kitchen table math, the sequel: people talking

Saturday, September 8, 2012

people talking

A sample stretch of talk

...speakers are sitting at the dinner table talking about a car accident that happened to the father of one of the speakers

< speaker 1 >  I’ll just take that off. Take that off.
< speaker 2 >  All looks great.
< speaker 3 >  [laughs]
< speaker 2 >  Mm.
< speaker 3 >  Mm.
< speaker 2 >  I think your dad was amazed wasn’t he at the damage.
< speaker 4 >  Mm.
< speaker 2 >  It’s not so much the parts. It’s the labour charges for
< speaker 4 >  Oh that. For a car.
< speaker 2 >  Have you got hold of it?
< speaker 1 >  Yeah.
< speaker 2 >  It was a bit erm.
< speaker 1 >  Mm.
< speaker 3 >  Mm.
< speaker 2 >  A bit.
< speaker 3 >  That’s right.
< speaker 2 >  I mean they said they’d have to take his car in for two days. And he says All it is is s straightening a panel. And they’re like, Oh no. It’s all new panel. You can’t do this.
< speaker 3 >  Any erm problem.
< speaker 2 >  As soon as they hear insurance claim. Oh. Let’s get it right.
< speaker 3 >  Yeah. Yeah. Anything to do with
< speaker 1 >  Wow.
< speaker 3 >  coach work is er
< speaker 1 >  Right.
< speaker 3 >  fatal isn’t it.
< speaker 1 >  Now.
Teaching about talk – what do pupils need to know about spoken language and the important ways in which talk differs from writing?
in: Spoken English and the question of grammar: the role of the functional model
I've been digging into some of the literature on talking vs writing.

re: the conversation above, I am struck by the fact that everyone knows what everyone else is talking about.


Student writers have to achieve the same effect with readers they can't see, a tall order. Professional writers have to produce a steady stream of sensible-seeming thoughts and images inside the minds of readers they can't see, don't know, and will never meet.

How does that happen?

The answer is: via cohesion devices.

But how do cohesion devices work? Are the cohesion devices used in writing direct analogues to the cohesion devices used in speaking? (And what are the cohesion devices in speaking, anyway? I'm not sure, exactly.)

What are the best devices; when do you use which ones; and how do you teach them to students?

I'd like to know.

I'm reading Vande Kopple next. Then Halliday and HasanKolln, and Dillon.

* ESP?


RMD said...


Terrific series of posts on writing and grammar!

Yesterday, my son gave me a great example of "talking vs writing". In the paragraph I asked him to write, he wrote: "I love to do Minecraft. First, you can.. ."

His switch from first person to second person sounds like it came from a speaking convention, but it didn't seem to work in writing.

Unfortunately, I couldn't explain why.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh ----- you and me both!

When I first started teaching writing, the fall before last, WHAT A NIGHTMARE!

I loved teaching, which I've missed (I taught college writing & film when I was young), but I felt terribly inadequate and guilty ....

I know **how** to write, but I didn't know how I did it, or how to explain it to a novice. Awful!

Students are so sweet. Fairly early on, I realized I would have to just level with my students: I would tell them the state of affairs and make clear to them I was doing my level best to figure it out.

I think I've told the story of one student, a girl, who as I recall was developing a 'feel' for the long, complicated sentences of academic writing...but whose sentences were prime examples of what I'm talking about with sentences that 'start out fine but then the wheels come off.'

She and I were talking one-to-one about her writing one day, and I used that metaphor; then I apologized profusely. I said, "I know that doesn't help at ALL, but I don't know how to explain it."

She said, "No! I know what you mean!" - she wanted **me** not to feel bad that I couldn't articulate why the sentence wasn't working, how to SEE that, and what to do about it. (I can figure out what to do about a bad sentence - how to revise or copy edit - but, once again, I don't know how I do it or why I do it.)

I'm getting very close to knowing how to teach writing! Very close. I'm starting to have a logical structure inside my head, one that I'm pretty sure works for students.

I still need a rigorous and serious set of practice exercises and fluency trainings, so I'm working on that.

Catherine Johnson said...

In the paragraph I asked him to write, he wrote: "I love to do Minecraft. First, you can.. ."

In this case, the explanation is actually simple, and I think pretty easy to remember.

The rule - or convention - is "pronoun consistency."

The writer should maintain consistent pronoun use throughout a paragraph.

If you start with 'we' you stick with 'we' throughout; you don't switch to 'you' or to 'they.'

If you start with 'you,' stick with 'you.'

Traditional grammar uses the terms "first person plural" (we), second person (you), and 1st person (I). I don't know whether linguists use different terminology.

I have to watch pronoun consistency all the time in my own writing, since I use 'you' and 'we' (and 'I') a lot in trying to connect scientific concepts to everyday life.

In fact, I often have to go back to the beginning of a paragraph and reconsider which 'case' I want to use. I might start out with 'we,' because 'we' works best in that sentence --- then discover that I really need to switch to 'you' at the paragraph's end.

At that point, I have to figure out what to do: replace one pronoun with the other, or rewrite completely.

I NEVER worry about pronoun consistency across paragraphs, btw. I have no idea what handbooks would tell you to do, but this is another one of those situations where I don't care what handbooks would tell you. I figure I can be the authority on this one!


Catherine Johnson said...

I'm learning ***fascinating*** things about the differences between talking and writing, AND about the evolution of writing.

I'm writing VERY short lectures on these topics, which I'll try to get posted.

Also, I think the English 109 blog can be pretty helpful. I'm trying to keep it VERY pared down: only the best, and shortest, things I find so students, parents, and probably teachers can quickly get a handle on something they're confused over.

Catherine Johnson said...

I just added Dillon's book to the post.

RMD said...

Pronoun consistency. . . I love it. Very easy to explain and understand.


Okay, a follow up question:

Is it proper to write the whole thing in 2nd person? "Minecraft is wonderful. You have 3 categories of playing. . . ."

I think we use 2nd person in conversations, not realizing we're doing it ("You wouldn't believe. . ."), but I'm not sure if there is much room for it in formal writing (i.e., school-assigned essays).

What do you think?

Catherine Johnson said...

Is it proper to write the whole thing in 2nd person?

My answer is: absolutely yes!

Now, on the other hand, I'm not positive every high school teacher or college professor would agree.

SO: the **only** answer that makes sense here is context.

If a particular teachers wants highly formal prose, then you (you!) should use "one" or "we" instead of "you."

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm getting if any of you have questions, please ask. If I can't answer, I'll at least know what I still need to learn----

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

One quibble with 'If a particular teachers wants highly formal prose, then you (you!) should use "one" or "we" instead of "you."': "We" is not the correct formal form for "I", though many academic writers (particularly science students) make that mistake.

The correct formal form for "I" is "I". Many times papers have multiple authors, in which case "we" makes sense and is correct (with multiple authors "I" is confusing, as it does not indicate which author is meant). For single-author papers, particularly dissertations, the use of "I" is mandatory, as the point of a dissertation is to show the ability of the individual. "We" should only be used when an explicitly named other person participated: "The technician Joe Smith prepared the samples, and together we analyzed the results."

There is one common usage of "we" in a single-author paper that is acceptable: "we" as "you and I". That is, it is fine to say things like "we can derive the following result" if you mean that both the author and the reader can do so.

ChemProf said...

GWP - in my field, almost all work is collaborative to one extent or another, and even in dissertations, we typically use "we." I was lead researcher on my dissertation work, but others helped with data collection, data analysis, and editing. Similarly, in a lab report on a lab performed in pairs, "we" is proper.

Catherine Johnson said...

I ***never*** see "I" in cognitive science papers.

That said, I'm pretty sure I don't see 'we,' either. (Heavy use of passive voice.)

I'll check.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've also seen two-author books & papers in which 'we' is the only pronoun used. When it's necessary to refer to just one of the authors, the formulation will be something along the lines of: "One of the authors -- John Doe -- did thus and such."