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Review of  The Language of Speech and Writing

Reviewer: Laurel Smith Stvan
Book Title: The Language of Speech and Writing
Book Author: Ronald Carter Sandra Cornbleet
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 12.3000

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Cornbleet, Sandra, and Ronald Carter (2001) The Language of
Speech and Writing. Routledge, ix+129pp, paperback ISBN
0-415-23167-1, $16.95 or GBP 9.99, The Intertext Series.

Laurel Smith Stvan, University of Texas at Arlington

This book was announced on Linguist List at

The Language of Speech and Writing (LSW) is one of thirteen
satellite texts that can accompany the core textbook
Working with Text: A Core Introduction to Language
Analysis, 2nd ed (2001). LSW, a textbook intended for
advanced high school or beginning college students,
contains an introduction and six units, plus a three-page
glossary, one page of references, and one page of further
reading suggestions.

Introduction. This chapter covers the primacy of speech
vs. the higher prestige of writing, the ease of speech vs.
the difficulty of writing, and "the continuities and
overlap between spoken and written language" (2). Here the
authors introduce useful definition pairs: top down vs.
bottom up, text vs. discourse, sentence vs. utterance, and
exchange vs. conversation.

Unit One: The Nature of Writing. This first chapter sets
the format of alternating sample texts, activities, and
commentary. The content covers subskills of writing,
including graphology, spelling, punctuation,
capitalization, and grammar, as well as such organizational
features as sentence and paragraph construction, cohesive
devices, linkwords, informational organization, degrees of
formality, style, register, layout, and formulaic
expressions. Next the features of writing are discussed,
including its being more permanent, distant, planned, and
formal than speech. The linearity of writing is
questioned, and writing as a process in introduced. The
chapter closes with a discussion of the three areas of
Context, Purpose, and Receiver of a text, as well as a
consideration of writing as a memory aid.

Unit Two: The Nature of Speaking. The chapter begins by
laying out the levels of language involved in speech:
sounds, intonation, rhythm, pitch, and pace. Next the
authors discuss the development of speaking skills and the
ways speakers learn to gauge the appropriateness of
utterances. Then the authors come back to the ideas of
Context, Purpose, and Receiver (CPR) as applied to

The nature of everyday speech is delineated: it occurs in
real time, it takes place face to face, it has a purpose,
it is interactive, and it may be used to hold the floor.
The phatic nature of conversation is discussed. The choice
of whether or not to speak is introduced, including issues
of face. One-way conversations are looked at, and a
hearer's perception of accent and dialect are considered.

Unit Three: The Language of Writing. In addition to the
content of different sized chunks of text, the authors
discuss the impact of visual formatting such as font size
and page layout. These supporting features are shown to
help us comprehend a text through its context, i.e., we
view it "within its normal environment . . . and therefore
we bring to the text a great deal of background knowledge,
predictions and expectations, which help us make sense of
what we see" (34). Next the authors discuss how language
is affected by the genre of a text. To the features of CPR
is added another P, that of producer. The CPPR features
are interpreted through a range of recipe texts. The
authors observe that there are texts from many genres
(e.g., legalese, law enforcement, commerce) that we are
familiar with as receivers, though we would need
specialized assistance to be able to produce them.
Features of specialized texts are examined for lexis,
grammar, and style.

Unit Four: The Language of Speaking. This unit aims to
"identify commonly occurring features of everyday spoken
English" (59), focusing on the features detailed in Unit
Two and looking at applications to grammar, lexis, and
discourse. Grammatical issues include conjunctions,
fronting, ellipsis, and indexicals. Lexical issues involve
Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate roots, delexicalized verbs,
precision of terminology, and lexical creativity.
Discourse issues covered include adjacency pairs, back-
channeling, discourse markers, and tag questions. Finally
the authors discuss the functional nature of speech, which
allows it to be used indirectly.

Unit Five: The Relationship Between Speech and Writing.
This unit looks at factors affecting the choice between
speaking or writing and how these factors affect the style
and language used. The factors examined include being
face-to-face, saving face, permanency, clarity, competence,
speed or urgency, formality, the amount of planning
required, how personal the topic is, and social
conventions. Next the authors discuss the various
positions along clines--of formality, permanence,
interactivity, in formativeness, and context dependence--in
which both speech and writing can be located, rather than
occurring as polar opposites. A spoken and written sample
on the same topic are examined, displaying differences in
language use relating to grammar, lexis, and style.

Unit Six: Where Boundaries Meet. In order to point out the
variability of text types along a spectrum, this unit looks
at written texts which use features of spoken texts and
vice versa. Intertextuality, where text of one genre
relies on another for its interpretation, is illustrated.
Texts are examined in which features of speech and writing
are both represented. Dramatic dialogue is examined,
showing how authors of different eras reveal varied
purposes in the way the represent conversation, aiming not
for complete authenticity but to be "sufficiently
realistic" (111). The effects of technology on the forms
of language are also considered, revealing the pressure of
time and space constraints that result in emoticons and
acronyms for familiar expressions.

Because it is intended for beginning students, one benefit
claimed by the series is its being accessible: "no previous
knowledge of language analysis is assumed" (111). While
this is true, the book might be made stronger by listing
more follow-up material. References are scarce throughout
the text. Though field specific terms are introduced
(e.g., phatic, face, genre, idiolect, fronting, deixis),
they are not generally backed with citations from the
relevant literature. For example, in discussing the
"normal environment" in which readers find a text (34), no
mention is made of various script, frame, or schema formats
that would anchor the discussion (e.g., Schank and Abelson,
1977). In addition, the texts looked at in Unit Six "cross
the boundaries between spoken and written language but not
in a uniform, fixed way" (118). Besides the positioning of
texts along a cline, some mention might be made of the
clustering of spoken and written features found in the work
of Biber (e.g. Biber 1988). Similarly the conclusion of
the chapter notes that "it's a sign of the innate human
quality of co-operation that we assume someone is trying to
convey meaning and we struggle to identify it" (119) with
no specific mention of Grice and his conversational maxims
(Grice 1975). Discussion of the influence of email, real
time electronic chatting, and cell phone text messaging
misses the chance to refer to recent deeper work in these
areas, such as that by Herring (2001). In general, the
book offers an insufficient starting point for library-
based research, yet, conversely, it is quite strong in
promoting hands-on assignments involving data gathering and
text analysis. The use of such "realia" as email postings,
recipes, magazine ads, and TV script excerpts is engaging.
Because of both the example texts and the tone, the book is
lively and would easily capture the attention of students
new to language study.

One minor point might cause some confusion: on p. 19 the
authors mix up pitch and volume, defining pitch as the
voice's ability to be loud or soft. Otherwise, this is an
excellent introduction to text and discourse analysis,
liable to stir up interest in the workings of the texts
that surround us daily.

Biber, D. 1988. Variation Across Speech and Writing.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grice, H. P. 1975. Logic and Conversation. Syntax and
Semantics 3: Speech Acts. P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (eds.).
New York: Academic Press, 41-58.

Herring, S. 2001. Computer-mediated Discourse. The Handbook
of Discourse Analysis. Tannen, D., D. Schiffrin, and H.
Hamilton (eds.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Schank, R. C., and Abelson, R. P. 1977. Scripts, Plans,
Goals, and Understanding. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum

Laurel Smith Stvan received her Ph.D. from Northwestern
University in 1998 and is now an Assistant Professor of
Linguistics at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her
research interests include Pragmatics, Text Analysis,
Discourse Analysis, Corpus Linguistics, and ESL. She can
be reached at