that conversational analysis gives a fascinating insight into the implicit communicative rules which guide our social interactions. It is interesting to speculate how conversation may evolve in the future, with vir tual meetings and chatting in cyberspace destroying many of the implicit rules of traditional communication. Yet, conversational analysts may have much to write about in the future.


On the origins of language and oral communication

Crystal, D. (1985) Linguistics.

Juan Goytisolo (2001), Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible heritage of

Humanity 18 May 2001. Speech delivered at the opening of the meeting of the Jury (15 May 2001)

On communication process and language teaching

Brown, G. & G. Yule (1983) Teaching the Spoken Language . Cambridge: Cambridge University


Canale, M., and M. Swain, 1980. Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics 1 (1).

Halliday, M. A. K. 1973. Explorations in the Functions of Language.

Hedge, Tricia (2000).Teaching and learning in the Language Classroom. OUP.

On a theory of communicative competence

Brown, G. and G. Yule. 1983. Discourse Analysis. CUP.

Canale, M. 1983. From Communicative Competence to Communicative Language Pedagogy, in J. Richards and R. Schmidt (eds.). Language and Communication. London, Longman.

Hymes, D. 1972. On communicative competence. In J. B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds.), Sociolinguistics, pp. 269-93. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Press.

On Discourse Analysis and Conversational studies

Austin, J. L. (1962) How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Brown, G. and G. Yule (1983) Discourse Analysis. CUP.

van Dijk, T. 1977. Text and Context: Explorations in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Discourse.

London: Longman.

Goffman, E. (1981) Forms of Talk . Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Krauss, R. M., & Chiu, C. (1993). Language, cognition and communication . Unpublished Paper

presented in the symposium “Language, Cognition and Communication” at the meetings of the

Society for Experimental Social Psychology, October 16, CA: Santa Barbara.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech Acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

Searle, J. R. (1985). Indirect speech acts. In J. P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics: Speech acts. Academic Press: Academic Press.

Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1986). Relevance: Communication and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

On future directions and implications on language teaching

B.O.E. (2002)

Council of Europe (1998) Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common

European Framework of reference.

Hedge Tricia (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (OUP)