Spoken language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken language is in the literal sense all oral utterances of a language produced with the human speaking apparatus , in contrast to written language , visually and manually oriented sign language and parasanguage .

In a more restricted, linguistic sense, spoken language only counts spontaneously, freely formulated speaking in non-posed, unobserved communication situations, such as is produced in conversations between two or more participants. In this sense, the oral presentation of written pre-formulated texts does not fall under the term spoken language. The special production conditions of spoken language include, in addition to the lower normalization, the situation-relatedness, the interactivity and the shorter processing time of speaking . The peculiarities of the form of spoken language include the formation of ellipses, i.e. speaking in syntactically incomplete sentences, the use of interjections , various correction phenomena, and the listener and speaker signals , so-called structure signals .


Spoken and written German are variants of the language system and language usage . First of all, our spoken language is also based on the morphological and syntactic rules of the written language, in the majority of cases a certain adherence to rules in terms of grammar and syntax can be recorded; certain standardized word sequences such as subject , predicate and object are observed. However, since the spoken language arises under different conditions, there are a number of special features that were learned with natural language acquisition and are no longer consciously perceived during the speaking process. They are based in particular on the perception of the speech situation (people present, objects that can be focused, etc.). The phonetic realization offers specific possibilities for nuance and expression of emotions.

The spoken language is a fleeting medium. This results in a lower planning capacity on the speaker's side and the need to anchor the contribution in the ongoing interaction without losing the right to speak due to interruptions. There are different requirements for understanding and being understood than for a written text that can be written without time pressure and read as often as you like. The spontaneous conversation is interactive, the listener is almost as involved in the creation of the speaker's contribution through feedback (e.g. through interjections such as "hm" or through facial expressions) as the speaker himself. The "speech constellation", that is, in which context I am Who you speak to is just as important for communication as age, rank, gender, dialect area, attitude and behavior of the speaker. Many verbal explanations can be saved through non-verbal actions and by referring to the common space of experience. Detailed representations of situational pointing ( deixis ), the ellipse and other phenomena are given using the example of the German language Zifonun / Hoffmann / Strecker 1997.


The ellipses are - in the sense of traditional grammar - incomplete sentences. Oral communication is based on a common syntax and on common knowledge of the world, but there is also a common spatial-situational experience, so the economy of language allows and requires an avoidance of redundancies . An almost classic case of an ellipse is an answer ellipse, which is shown in the following example:

A: This year I'm going on vacation again.

B: Where to?

A: To Provence.

B: Alone?

A: With my wife.

B: When?

A: In June.

This is a design takeover. Once a syntactic “foundation” has been established, it remains valid until a new one has to be created by changing the subject. Within such a construction, only that which is new and informative for the listener is expressed. If, however, supposedly superfluous information is given, the speaker uses complete sentences, although he could also be understood that way, he attaches special importance to his utterance, which is also perceived by the listener. It can be an attempt to prove one's own linguistic competence. Ellipses are understandable because the references generated by facial expressions, gestures or shared knowledge ensure that the call participants can synchronize their syntax.

“Window of perception” and correction phenomena

The speaker has little capacity to plan ahead. The time frame is in the range of about 3 seconds. The brain researcher and gestalt psychologist Ernst Pöppel speaks of a "window of perception" within which stimuli can be integrated. Sequential information, as it is conveyed when speaking, can be perceived as simultaneous. During this period (apart from a few rhetorically trained people who have a large repertoire of “prepunched” formulations) a sentence “with full stop and comma” is rarely successful. In general, the speaker does not yet have a final syntactic structure at the beginning of his utterance. This often creates the need to break off speaking that has already been started. Thoughts are restructured in order to then start again (broken sentence) or existing constructions are transferred to others ( Anacoluth ), so that one can speak of a “gradual production of thoughts while speaking” ( Heinrich von Kleist ).

In contrast to the written language, an oral utterance can no longer be withdrawn through corrections, but the path of language production can be traced back. Since there is often redundancy here, corrections also serve an important communicative purpose: disambiguation (creating uniqueness), clarification and specification, weakening of content or distancing. Self-corrections (repairs) serve to secure understanding, rarely also to secure image . The regularities are shown in Zifonun / Hoffmann / Strecker (1997: 443ff.). Abortions can also be brought about by the interaction partner through a suitable listener signal, through non-verbal factors such as a “doubting” look or a shake of the head, but also simply through the absence of such signals. A popular game when telephoning is the suppression of handset signals such as "hm", "yes". After a short time, the speaker gives an irritated "Are you still there?"

Outline signals as a communicative element of language

Until the mid-1960s, the written language set was also the norm for spoken language in Germany. In the course of the “communicative-pragmatic turn” in linguistics , which came about under the influence of pragmatic and sociolinguistic theories, the peculiarities of the spoken language compared to the written language were rehabilitated at the beginning of the 1970s. The communication theory of Paul Watzlawick's group also played a major role , according to which every communication represents a unity of content and relationship, a finding that even linguistics could not ignore in the long run. Here it was especially the structural signals that were identified as a communicative element after they were previously considered to be annoying when writing spoken texts and were regularly deleted. Lexical (represented by sounds) listener and speaker signals, such as "uh", "uh", "so" and "not true" ensure in oral communication that the portioning of an utterance into smaller units is made possible and the relationship is made possible is regulated by the speaker and listener with regard to the turn-taking and securing of the right to speak.

In addition to these lexical structuring signals and the thematic structure, it is above all prosodic elements, i.e. lowering and raising the voice, filled and unfilled pauses, which result in an internal division of the speakers' contributions into smaller communicative units.

Many psychotherapeutic directions criticize the "improper speaking", which concerns the use of introductory phrases like "I mean ...", "I think that ..." etc. It should be noted here that it is usually not a referential (content-related) use of such phrases. An attempt is only made to assert the right to speak. The redundant part of the utterance is placed at the beginning, so that the right to speak can be considered secured when the information is given.

In stories that require longer attention, so-called episode marks appear as an introduction: “Do you know what happened to me yesterday?”, “Have you heard?” Here the speaker signals that he is counting on the willingness of his audience to answer him for to leave the floor for a longer period of time. A wrong signal often sets the basis for disturbed communication. Anyone who introduces his sentences in the Freundeskreis with “Pay attention ...” can be misunderstood by strangers who might perceive the phrase: “Take care!” As a threat or instruction.


The study of spoken language is part of linguistics , communication science , neurolinguistics and rhetoric .

Computational linguistics deals with the spoken language in the development of speech recognition systems.

The speech effect deals with the listener's interpretation of non-linguistic information in oral utterances (which mostly, but not necessarily, also contain spoken language as additional information).

See also


  • George Armitage Miller : The science of words . Scientific American, New York 1991, ISBN 0-7167-5027-9 .
    • German: words. Forays into psycholinguistics. Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 1993, ISBN 3-86025-076-0 .
  • Robert Mroczynski: Conversational Linguistics . An introduction. Narr Verlag, Tübingen 2014, ISBN 3-8233-6851-6 .
  • Ernst Pöppel , Anna-Lydia Edinghaus: Mysterious cosmos of the brain. Bertelsmann, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-570-12063-5 .
  • Alfred Lameli: Standard and Substandard. Regionalisms in a diachronic longitudinal section (Journal of Dialectology and Linguistics / Supplements; 128). Steiner, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-515-08558-0 (also dissertation, University of Marburg 2004)
  • Rainer Rath: Communication practice. Analysis of text formation and text structure in spoken German (Kleine Vandenhoeck series; 1452). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1979, ISBN 3-525-33434-6 .
  • Johannes Schwitalla: Spoken language - seen in dialog. In: Gerd Fritz, Franz Hundsnurscher (eds.): Handbook of dialogue analysis . Niemayer, Tübingen 1994, ISBN 3-484-73014-5 .
  • Johannes Schwitalla: Spoken German. An introduction. 3rd, revised edition. Schmidt-Verlag, Berlin 2006. ISBN 3-503-09805-4 .
  • Thomas Tinnefeld : Deficiencies in the distinction between written and spoken language in German as a cause of errors in the written foreign language use (language & culture). Shaker Aachen 1999, ISBN 3-8265-4942-2 .
  • Paul Watzlawick , Janet H. Beavin, Don D. Jackson : Pragmatics of human communication . Faber & Faber, London 1968.
    • German: human communication. Forms, disorders, paradoxes. 7th edition. Huber, Bern 1972, ISBN 3-456-81441-0 .
  • Gisela Zifonun, Ludger Hoffmann , Bruno Strecker: Grammar of the German language. De Gruyter, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-11-014752-1 (3 vol.)