In what ways may different groups of English speakers differ in their conversation style?

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Josephine Philpott                April 2006

Student Number: X8613554

Course Number: U210

Assignment number: TMA 03

Open University


English Language: Past, Present and Future

TMA 03

Question 2

In what ways may different groups of English speakers differ in their conversation style?

For word restriction purposes the focus for this essay will be primarily on material from chapter one of the Open University course book 2 (CB 2) and The Open University audio cassette 3 band 3(AU3B3). It would be most interesting to look at all the different examples of different groups; unfortunately doing this would mean exceeding the word limit.  Therefore the focus will be restricted to only three or four different groups.

First of all it is a good idea to examine the semantics behind the phrase of “conversation style” before looking at the different groups of English speakers.  

“Conversation is without doubt the foundation stone of the social world - human beings learn to talk in it, find a mate with it, are socialized through it, rise in social hierarchy as a result of it, and, it is suggested, may even develop mental illness because of it.”

(Beattie, 1983, p.2)

This is a very captivating statement and helps to sum up the incredible power that the actual word “conversation” has in the social world   Due to lack of more precise materialistic evidence, it is possibly more interesting to look at “conversation style” and then briefly discuss the different styles that exist amongst social groups giving specific examples rather than focusing on one specific area only (such as gender). That would make it easier to find out if there are any resemblances amongst the different social groups and their conversation styles.

The term “conversation” can be interpreted in a multiplicity of different ways.  The varieties range from a formal speech (that has been pre-scripted and is just simply read out) to a casual conversation between friends.  As a result of this wide range of speech types, there are great many different conversation styles present.  Conversation is not necessarily simply informal talk between speakers; it can also be used in more loser terms for example to give sense of the diversity of ways in which English is used in modern society in everyday talk.  Everyday talk refers to anything from political speech making to language at work.  The idea of conversation is also about how people are using language to express and pursue relationships.

What does “conversation style” actually mean?  A “conversation” is a means of “communicating” with others.  The “style” here refers to the combination of features that relate to meaning and management of conversation such as rhythm, pronunciation or intonation. The style of an individual is said to be related to his/her social background, his/her class, his/her age and/or his/her gender.  There are a great variety of styles within even one particular social group. It can be said that generally each individual has his/her specific “style” of talking. 

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In modern society there are a great many different groups of English speakers and they vary widely in the way that they communicate with each other or with different groups.  There are many interesting investigations taking place.  It would now be appealing to have a look at what sorts of investigations have been made and how these groups of English speakers differ in their conversation style

There is an interesting example of how people with different socio-cultural backgrounds can differ in conversation style in CB 2.  (The example being referred to is on page 17.)  It is based ...

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