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Language Creativity in Everyday Conversation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2459 words Published: 22nd May 2017

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Transcribe the extract from CD-ROM1, Band 6: Kitchen Floor. Using this data and relevant concepts and theories from E301, discuss the extent to which language creativity can be identified in everyday conversation in English.

Undid the paper ((laughter)) and (like) (.) put a little bit of salt on and I handed them to him you know and he looked at me and he didn’t DARE say anything so he had to SIT and eat it with his fingers ((laughter)) which he HATES (.) But I was going to make a point of the fact that I was not going to put it on a plate and do the whole BIT and make a (his tea) [and that

[like Charles when I was doing the kitchen floor you see…

[he totally // was the one who started it // said that I was mad to take on the job (.) I wouldn’t do it (.)


and he wasn’t gonna help (.) LEANING on the door while he said that ((laughter)) (speech inaudible) (.) He said (1.0) I’m not gonna help you with this (.) If you’re gonna do it you’re doing it on your own

// yeah // (.) I said yeah okay (.) There’s nothing I like more than a challenge (.) [did he actually SAY it like that (.) And he actually DID do that (.) He actually stood and LEANED // yeah // against the door (.) (*inaudible*) on the other side of the kitchen telling me (.) he was depressed (.) ((laughter))

I’m sweating away ((laughter)) he was off his sleeping tablets he was going to take ((laughter)) (speech inaudible) he was gonna do it on the floor ((laughter)) and meanwhile ((xxxxxxxxxxx)) ((laughter)) It’s awful isn’t it (.) I’m laughing too much ((xxxxxxxxxxx))

Transcription conventions:

(( )) = background noises

(.) = brief pause

[ = interruption

// = speech overlap

(1.0) = pause longer than half a second

CAPS = emphasis

Xxxxxxxxxxx = inaudible speech

In this assignment, I will try to discuss relevant ideas that have come up in the course materials so far, particularly in Carter’s book, analyse features of this language data and in conclusion summarise my own views on creativity that are found in everyday language with reference to the data sample.

First I shall attempt to analyse the transcript from the E301 audio material and later explain how this fits in with the ideas of Carter.

From what I can tell, the transcript is basically a chit-chat between three women, who seem to be more than colleagues, so actually three friends. What they are talking about was rather hard to understand because firstly, they all sound the same and secondly as it is informal talk the facilitating of turn-taking is not put very clearly and instances of interruption and laughter add to the confusion.

Spoken creativity may be more prevalent in certain types of social context and within certain types of interpersonal relationship.

(Carter p. 147)

I will also research Carter’s idea on the CANCODE corpus that he has linked to creativity in verbal repetition and a wide range of “figures of speech” like idiom, proverbs and hyperbole. According to Carter, it is not possible to define creativity an a wholly formalist way because in spoken interaction, what counts as creative use can vary according to the dynamic established as part of the dialogue.

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But Sacks argues that ordinary talk has to be achieved and is a human, social and creative accomplishment which is far from being ‘ordinary’. Some speech figures pass unnoticed as normal, routine and even pre-formulated units and in some cases, the same figures are drawn to the attention of the speakers. The purpose of creative language in everyday common speech is highly varied and may include: offering a new way of seeing the content of a message; making humorous remarks; underlining what is communicated; expressing a particular attitude; including negative and adversarial attitudes; making the speaker’s identity more manifest; playing with language form to entertain others; ending one bit of talk and starting another or simply oiling the wheels of the conversation. (Carter, p.148)

Creativity almost always depends on interpretation of intentions and inferences of the participants.

It is perhaps best to start by explaining how Carter’s model of literariness is used for the analysis because the results reveal that speech is dependant on itself and includes examples of stylistic and lexical features, words of contrast at text and sound level, parallelism, evocative descriptive language and cross-sentential repetition. The Greece Tourist

Guide for example is dependant on medium and carries examples of archaic and syntactic features, emotive action words, evocative descriptive language, polysemy and displaced interaction. To put it bluntly, it is very hard, not to say difficult to measure which text is more literary except if the two texts have an identical genre.

At this point I am now going to give a definition of literary language or literariness. Literary language refers to a particular language or language variety used in literature and also refers to a type of language – a style or mode of expression associated with literary genres such as poetry, narrative fiction or drama, whilst literariness refers to the quality of literature or literary language.

If used to refer to language in more everyday context, these terms will tend to focus on continuity with literature, such as Carter’s argument about a cline of literariness. (Carter, 2004)

There is something in literariness known as clines. This term has a similar meaning to continuum and refers to relations along a particular dimension that are a matter of degree rather than having discrete cut-off points. Therefore this would suggest then that literariness is a matter of degree. However there is a problem suggesting that these are gradations or degrees of literariness in texts and how to measure it.

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As far as linguistic forms, it would seem unreasonable just to total the number of creative features used in a particular text. Whether the text is considered to be literary will not derive from the presence of more or fewer literary features and the concept of a cline or sets of clines may suggest a level of precision in the identification of literariness that is not able to be attained in practice.

I now turn to Carter’s models of literariness. Discussing the relationship between everyday linguistic creativity and literary language brings forward the question what literary language actually is. Carter (1999) has identified three models: two established models to which he refers to as an inherency model and a socio-cultural model – and more recently, a cognitive model. The inherency model sees literariness as embedding in certain properties of language: so literary language is distinct from more “practical” uses of language where language itself is highlighted.

Jakobson (1960:356) has perceived this as the poetic function of language which focuses on the message for its own sake. This will be termed self-referential language and is language that will be referring partly to itself and not simply to entities in the external world that are the object of discussion. Even though the poetic function is quite evident in many of the examples, the researcher from whom I got this information from is of the opinion that it is the dominant, determining function of verbal art.

A socio-cultural model sees literariness as socially and culturally determined; meaning it would be drawing attention to the fact that conceptions of literature vary historically and culturally. According to Eagelton, (1996) there is nothing distinctive about literary language and any text can be seen as literature if it declared by institutions or if people read it as such.

Anthropological studies of literary performances in various cultural contexts also tend to take a socio-cultural view on literariness. Many studies focus on the performance in its traditional literary or theatrical sense in order to include public displays to artistic activity that are responded to aesthetically by an audience, like story-telling, song, dance or drama. However the notion is not uncommonly extended to more everyday activity in recognition of the fact that there are certain parallels between “everyday” and “literary” performance: that this notion of performance can also describe what often is found in the most ordinary of encounters, like when social actors exhibit particular attention in the delivery of a message.

Cognitive models relate literary language to mental processes and according to Tannen’s suggestion (1989) that linguistic repetition derives from a basic human drive to repeat as a kind of cognitive argument. Cook (1994) claims that literary texts have an effect on the mind and help us to think in new ways and refresh and change our mental representations of the world: But such benefits are not confined to established literature and Cook has similar thing to say about everyday creativity or language play. In addition, Gibbs (1994) claims that human language and human understanding often are metaphorical, concluding that literary metaphor carries on and extends everyday metaphorical notions.

For Carter (1999) there was some value in both “inherency” and socio-cultural models, and in the case of his own examples is identifies formally and in this sense is close to an inherency model. However, there is one way to find examples of verbal art in his corpus, and that is to search for instances of laughter. What people respond to as artful is consistent with a socio-cultural model and in Carter’s view; a cognitive model is beneficial by helping explain the prevalence of creativity in everyday language. The argument is that literariness should be seen as a cline or a series of clines and is appropriate to see texts as more or less literary rather than in terms of an opposition between literary and non-literary language.

There are two main levels of “creative” interactions. The first is the pattern re-forming feature which is more overt, has presentational uses of figures of speech, open displays of metaphoric invention, punning, uses of idioms and departures from expected idiomatic formulations. The second pattern-forming feature is less overt, may have subconscious and subliminal repetition; parallelisms, echoes and related matchings which often result in expressions of affective convergence in implicit signals of intimacy and symmetries of feelings. Linguistic creativity is less likely to occur in contexts which involve a one-way process of information provision or professional interaction in which the main purpose is transactional and where relations between participants in a particular context might be more asymmetrical.

Mapping out probabilistic in creativity onto social context is not easy to capture diagrammatically and it does not seem to allow exceptions. So it is likely that creativity will occur in informal situations. Like when colleagues working together in a department store while decorating a window together or when one discovers that the intimacy of the relationship lighten the task until the discourse becomes more populated with wordplay and creative uses of language.

So, what does this tell us about creative language?

It tells us four main points. Firstly, creative language use can’t be captured or described or evaluated wholly by formalistic definitions. Creative functions will vary according to speaker’s evolving relationships, the nature of the external task demands and the changing character of social context and speech genres.

Secondly, creativity is probabilistic. Creative language is more likely to occur in some contexts and in some kinds of interpersonal contact rather than in others. It would be defined with reference to an account of forms and functions but its purposes and uptake depend on a dynamic of locally negotiated processes and specific instances. These can be seen as from the outside but their meaning can only be speculated upon. This means that paradoxically, creativity is a “definitely” emergent, instantial category of language.

Thirdly, we recognize that creativity in context is valuable but there are also many factors which constitute a context and different contextual frames which are able to work within a single context. For example humour can be a significant strategic figure which crosses over into other categorial boundaries. And fourthly, this would mean that creativity is best captured and discussed with the mind fixed on clines and continua with many points of overlap.

Like in the example of the CANCODE corpus: generally speaking it is lacking in examples of language used in a working environment and in the context of business organisations. Humour is used to challenge particular practices and the role of people who have a higher position in a company. The way it works is by allowing a potentially literal statement to be made by non-literal means. But in a preliminary observation, CANCODE and pattern forming is a more female characteristic. Compared to men, women are more spontaneously creative in talk but this need to be researched more as women are not seen as to be openly contestive, adversarial or pattern-reforming in language use or to strategically use humour.

As we can see, there are many ways we can identify creativity in spoken language, whether it is chit-chat between friends or in literature or even in literary contexts, creativity had many faces. Creativity can also be seen as a method on how we learn something new, for example in order to remember a progression of numbers you simply recall it by turning it into a song like “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. That way for example, a child from primary school would be able to remember the number progression of the number 4 by singing the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb in his head.

This method of creativity was made up for me by my mom who tried to help me in my math studies in primary school as it was my worst subject in my entire school career. Needless to say, I passed the math test with that method in primary school and even find myself using similar methods for my Open University study even today, even though it has changed a bit, but the effect has remained the same.


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