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  • Many word watchers have been aware for a few years now of how one particular piece of our oral language is changing right before our ears! The phrase “That’s a whole nother thing” can be heard in spoken language very often, yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone actually writing “A whole nother.” It’s a wonderful example of language change in action, and how the written form can lag a long way behind the spoken.

  • Jonathan: Interesting post. For further discussion of features like topic fronting, ‘utterance launchers’, tags, and other features of ‘spoken grammar’, see the big Biber et al. Grammar of Spoken and Written English, chapter 14, and especially section 14.3. They don’t cover everything though. It’s fascinating how different spoken English actually is from the written forms that are taught as ‘proper grammar’ or Standard English. In novels, there were until recently very few writers who reproduced dialogue faithfully; now this is getting to be the norm, but it’s taken a long time when you consider how long tape-recorders have been around for.

  • Jonathan: No not really. One factor is surely that the spoken language used to be thought somehow inferior to the written, and written language was the basis for grammatical description and hence prescription. In the last few decades, with the internet, social media, texting etc, people have learnt to write as they speak, and invented a whole new set of conventions for doing so. It’s partly to do with speed – the message is the important thing rather than the way it is crafted.
    This trend has raised the status of the spoken language and made it an object of study in its own right – hence LGSWE and its ilk. The representation of dialogue in novels is changing along the same lines. But I don’t want to overstate the case – there’s brilliant ‘natural’ dialogue in oldish American crime fiction – Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block etc , in The Graduate (1963) and in lots of other novels. There were always writers who had a brilliant ear for how we actually do speak, and whose dialogue both reflected this and affected it. And it’s obviously not a simple question. The development of large corpora has a lot to do with it, too.