Impromptu word group ordering
We’ve already learnt that spontaneous
speech is composed and spoken at the same time. That is, spontaneous
speech-making is an impromptu action — one that you do without
planning or organizing it in advance. Therefore, if you look
at a long stretch of spontaneous speech, you can always notice
one thing: Spontaneous speech has a distinctive flavour —
the flavour of “makeshift improvisations”.
The reason is this: In spontaneous speech,
you use a particular word group only because nothing better
occurs to you readily — and not because you know that that
particular word group is the most appropriate one. You see,
when you start speaking, the information that you want to
convey is not available in an organized form or set in words.
So the only option you have is to speak on by using such word
groups as occur to you as suitable on the spur of the moment
—whatever they may be. You’re not definite that you’re using
word groups that are absolutely right. You want to try them
out, feel them out, experiment with them. You want to see
what’ll happen. Then you refine and edit what you’ve
said — words, word groups, structures, everything. These processes
of ‘trying out’ and ‘editing’ go on — one after the other.
In other words, when you speak spontaneously,
you speak exploratorily. You see, it’s like this: How will
you move from one end of a room to another in the dark? You
feel the ground; you feel the walls; you move your hands around
or hold them in front of you in order to feel your way; you
move step by step — pausing here and there. You retrace your
steps. You change your direction, you stumble and regain balance.
The more familiar the room and the objects in it are to you,
the less your difficulty. In spontaneous speech also, you
proceed almost in the same way. The more familiar the subject-matter
is to you, the less your difficulty.
Thus everything that you say in spontaneous
speech is tentative —and subject to revision and refinement.
True, you may not revise or refine everything. But everything
is subject to revision and refinement. Many of the
things, you revise and refine. The remaining things, you leave
in their crude forms.
Therefore, from the very nature of its production,
spoken language gets the flavour of “makeshift improvisations”.
It’s this flavour that gives an individuality of its own to
spoken language — and marks it out from written language.
If you take away the tentativeness, the vagueness and the
lack of exactness from spoken language, it would immediately
cease to be spoken language.
Special ways of word group ordering
The earlier Lessons have taken you through
a number of spontaneous spoken English texts — texts containing
speech-composition features. An important point that would
have struck your mind is this: The way a sizeable proportion
of word groups is ordered (arranged) in spoken English — it’s
different from the way word groups are ordered (arranged)
in written English.
The reason for this difference is this: If
you order word groups in certain special ways, it’ll be easier
for you to plan and execute your speech simultaneously. That
is, these special ways of word group-ordering will help you
in the moment-to-moment speech-production more than the written
English style of word group-ordering. In other words, these
special ways of word group ordering will help you make makeshift-improvisations
and, thus, help you compose your speech and speak at the same
But here’s something you should remember:
All this doesn’t mean that you should only compose whatever
you say in these special ways. No, that’s not what I mean.
What I mean is this: There are special methods that
you can use when you find normal methods (of structuring clauses
and groups of clauses and phrases) inconvenient in certain
contexts. These are certainly supplements to the normal methods
— and not substitutes for them. When ordinary syntactic
processes fail to help you to keep up an acceptable level
of fluency, you don’t have to falter and the flow of your
speech doesn’t have to stop. There are these special
ways of word group ordering in existence, and you can
(and must) take help from them. And I want you to understand
that every fluent speaker depends a lot on them.
Let’s now examine these special ways of word
group-ordering in spoken English.
1. Topic–comment arrangement
Take this word group:
When is the next train to Delhi?
This is a simple question, and it’s grammatically
sound (even according to written English rules). And you can
use it in spoken English also. But there’s a more natural
and simpler way of asking this question in spoken English:
The next train to Delhi – when is it?
Here what the speaker has done is this: He
presented the topic (theme) first: “The next train to Madras”.
Then he made a comment on it — separately, by an independent
structure: “When is it?”
Here’s another example:
This habit of yours – it will get you into
The normal style — acceptable in written
English also — is this: “This habit of yours will get you
This type of Topic-Comment arrangement is
very common in spoken English. This type of word group ordering
will liberate you from the written English clutch to a great
A few examples will help you master the knack.
Here we go:
• That man + who is he? • The man who shouted
at me + he’s in the next room. • Our new boss + have you
met him? • That man + I’ve seen him somewhere. • Your friend
+ what’s his name? • The postman + his house is somewhere
there. • John’s sister + is she abroad? • My wife + she’s
from Calcutta. • His mother + have you seen her? • The girl
I told you about + I didn’t see her there today. • The girl
in red + is her father abroad? • Your secretary + her computer
needs repairing. • The cash book + where is it? • Your letter
+ I got it yesterday. • His book + what’s its name? • This
shirt + I don’t like its colour. • The thieves + were they
wearing masks? • Father and mother + they’re coming today.
• Those people + do you know them? • These men + you should
be cautious about them. • Your friends + what’s their interest
in this? • The manufacturers + it’s their fault. • The cake
you gave + did he eat all of it? • The oil in this bottle
+ I took a little of it. • The things he said + none of
them is true.
• Crying like this + it wouldn’t help you
at all. • Meeting him there + it’s no use. • Shouting at
her like this + what good will it do? • Working with them
+ isn’t it a great privilege? • Making all these arrangements
+ it isn’t easy. • Threatening him + it’s not wise. • Moving
to another place + it won’t solve the problem. • Getting
a part-time job + will it be difficult? • Attending evening
classes + I find it inconvenient. • Travelling around +
she finds it exciting. • Doing the washing up + she finds
2. Comment–topic arrangement
This arrangement is the reverse of the
topic-comment arrangement. That is, here we make a comment
about the topic (theme) first, and then emphasize the
topic by presenting it as a tag.
For example, take this word group:
Where has the gate-keeper gone?
The topic-comment arrangement of this question
would be like this:
The gate-keeper + where has he gone?
On the other hand, the comment-topic arrangement
would be like this:
Where has he gone + the gate-keeper?
In spoken English, the comment–topic arrangement
is as important as the topic-comment arrangement. The following
word groups will help you learn the arrangement:
• Who’s he + that man? • He’s in the next
room + the man who shouted at me. • Have you met him + our
new boss? • I’ve seen him somewhere + that man. • What’s
his name + your friend’s? • His house is somewhere there
+ the postman’s. • Is she abroad + John’s sister? • Have
you seen her + his mother? • I didn’t see her there today
+ the girl I told you about. • Is her father abroad + that
girl’s + the girl in red. • Her computer needs repairing
+ your secretary’s. • Where is it + the cash book? • I got
it yesterday + your letter. • What’s its name + his book’s?
• I don’t like its colour + this shirt’s. • Were they wearing
masks + the thieves? • They’re coming today + father and
mother. • Do you know them + those people? • You should
be cautious about them + these men. • What’s their interest
in this + your friends? • It’s their fault + the manufacturers’.
• Did he eat all of it + the cake you gave? • I took a little
of it + the oil. • None of them is true + the things he
• It wouldn’t help you at all + crying
like this. • It’s no use + meeting him there. • What good
will it do + shouting at her like this? • Isn’t it a great
privilege + working with them? • It isn’t easy + making
all these arrangements. • It’s not wise + threatening him.
• It won’t solve the problem + moving to another place.
• Will it be difficult + getting a part-time job? • I find
it inconvenient + attending evening classes. • She finds
it exciting + travelling around. • She finds it tedious
+ doing the washing up.
• Does anyone know it + how you’re going
to handle the situation? • Will father do it + what mother
has asked him to do? • Can you predict it + which team will
win? • Have you settled it + where to go for the picnic?
• Do the police know it + the place the murderer is hiding
in? • Does she suspect it + that the cloth is quite cheap?
• Do they believe it + that he’s an educated man? • Have
you found it + how they broke open the door?