Библиографическое описание:

Холжигитова Д. Б. Differences Between Written And Spoken Language // Молодой ученый. — 2016. — №9. — С. 1305-1308.

In any language there is some amount of difference between written language (planned) and spoken language (spontaneous). Since planned speech could be considered a form of written language, it could be inferred that there are also differences between planned speech and spontaneous speech. Some of these differences are very clear in terms of syntax, lexis, phonology and discourse.

Apart from obvious differences between speech and writing like the fact that writing includes some medium which keeps record of the conveyed message while speech involves only air, there are certain dissimilarities that are less apparent. Speech develops in time in that the speaker says with speed that is suitable for him, even if it may not be appropriate for the listener and though a request for repetition is possible, it is difficult to imagine a conversation in which every sentence is to be rephrased. Moreover, talking might be spontaneous which results in mistakes, repetition, sometimes less coherent sentences where even grunts, stutters or pauses might be meaningful. The speaker usually knows the listener, or listeners, or he is at least aware of the fact that he is being listened to, which enables him to adjust the register. As interlocutors are most often in face-to-face encounters (unless using a phone) they take advantage of extralinguistic signals as grimaces, gesticulation, expressions such as «here», «now», or «this» are used. Employment of nonsense vocabulary, slang and contracted forms (we're, you've) is another feature of oral discourse. Among other significant features of speech there are rhythm, intonation, speed of uttering and, what is more important, inability to conceal mistakes made while speaking. [1. p. 67]

In contrast, writing develops in space in that it needs a means to carry the information. The author of the text does not often know who is going to read the text, as a result he cannot adjust to readers' specific expectations. The writer is frequently able to consider the content of his work for almost unlimited period of time which makes it more coherent, having complex syntax. What is more, the reader might not instantly respond to the text, ask for clarification, hence neat message organization, division to paragraphs, layout are of vital importance to make comprehension easier. Additionally, owing to the lack of context expressions such as «now» or «here» are omitted, since they would be ambiguous as texts might be read at different times and places. One other feature typical of writing, but never of oral discourse, is the organization of tables, formulas, or charts which can be portrayed only in written form.

Naturally, this division into two ways of producing discourse is quite straightforward, yet, it is possible to combine the two like, for example, in the case of a lesson, when a teacher explains something writing on the blackboard, or when a speaker prepares detailed notes to be read out during his speech. Moreover, some of the foregoing features are not so explicit in the event of sophisticated, formal speech or a friendly letter.

Syntactical Structure. One of the main differences between spontaneous and planned speech is that of syntax. The syntactical structure tends to be more complicated in planned speech, so the sentences tend to be very long, complicated and complete. McCarthy states that «without a command of the rich and variable resources of the grammar, the construction of natural and sophisticated discourse is impossible». Therefore, grammatical cohesion and semantic links between words could be easily detected in planned speech. On the other hand, the syntactical structure in spontaneous speech is very simple, incomplete and sometimes even incorrect. The sentences are very simple and short. The spontaneous speaker slurs words; half enunciates the words or says incomplete sentences (e. g. fragments). However, these incomplete sentences are acceptable because they are a typical feature of spoken English. Moreover, Goldman‑Eisler reports: Spontaneous speech was shown to be a highly fragmented and discontinuous activity. When even at its most fluent, two‑thirds of spoken language comes in chunks of less than six words, the attribute of flow and fluency in spontaneous speech must be judged an illusion.

Lexical features:

  1. Vocabulary and the (Interactive features & Organization) of Text.

In spontaneous speech, the speaker tends to switch from one point to the other without paying attention to the organization of his message. He might start talking about a certain topic and then moves to talk about something totally different and then returns to his main topic and continues in that circle. Moreover, vocabulary items are carelessly selected and they could be repeated again and again in order to communicate the meaning. However, in planned speech, the speaker makes use of the vocabulary in organizing his message so that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Moreover, he tends to focus on high lexical density and complex vocabulary including abstract and he uses a variety of vocabulary with lower level of repetition (Hughes, 1996). McCarthy (1991:75) suggests that vocabulary is not just used to organize the text but also to indicate the larger text patterns chosen by the author. He states that: As well as representing text‑segments, some of the discourse organizing words give us indications of the larger text patterns the author has chosen, and build up expectations concerning the shape of the whole discourse.

− Vocabulary plays another role in focusing the attention on a specific part of the message. In planned speech for instance, the speaker tends to use words that take lesser space and more information. These words help him to place the focus on the main idea of the message. On the other hand, the focus is diverted in different directions in the spontaneous speech due to the speaker's unorganized way of delivering the message.

− Vocabulary is not only necessary for the organization of the message in planned speech; it is also important to reflect an interactive impression about the message in spontaneous speech. Spoken speech in general and spontaneous speech in particular are noticeable for their interactive expressions. Spontaneous speech frequently involves interactive expressions like well, now, you know… etc.

  1. False starts. Maclay and Osgood observed that false starts, when a speaker starts an utterance, stops abruptly and restarts, usually involves not just corrections of the unintended word, but also corrections of the associated function words. False start occurs a lot in spontaneous speech due to the high speed of interaction, the fast flow of utterances and the short time that the speaker has to think about his utterances. On the other hand, false start does not occur in planned speech because the speaker has enough time to plan, organise and think about what he is going to say. So, his utterances are more likely to be very organized, accurate and focused on the main idea of the message which means there is no chance for false start to exist in such a speech.

Phonological features:

  1. Pauses and Rhythms. Preplanned speech, such as a talk, can be read smoothly and continuously. Spontaneous speech can rarely be described in this way. It is full of pauses, hesitations, false starts, fragments and corrections, which the listener has to disentangle somehow. In actual fact, these factors have some important functions in the spontaneous speech. For instance, the pause or the silence in speech can play a social role, as when we pause for effect, in order to emphasize a point; it can also signal that the speaker has finished talking and now wishes someone else to talk. Moreover, it plays a physical role since we can not talk and inhale at the same time. Finally, it can play a cognitive role; pauses may occur when we are planning what to say next. So, we could say that pauses play a crucial role in the planning of spontaneous speech at both the lexical and the semantic level.

In fact, a pause for the cognitive function of planning will not always be silent. Many of the hesitations which occur in speech — the 'ers' and 'ums' — are thoughtto be attempts to achieve the cognitive function of planning something else to say, while retaining control of the conversation. If the silence is filled with sound, the speaker is indicating that no interruption is to be tolerated. On the other hand, in the planned speech pauses do occur but rhythmically along with ebb and flow of the sentence. Brown (1990:48) suggests that pauses in the spoken mode of a written speech (planned speech), occur on the rhythmic beat just as stressed syllable do. In other words, short pauses will contribute a single beat whereas long pauses contribute multiple beats. Planned speech is more rhythmic than spontaneous speech in that short pauses are used for commas, long ones for fullstops and longer pauses while switching to the next passage and this rhythm is almost lacking in spontaneous speech. In actual fact it is very hard for a spontaneous speaker to establish a rhythmic quality in his speech unless he is very fluent and well experienced speaker. The reason for this is that the spontaneous speaker would sometimes stop at the middle of a sentence in order to find a suitable word that serves the meaning he wants to convey or express.

The Use of.

  1. Fillers. Spontaneous speech is disfluent: speakers need time to formulate utterances and often to make changes, so fillers, pauses, repetitions and restarts are abound. Fillers and hesitations dominate spontaneous speech and give it its distinctive structure and feeling. According to Brown (1990), in normal spontaneous speech the speaker concentrates both on what to say and how to say it. If that is the case, spontaneous speaker would use lots of fillers such as «erm», «er», «uh»...ete in order to gain some time to think of what to say next or to search for a suitable word that would best convey his meaning. It could be said therefore, that these fillers help the spontaneous speaker to be more efficient while speaking. However, if the speaker exaggerates in using these fillers, this could affect his fluency. On the other hand, in planned speech the speaker does not need to use the fillers so often since he has already had enough time to plan what he is going to say. That justifies the small number of fillers used in planned speech and the huge number used in spontaneous speech.
  2. Pronunciation Variants. Spontaneous speech, as opposed to planned speech, is a more natural way in which people communicate with each other. However, the recognition of spontaneous speech is made more challenging by the severe pronunciation variants and unpredictable pauses or laughter in between words. For instance, when words follow one another in speech, phonemes may undergo considerable changes. Hence, it is more likely that planned speech would have more careful and precise pronunciation.
  3. Time and speed factors. We have seen previously that the use of fillers is more common in spontaneous speech than in planned speech. The use of fillers and pauses consumes a considerable time of the overall time of speech and this in turn, decreases the speed of the speech delivery and affects the fluency of the speaker. On the other hand, the time consumed in delivering a planned speech (of the same topic as in spontaneous speech) is less than that consumed in spontaneous speech although the message in the former is more coherent and organized. This could be justified by the fact that in planned speech, the speaker has had enough time to think about the message whereas, in spontaneous speech, he is speaking casually on the spot without having any time to think about it.

The Discourse Features:

  1. The use of referring expressions. «Referring expressions are words whose meaning can only be discovered by referring to other words or to elements of the context which are clear to bothsender and receiver». Planned speech is explicit with precise and specific references, whereas the spontaneous speech frequently demonstrates nonspecific references. The most common example of these references is third person pronouns (she/ her/ hers/ herself; he/ him/ his/ himself; it/ its/ itself; they/ them/ their/ theirs/ themselves). However, it is not only the third person pronouns which work in this way. The meanings of this, that, here and there have also to be found either formally in another part of the discourse or contextually from the world. Referring expressions fulfil a dual purpose of unifying the text (they depend upon some of the subject matter remaining the same) and of economy, because they save us from having to repeat the identity of what we are talking about again and again (ibid).
  2. Ellipsis. The complexity of the grammatical features found in spontaneous speech often stems from a high incidence of a characteristic called ellipsis. According to Hughes, «Ellipsis is a complex concept which basically hinges on the notion that something is «missing» from an utterance or clause, but that it can be understood because of the surrounding discourse and context». Ellipsis is more likely to occur in spontaneous speech rather than in planned speech because in the latter, the ideas tend to be expressed in complete sentences and they are relatively straightforward; whereas in the former, the message is implicitly expressed to an audience who is supposed to know the context of the speech.


  1. Gee J. P. An introduction to discourse analysis. London: Routledge. 2001, p. 67.
  2. Hutchby I, Wooffitt, R. Conversation Analysis, Cambridge, UK. 1998, p. 65.
  3. Jaworski A., Coupland, N. (Eds) The Discourse Reader, London: Routledge. 1999, pp. 66–78.
  4. McCarthy M. Discourse analysis for language teachers. Cambridge: CUP. 1999, pp. 33–65.
  5. McCarthy Michael and Carter Ronald, Language as Discourse: Perspectives for Language Teaching — Essex. 1994, p. 78.


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