Functions Words in Context

Hear the Lecture

Pat's Observations

Oh, what amazing data. A glimpse into reality. A solid basis for some decision making for the curriculum and for lessons and for materials.

1. What registers are being compared?

Conversation & Academic writing

2. What grammar is being compared? The figures are about the frequency of what?

Frequency of function words in the 2 types of discourse: All of the major function word categories that they discuss in the chapter.

3. What's the scale?

These are big numbers. The frequency is the number of occurrences per million words presented in 1000s. So the top of the scale is 180,000 occurrences per million words.

4. Compare the use of pronouns.

There are many many more pronouns in the conversation than in academic prose. 40,000 in the prose and 160,000 in the conversation....per million words.

5. Compare the use of primary auxiliary verbs. (What kind of verb is that?)

Primary auxiliaries = be, have, do when used as auxiliary (and not as lexical verbs). More of them in conversations but not the dramatic difference seen with pronouns: 90,000-ish in conversation and 65,000-ish in prose.

6. Compare the use of prepositions. That's pretty interesting. Why would that be true?

More in prose than in conversation: 150,000 vs. 55,000 per million words. Lots of prepositional phrases are attached to nouns: the children in the classroom, the book on the shelf, my friends from college, etc. Academic prose is noun heavy. So, nouns attract prepositional phrases.

7. Compare the use of determiners. Ummmm.

More in prose: 100,000 vs. 50,000 per million words. As in #6 on prepositions, nouns involve determiners. Where there are lots of nouns, there will be lots of determiners.

8. Compare the use of coordinators.

40,000 in prose; 30,000 in conversation. So, a few more in writing than talking.

9. Compare the use of modals.

20,000 in conversation vs. 18,000-ish in prose. We'd need to know which modals are being used for which meanings before these numbers help us understand modal use in context.

10. Compare the use of subordinators.

Just about the same. I wonder which words are being used. Conversation tends to have a more restricted vocabulary than writing. We need to know more. The data raises questions that should lead to more study.

11. Compare the use of adverbial particles.

These are words like down in "fall down." 15,000 in conversation and a sliver in writing. These are NOT a major characteristic of conversation but when they are used they are used in conversation.

12. Compare the use of pronouns to the use of adverbial particles.

Pronouns are a hugely important feature of conversation. Adverbial particles are not. When we teach students how to have an English conversation, we'll need to focus more on pronouns than on particles!

13. Compare the use of primary and modal auxiliaries.

It's interesting to see how much more the primary auxiliaries are used than modals in both types of communication. It would be helpful to know (1) which of the primary auxiliaries is used most, (2) if there are differences in the use of the 3 words in conversation and writing, and (3) if the heavy use is from questions or negatives. Conversation has a lot of questions in it; prose doesn't usually.

14. Compare the use of coordinators and subordinators.

In both discourse types, coordination is used more than subordination. Probably that's because words like and are used to coordinate not just sentences but also words and phrases. So, there are more ways to use and than ways to use although.

Link to Figures 2.2 and 2.3

Please email your questions to me. Thanks!