Oral and written language are completely different, and there are separate skills and strategies associated with each.
ORAL LANGUAGE CHARACTERISTICS
Oral or spoken language is the language used to communicate in everyday life.
In English, oral language is characterised by features such as, use of contractions, informality and use of personal pronouns. These characteristics are often determined by audience.
CONTRACTIONS IN ORAL LANGUAGE
Contractions such as can’t, won’t and don’t, which mean respectively cannot, will not and do not, are common in spoken language.
The reason for this is that speech is less formal and faster than written language.
Thus oral language uses shortcuts to enhance the communication of meaning.
INFORMALITY IN ORAL LANGUAGE
Spoken language is informal, but the level of informality changes according to the situation.
For example, a person speaking with friends will speak more informally than a person speaking to a workplace seminar.
Informal language features slang, such as “kids” for “children,” and the occasional grammatically incorrect construction of sentences and idioms. These are not used in written language.
USE OF PERSONAL PRONOUNS
In speech it is common for a person to use “I” or “we,” which are personal pronouns. This is particularly true when speaking with friends or acquaintances.
Spoken language is generally a two-person interaction and it is practical to use these pronouns in such a situation.
Oral language has immediacy which written language does not.
WRITTEN LANGUAGE CHARACTERISTICS
Written language is often permanent and can be directed towards a large and varied audience. Writing also lacks cues such as body language and tone of voice to convey meaning.
Due to this written language has conventions which aid clarity.
As with oral language, writing style changes according to the situation, however, there are some rules which should always be followed.
CONTRACTIONS IN WRITTEN LANGUAGE
In formal or work situations, contractions should be avoided. English conventions frown on the use of contractions in these types of texts.
However, the use of contractions in emails to friends is acceptable, which illustrates how audience influences language use.
FORMALITY IN WRITTEN LANGUAGE
Written language is more formal than oral language. Due to lack of visual cues in written language, it is important to omit slang and idiom from it.
Slang and idioms are often culturally specific and can be easily misunderstood in a written context.
In work and academic matters it is vital to use correct and formal words and phrases.
PASSIVE CONSTRUCTION OF SENTENCES
One aspect of written language in the academic situation is passive construction of sentences. These constructions make the object the subject of the verb.
For example, the sentence, “He built the house in 1970” is an active sentence with “He” as the subject and “the house” as the object.
In a passive construction the object, “the house” becomes the subject and the sentence transforms into “The house was built in 1970.” The use of passive in formal written English eliminates the need to use personal pronouns.
There are several differences between oral and written language; recognition and command of these differences can make communication more effective and rewarding.
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