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Guide to Linguistic Theories, Research and Concepts | Mode, Interaction & Pragmatics

Beth Kemp | Monday January 30, 2012

Categories: Hot Entries, Mode, Interaction & Pragmatics, An Introduction to Mode, Interaction & Pragmatics, Linguistics Theory & Study, Linguistic Theory, Using Theory


The topic of interaction could be huge, including concepts which are important in a range of sub-topics in linguistic study, including speech, general textual analysis and power.  Many A Level specifications do not require students to have considerable knowledge of studies into conversational behaviour, but only to use the terminology which arose out of that research (e.g. three-part exchange or initiation/response/feedback). This guide therefore covers a selection of broad and conceptual theories relating to speech and interaction, which fall broadly under two main questions:

  • How do we conceptualise the relationship between speech and writing?

This – the concept of mode – is important for students to articulate in some specifications and is merely peripheral in others.

  • What effects does context have on spoken communication?

This, as a broad concept, is central to much linguistic analysis, but the theories explored here under the heading of pragmatics concern themselves mostly with the issue of relations between speakers and also the effect of people’s desires and needs on their linguistic choices.

Key Concepts and Theories


At its simplest, mode refers to whether language is spoken or written, with attendant assumptions about written language being more fixed, permanent and formal than spoken language, which is seen as more immediate, interactive and social. The advent of electronic communication is seen as muddying these waters, although they were of course already quite muddy with written language including things like shopping lists and memos as well as legal statutes and academic tomes and the spoken spectrum incorporating highly crafted political speeches alongside casual conversations with no concrete topic.

There have been several theories of mode referring to spatial ideas such as a continuum or a set of dimensions.  For most A Level purposes where mode needs explicit discussion, the idea of a set of continuum...

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