Words that replace speech marks

Friday 27 January 2012

by Ken Paterson

A few years ago, I noticed that one of the students in my class would often add little remarks that her friends or family had made into her conversation. She would never turn them into indirect speech by making grammatical changes, but would instead prefix the quotations with the word ‘look’. In other words, she would say something like:

- And then my dad said, look why don’t you call me when you get to the station?

She was one of those students who are particularly good at spotting features of native speech that might be useful to her later on. It struck me that what she liked about this structure was that she could drop direct speech into her conversation whenever she liked and, at the same time, make it clear to the listener that it was direct speech by using ‘look’ as a kind of speech mark.

Reading around the subject for ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details), we found that six other ‘marker’ words seem to be used for the same purpose, either being deliberately introduced to indicate the beginning of direct speech, or ‘copied’ from the speaker if he or she happened to have used the word:

- but, hey, listen, oh, okay, well

The interesting thing is that the word you choose may show your attitude to what was originally said:

- So I said to her, hey, aren’t you walking off with my bag?

In the book, we explore the use of these words, and offer some practice exercises and activities for learners who may want to bring them into their conversation.

A way to get students working on this is simply to ask them in pairs to practise reporting conversations they’ve had in the last few days, but suggest they try dropping in as much direct speech as possible, using one or two ‘marker’ words when they do.

 

Next time …. the way we use ‘synonymous language’ in conversation:

- A: It’s a great view!  B: Magic, isn’t it?

 

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