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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
  • Word count: 4694

Informal vs. formal speech.

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  1. Introduction

Informal talk is a linguistic field which has not been thoroughly researched yet. Only a few books exist about this topic. Why do people talk in certain ways and what makes them say certain things in certain situations? It is the talk among friends which is a very special way of conversation. Everybody does it but nobody does it consciously. We feel relaxed and have no feeling of pressure while we are talking. This work will look beyond this picture trying to reveal the differences between formal and informal talk strongly taking the gender specific differences into consideration.

An essential factor in friendships is talk which we use to establish our bonds. Friends most often share the same style systems and conversation is not only used to exchange information but to cooperate in certain points. Deborah Tannen[1] defines that kind of talk as a way to express closeness to our friends. But before informal talk is looked at more closely, communication will be divided into two categories – formal and informal talk. The main differences of these two groups will be presented in the first point. According to these basic facts the characteristics of informal talk among friends will be shown in point 3 (regarding Deborah Tannen's literature). An empirical analysis of own data will follow in the next point. Here, own facts will be compared to the results of Tannen's studies. Gender differences will also be regarded in this point as all-male and all-female conversations have been analyzed. A final definition of informal speech among friends can be found in point 5 where the results will be subsumed.

  1. Informal vs. formal speech

a) Circumstances

One of the reasons why formal talk is chosen in a communication between people is that there is a very low risk of a face threatening act (fta).

...read more.


Prompting is the last narrative strategy mentioned by Tannen. With this she means encouraging somebody to speak by asking him questions or suggesting words that he could say. There are two different prompting styles:

a) Cooperative prompting

This style is used when a hearer has the feeling that he has not been told what the point of the speaker's story is. Here, prompting is used to continue or to make the speaker to get more specific about his topic. It is an exaggerated intonation which shifts from high to low pitch in order to show interest in the story the other person has to tell. Appreciating the significance of the described moment is also one feature of cooperative prompting according to Tannen.

b) Impatient prompting

This can be regarded as the equivalent to the cooperative style of prompting. Impatient prompting is uttered when the listener has not understood the point of the story or if there are misunderstandings as a result of a speaker's hesitant contribution. These kind of prompts are regarded as obstructive to the speaker.

The third point mentioned by Tannen is

f) Irony and Joking

The intention of sarcasm is mostly not humorous, it is more hostile most of the time. Whereas irony might excite a smile or a chuckle.

Cutler (1974) names three different intonational cues of irony:

a) nasalization of all or one part of an utterance

b) slower rate in all or participants

c) exaggerated stress on one or more parts

The main purpose of jokes is to entertain. But Tannen points out that the brand of humour is one of the most highly individualistic aspects of a person's style. That is why different people's humours sometimes clash which often leads to the opposite effect on the listeners.

Another style which can be often found in informal talk is mocking.

...read more.


In general it can be said that Tannen's characteristics were quite helpful to analyse the two conversations. But only differentiating between high-involvement and high-considerateness style does not seem to be enough.

There undoubtedly are many differences between male and female informal talk which she should have taken into consideration more thoroughly. Comparing informal with formal talk always has to conclude a gender specific analysis.

  1. Literature
  • Janßen, Hero: Aufzeichnungen VL Pragmatik I, II, II:  Braunschweig; 2001ff
  • Tannen, Deborah: Conversational Style: Analyzing talk among friends. New Jersey: 1984
  • Givón, T. (Ed.): Conversation. Cognitive, Communicative and Social Perspectives. Philadelphia: 1997

Hiermit erkläre ich, daß ich die vorgelegte Hausarbeit selbständig verfasst habe und keine anderen als die angegebenen Quellen und Hilfsmittel benutzt habe.

[1] Tannen, Deborah: Conversational Style. Analyzing talk among friends. New Jersey: 1984

[2]    Tannen, Deborah: Conversational Style. Analyzing talk among friends. New Jersey: 1984

[3]Coates, Jennifer: The Construction of a Collaborative Floor in Woman's Friendly Talk in Givón: Conversation.1997: Philadelphia

...read more.

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