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.

I have based this essay on the following source:

– Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language.

– Cook, Vivian. Second Language Learning and Language Teaching.

In this theme I will deal with the following issues:

Firstly, with the definition of oral communication.

Secondly what it happens when oral communication takes places.

Thirdly the main elements of speech: discourse, utterance, tone unit, syllable and segment.

Fourthly with the conversational maxims including: the co-operative principle, the principle of politeness and the register.

Fifthly I going to deal with the basic routines, information & interaction, and the main convention when speaking.

To end up with the main oral communicative strategies used by native and non-native speakers.


Oral communication or speech is defined as the faculty of uttering articulate sounds or words and the faculty of expressing thoughts.

Language embraces more than vocabulary, grammar and phonology. It includes mechanisms for interpersonal communication subject to individual variability. These mechanisms are party linguistic, party non-linguistic and partly paralinguistic.


When a human being communicates with another by means of spoken language, several distinct events have occurred:

  1. An ideational stimulus to the mind of the speaker.
  2. The formulation of a language statement by the speaker.
  3. The physical act of speaking.
  4. Sound waves in the atmosphere.
  5. The physical process of hearing.
  6. The mental sorting of the language statement by the speaker.
  7. Understanding the idea by the hearer.


  1. DISCOURSE (spoken): refers to any act of speech which occurs in a given place and ruing a given period of time.
  2. A DISCOURSE consists at least of one UTTERANCE: a stretch of speech produced by a single speaker, with silence before and after.
  3. An UTTERANCE consists of at least one TONE UNIT: a s stretch of speech which has a describable melody or intonation.
  4. A TONE UNIT consists of at least one SYLABLE and usually a number of them. A SYLLABLE consists of some vocalic elements and a non-vocalic element before and/or after it.
  5. A SYLLABLE consists of at least one SEGMENT: a sound, and usually more than one.



According to the philosopher Paul Grice (1975), conversation proceeds according to a principle, known and applied by all human beings, the CO-OPERATIVE PRINCIPLE.

The co-operative principle is an unspoken pact between language users which they adhere to in most normal circumstances (also in written discourse). According to this principle the sender is obeying 4 maxims:

1. The maxim of QUANTITY: Be brief!

2. The maxim of RELEVANCE: Be relevant!

3. The maxim of MANNER: Be clear & orderly!

4. The maxim of Quality: Say what you believe is true.

When people talk they follow the co-operative principle, but this that not mean that they can consciously and explicitly formulate to themselves. It means rather that people act as though they know the principle just as they act as thought they know the rules of grammar.

Sometimes meaning derives from deliberate violations or flouting (as Grice calls them) of the Co-operative principle, for example: figures of speech such as hyperbole, metaphor, irony, sarcasm, etc. However, if the sender does not intend violation of the principle or if the receiver does not realize that they are deliberate, they communication degenerates into lying, obfuscation, etc.


Robin Lakoff (1973) introduced the POLITENESS PRINCIPLE. This is a series of maxims which people assume are being followed in the utterances of others. These maxims are:

1. Do not impose.

2. Give options.

3. Make your receiver feel good.

As with the co-operative principle any flouting of these maxims will take on meaning. The maxims of the politeness principle explain many of those frequent utterances in which no new information communicated, for example, in English we often give orders and make requests and pleas in the form of elaborated questions. Therefore, they do not impose an order, they give options and in most cases make the receiver feel good: You know much more about car engines than I do … Would you mind? etc.


In considering conversation norms, the register plays an important part. Fall all speakers there is marked variation in the forms of language and used for different activities, addressees, topics and settings. These marked forms of language constitute the registers.



can be defined as conventional ways of presenting information (also for written discourse).

As they are conventional, they are predictable and help ensure clarity. There are 2 main kinds:

INFORMATION ROUTINES: Types of information structures including: stories, descriptions of places & people, presentation of facts, comparisons, instructions. Information routines may be identified as expository or evaluative.

a. EXPOSITORY ROUTINES: involve factual information depending on questions of sequencing or identity of the subject. According to Brown & Yule (1983) the main types of expository routine are narration, description and instruction.

b. EVALUATIVE ROUTINES: are often based on expository routines. They involve drawing conclusions, usually requiring the expression of reasoning. They include: explanations, predictions, justifications, preferences, decisions.

INTERACTION ROUTINES: they include the kind of turns typically occurring in given situations, and the order in which the components are likely to occur. For example: telephone conversations, interview situations, casual encounters, conversations at parties.


Conversation is a highly structured activity with a set of basic conventions. For example a conversation to be successful, the participants need to feel they are contributing sth to it and getting sth out of it. For this to happen, certain conditions must apply:

1. Everyone must have an opportunity to speak.

2. No one should be monopolizing or constantly interrupting.

3. Turn-taking:

· Participants must tacitly agree on who should speak when.

· Silence & simultaneous speaking are serious problems in conversations.

· Speakers signal that their turn is about to end with verbal & non-verbal cues.

4. Getting the floor in multiparty conversations.

· The last speaker can select who will speak next.

· Or the next speaker can select himself.

· Participants need to make their roles clear.

· Participants need to have a sense when to speak or stay silent.

· They need to develop mutual tolerance.

5. There is a great deal of RITUAL in conversation: especially at the beginning and the end, when topics change.


Now, I am going to consider certain strategies that help out both native and non-native speakers when they find themselves in difficulties.

a. Native & non-native speakers:

1. Topic clarification: Pardon?

2. Rephrasing: Let me put that another way.

3. Ongoing checks: Are you with me?

4. Topic change: That reminds me …

b. Non-native speakers:

1. Paraphrase

1. approximation (generalization): animal for horse.

2. Word coinage: air ball for balloon.

3. Circumlocution (description).

2. Transfer (reliance on L1)

1. Literal translation: Make the door shut (shut the door).

2. Language switch: My granddad was a pages.

3. Appeal for assistance: What is this?

4. Mime: clapping one’s hands to illustrate applause.

3. Avoidance:

1. Topic: learners avoid topics for which the vocabulary of other meaning structure is unknown.

2. Message abandonment: learner stops mid-utterance due to the lack of meaning-structures.


The speakers’ ability to produce appropriate utterances seems to be of more importance to achieve language proficiency than the production of grammatical sentences. Communicative competence is so important or even more important then linguistic competence and in order to reach successful communication within a community the speaker has to know the rules of use as much as the rules of grammar.

In terms of foreign language learning we should provide our students, not only with linguistic competence, but also with communicative competence which will help them to avoid many misunderstanding and communicate successfully in a foreign language.