<S 02> It was superb. Massive.<.OL>
Let us now look more closely at the extract.
In particular, there is a lot of pattern-forming here. As researchers such as Deborah Tannen (1989) observe, pattern-forming functions in particular to make people feel more together. The pattern-forming features here also have a more cumulative effect and create conditions in which speakers grow to feel they occupy shared worlds, in which the risks attendant on creativity are reduced and in which intimacy and convergence are actively co-produced. These relationship-reinforcing shared worlds and viewpoints are created not just by the repetitions and echoes I have highlighted but also in a number of ways: for example, by means of supportive minimal and non-minimal backchannelling e.g. Oh lovely, oh, lovely; yeah, yeah (ll.6,11,14); by means of specifically reinforcing interpersonal grammatical forms such as tails ...They were superb, they were (l.27) and tags; They do, don't they; and by means of affective exclamatives oh wow (1.28). The exchanges are also impregnated with vague and hedged language forms (for example, fallen apart a bit, the top bit, I reckon, for some reason, I don't know why), and a range of evaluative and attitudinal expressions (often juxtaposed with much laughter) which further support the informality, intimacy and solidarity established. These are typically, spoken, interactive forms of language, often dismissed as irrelevant to language study, or as mere dysfluency, or by most grammars of English as simply non-standard. (Of course, most grammars of English are based on written examples so we find ourselves in a circle we can't easily but must break out of if spoken language is to be properly recognised).
Pattern-reforming has, however, more than a relationship-reinforcing function, even when it involves pattern-forming creativity. For example, in an earlier phase of this exchange two of the girls deliberately take on parodic voices by mimicking low-prestige accents and concerns, in the process indirectly co-producing an ironic, humorous reflection on their own needs. The repetitions here draw attention to the effects produced.
<S 02> Well they* would go smashing with a cup of tea wouldn't they.
<S 01> Oh they would.
<S 01> [In mock Cockney accent] Cup of tea and a fag.
<S 03> [In mock Cockney accent]Cup of tea and a fag missus. [Reverts to normal accent] We're gonna have to move the table I think.
[* reference to a type of cake being offered by one of the girls]
The chorus-like repetition by speaker 3 of speaker 1's parody and her addition of missus underlines the collaborative nature of the creative humour, a point to which we shall return. The girls membership themselves temporarily as 'working-class cockney women', such a self-categorization and its precise occasion of utterance being among the key elements in the creation of identities in talk. Other examples of pattern-reforming are also more directly interpersonal. There are less overtly displayed instances of creative language use including similes inviting comparison; in this case, a perceived likeness between stained glass mobiles seen at a local craft fair and a colour wheel (ll.25-28), which is discussed below in greater detail. There is also a case for seeing some of the formality switches (for example, pig out, l.5) as constituting ironic-comic reversals of the kind not uncommonly connected with humorous creative effects. Sometimes the effect of these mainly pattern-reforming features is playfully to provide for humour and entertainment; but all such patterns also generate innovative ways of seeing things and convey the speaker's own more personalised representation of events.
I've dwelt in some detail on this example because the example here is prototypical. It challenges assumptions that creativity can be assessed on the basis of a single sentence or short text examples, or described with reference to the single, representational voice. Patterns form and reform dynamically and organically over stretches of discourse, and emerge through the joint conditions of production. (In other words we need to recognise how often creative language is co-constructed). I would challenge an underlying assumption in the analysis of much canonical literary discourse that creative language functions mainly for its own sake or for purposes of formal aesthetic presentation. I would argue instead that creative language choices entail a variety of discoursal functions which compel recognition of the social contexts of their production: principally the construction of social identity and the maintenance of interpersonal relations.
Some of the questions raised by the examples we have looked are:
- why, particularly within literature and language study, creativity is conventionally seen largely as a written phenomenon;
- how spoken and written creativity differ and what their respective purposes are;
- whether speakers are conscious or unconscious of what they do on a daily basis;
- how and why creativity in common speech is often connected with the construction of a relationship and with interpersonal convergence;
- whether spoken creativity is confined to particular socio-cultural contexts and to particular kinds of relationship;
- and , in particular, what implications there are in all of this for ELT
3. Applications to the ELT classroom
Discussions of creativity in relation to language teaching and learning have tended to focus on issues of learners' own creativity in relation to language learning processes. For example, the teaching of literature in a variety of cultural contexts may be better informed by understandings of the pervasively creative character of everyday language and can support attempts by some practitioners (see Carter and McRae, 1996; Cook, 2000, part 3) to establish continuities between literary and everyday language and establish stronger bridges between language and literature teaching. Appreciation of literary and broader cultural variation can also be supported by reference to what learners already understand and can do rather than by means of more deficit-related pedagogic paradigms. The idea that creativity exists in a remote and difficult-to-access world of literary genius can be de-motivating to the apprentice student of literature, especially in contexts where an L2 (second language) literature is taught, but where the primary goal is mastery of the foreign language.
But it is not only in the teaching of literature where the value of exposure to the more open-ended and creative aspects of language may be exploited. One criticism of notional-functional and task-based approaches to language teaching and learning is their tendency towards focusing on the transactional and the transfer of information, with the danger that language use comes to be seen only as utilitarian and mechanistic. While learners undoubtedly have survival needs, and while a language such as English has indeed become a utilitarian object for many of its world-wide users, learners in many contexts around the world relatively quickly pass from purely utilitarian motivations towards goals associated with expressing their social and cultural selves and seek that kind of liberation of expression which they enjoy in their first language. In such contexts, exposure to creativity can be enjoyed and understood in the most common of everyday settings. In these respects methodologies need to be developed which help learners better to internalise and appreciate relationships between creative patterns of language, purposes and contexts which can foster both literary appreciation and greater language understanding. Aston (1988) nicely refers to 'learning comity' (the book's title) as a desirable response to the transactional bias of contemporary language pedagogy, and much of his argumentation centres round bridging 'interactional' gaps, as opposed to the transactional information gaps so beloved of communicative pedagogy.
The following sets of tasks for use with learners of English draw on ideas about creativity discussed in relation to the above “Sunday Afternoon” example. There is particular attention to some ways in which language is used to create more interactional affect and convergence. Both the data and the suggested tasks represent only a first step but the initial aim is to develop in learners an awareness of the properties and functions of patterns of language working creatively in everyday communication. The emphasis is on receptive skills but there is much research to support the view that greater language awareness, the development of noticing skills, the raising of consciousness about language functions can feed directly into more 'productive' creative language use.
The task sheet here is a first draft and further versions are being developed in the light of classroom use.
Interactional language competence: creating relationships
Type A - pattern-forming tasks
Noticing exercise. What do you notice about the word nice in this exchange. Why do the speakers repeat each others' words? Do you do this in your own language. If so, why and when? If not, why not?
A: Sunday's a really nice day, I think
B: It certainly is
A: It's a really nice and relaxing day.
B: Yes, it's really nice.
Noticing exercise. What is being talked about in the following conversation? What does it look like? What is the social setting for the exchange? How well do A, B and C know one another?
A: What's that?
B: It's an earring
A: Oh lovely
B: It's fallen apart a bit
C: I bet that's supposed to be straight
B: I think it looks better like that
A: There was another bit as well, another dangly bit.
1. Why task. Underline as many similar words and word patterns as you can. Which of these words have the same or similar sounds? Why do the speakers talk about the earrings using all these repetitions and echoes? One of the speakers then goes on to describe the earrings as mobile earrings? Why? How many meanings of the word “mobile” can you find?
Type B pattern-reforming tasks
Pre-task Look up the words blue and green in the dictionary. How many words can you find which refer to these basic colours?
Task A: What colour should we use?
B: Blue, I think.
A: Really, I'd go for green.
B: Well, bluey.
B: OK, what about blue-green. Or blue that's greenish.
Post-task Why does each speaker change their word choice from blue to bluey and green to greenish? What kind of activity do you think A and B are doing? Would these patterns be created by speakers in, say, a job interview?
Further work is also in process to develop 'interaction' gap activities and interaction gap-filling to build upon the more familiar information gap activities and transactional competence development which has been for so long a primary purpose within ELT. The overall aim is to increase learners' awareness of how they can creatively co-construct meanings and relationships. Such work may also encourage leaners to produce more pattern-forming language. With increasing exposure to more examples, learners may also feel encouraged to play with words and to re-form patterns, becoming more creative in their language production and developing in the process a fuller interactional competence.
There is, of course, a long way to go in understanding creativity in the spoken language and in exploring the applications to the classroom of such understandings but the first steps have been taken in recognising that creativity is an everyday, demotic phenomenon, that it is endemic in spoken interaction and that it has been generally underplayed within the language teaching classroom. It is something that we need to work on to bring the best out of us as learners, teachers and collaborators in the language classroom. It is a fundamental aspect of a more humanistic approach to language teaching.
Aston, G. 1988. Learning Comity. Bologna: Editrice CLUEB.
Carter, R.A. (1999) 'Common language: corpus, creativity and cognition', Language and Literature 8 (3): 1-21.
Carter, R.A. and McCarthy, M. (1997) Exploring Spoken English Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carter, R.A. and McRae, J (eds) (1996) Literature, Language and the Classroom: Creative Classroom Practice Harlow: Pearson Longman.
Cook, G. 2000. Language Play, Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nash, W and Stacey, D.1997. Creating Texts. Harlow: Longman.
Tannen, D. (1989) Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue and Imagery in Conversational Discourse Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Ronald Carter is Professor of Modern English Language in the School of English Studies, University of Nottingham. He has written and edited over forty books in the field of language and literary studies, applied linguistics and ELT. Recent publications include: Exploring Grammar in Context (co-authored with Rebecca Hughes and Michael McCarthy), (CUP, 2000) and The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ed with David Nunan) (CUP, 2001).