Speaking And Writing Compared

Spoken and written language both have as their central function the communication of information about people and the world, and so it is common-sensical to assume that there are important similarities between speaking and writing. On the other hand, children and adults often find writing much harder than speaking, suggesting there are major differences between the productions of spoken and written language. Speaking and writing will now be compared.


The view that speaking and writing are similar receives some support if we compare the theoretical approach to speech production of Dell et al. (1997) with the theory of writing proposed by Hayes and Flower (1986). In both theories, it is assumed there is an initial attempt to decide on the overall meaning that is to be communicated. At this stage, the actual words to be spoken or written are not considered. This is followed by the production of language, which often proceeds on a clause-by-clause basis.

Gould (1978) compared dictated and written business letters. Even those highly practised at dictation rarely dictated more than 35% faster than they wrote. This is noteworthy, given that people can speak five or six times faster than they can write. Gould (1980) divided the time taken to dictate and to write letters into various component times. His participants were videotaped while composing letters, and the generating, reviewing, accessing, editing, and planning times were calculated. Planning, which was assumed to occur during pauses not obviously devoted to other processes, accounted for more of the total time than any other process. Planning time represented about two-thirds of the total composition time for both dictated and written letters, and this explains why dictation was only slightly faster than writing.

Gould (1978) compared the quality of letter writing across three different response modes: writing; dictating; and speaking. Those who wrote very good letters also tended to dictate and to speak very good letters. The quality of letter writing is determined mainly by internal planning processes, and these processes are essentially the same regardless of the type of response. In addition, the knowledge that someone possesses (e.g., vocabulary; specific knowledge of the topic) is available for use whether that person is writing, speaking, or dictating. However, some of the findings may be specific to business letters. The absence of visual feedback with dictation might be a real disadvantage when composing essays or longer pieces of writing.


How do speaking and writing differ? Spoken language makes use of prosody (rhythm, intonation, and so on) to convey meaning and grammatical information, and gesture is also used for emphasis. In contrast, writers have to rely heavily on punctuation to supply the information provided by prosody in spoken language. Writers also make much more use than speakers of words or phrases signalling what is coming next (e.g., but; on the other hand). This helps to compensate for the lack of prosody in written language. Four of the most obvious differences between speaking and writing are as follows:

• Speakers typically know precisely who is receiving their message.

• Speakers generally receive moment-by-moment feedback from the listener or listeners (e.g., expressions of bewilderment).

• Speakers generally have much less time than writers to plan their language production.

• "Writing is in essence a more conscious process than speaking. spontaneous discourse is usually spoken, self-monitored discourse is usually written" (Halliday, 1987, pp. 67-69).

As a result, spoken language is generally fairly informal and simple in structure, with information often being communicated rapidly. In contrast, written language is more formal and complex in structure. Writers need to write clearly because they do not receive immediate feedback, and this slows down the communication rate.

Cognitive neuropsychologists have found that some brain-damaged patients have writing skills that are largely intact in spite of an almost total inability to speak and a lack of inner speech. Others can speak fluently, but find writing very difficult. In addition, there are other patients whose patterns of errors in speaking and in writing differ so much that it is hard to believe that a single system could underlie both language activities. However, these findings do not mean that the higher-level processes involved in language production (e.g., planning; use of knowledge) differ between speaking and writing.

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Business Correspondence

Business Correspondence

24 chapters on preparing to write the letter and finding the proper viewpoint how to open the letter, present the proposition convincingly, make an effective close how to acquire a forceful style and inject originality how to adapt selling appeal to different prospects and get orders by letter proved principles and practical schemes illustrated by extracts from 217 actual letter.

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