Packing of information
The extent of your fluency in spoken
English depends on an important factor: The way you pack information
in your speech. That is, the way you pack words within
your idea units, as well as the way you pack idea units
within your speech. If you pack information densely, you will
find it difficult to be fluent. If you pack information loosely,
you will find it easier to be fluent. This is the general
principle of information-packing.
This principle is of great importance for
fluency-development. So we must take it up immediately. We’ll
only be able to get a clear idea of this principle if we do
one thing: We must look at a basic point of difference between
spoken English and written English. This all-important difference
is this: Written English normally packs information densely.
But spontaneous spoken English always packs information loosely.
So here’s a fundamental principle you should
always remember: Never pack information in speech the
way you pack information in writing.
Techniques of information-packing
How does written English pack information
densely? How does spoken English pack information loosely?
These things happen in the following ways:
A. Written English uses a tight
syntax. But spoken English uses a loose syntax. (‘Syntax’
is the grammatical arrangement of words). And so written
English relies more on a ‘hierarchical arrangement’ of clauses
called subordination than spoken English does. Spoken
English relies far less on subordination. What spoken English
does is to rely far more on an ‘equal arrangement’ of clauses
called co-ordination than written English.
B. Written English uses heavily-modified,
complex phrases freely. Spoken English does not.
C. Written English goes in search of the
‘right’ words and uses ‘specific’ and ‘non-general’ words
wherever possible. Spoken English does not do so. Spoken
English prefers non-specific and general words.
A. Subordination and co-ordination
We can connect two clauses by one of
1) Co-ordination; or 2) Subordination.
In co-ordination, we connect two clauses
by the conjunctions and, and then, or, but, so, yet, nor,
neither, either... or, and neither... nor. (Or,
sometimes we just utter two independent clauses next to each
other — without using a co-ordinator between the two).
In subordination, we connect clauses by conjunctions
like after, although, when, etc. (There are, of course,
other methods of subordinating a clause, and we’ll look at
them later in this Lesson).
You see, co-ordination is far more helpful
than subordination in speech-production. The reason is this:
If you connect two clauses by co-ordination, the clauses continue
to remain structurally independent, and one clause does not
become a burden on the other by becoming structurally dependent
on it. This sort of ‘equal arrangement’ is not
a tight arrangement (as subordination is), and so, it makes
the speech-production process quite flexible.
Eg: I was coming from the office + and
I saw an elephant.
Here the clauses ‘I was coming from the office’
and ‘I saw an elephant’ are both independent clauses,
because neither of them is a constituent element of the other.
But if we connect the two clauses by subordination, the clause
that has been subordinated becomes a constituent of the other
clause, and becomes embedded in it — by becoming fixed there
firmly and deeply. And the clause that has been subordinated
loses its independent status.
Eg: As I was coming from the office + I saw
an elephant. (Or, I saw an elephant + as I was
coming from the office).
Here the clause that’s been subordinated
is: ‘as I was coming from the office’. (It’s been subordinated
by making it start with the subordinator ‘as’). This
is not an independent clause, because it cannot stand
alone as a sentence. The subordinating conjunction ‘as’ has
forced it to become a constituent element of the matrix clause
‘I saw an elephant’. Thus subordination has brought about
an ‘unequal’ arrangement, and has created a hierarchical order
— with the matrix clause having superior status (because it
can stand alone as a sentence) and the subordinate
clause having inferior status (because it cannot usually
stand alone as a sentence).
On the other hand, in co-ordination, the
clauses that are linked together continue having equal status,
because they continue to remain independent.
Matrix clause first
You see, the idea units in spontaneous
speech are not made up before we start speaking.
No. They’re made up as we speak on and, that too, under pressure
of time. So speakers don’t have the time to hierarchically
arrange their clauses into matrix clauses and subordinate
clauses. What they normally find easier to do is this: Utter
independent unit after independent unit, and leave them independent
and of equal status — through co-ordination.
But don’t be under a wrong impression. In
spontaneous speech, nobody can avoid subordination
completely. No. This is because, in certain situations, grammar,
usage or even common sense gives you no choice.
Now suppose that a construction that occurs
to you spontaneously is a subordinate one and that it tends
to become involved or complicated — making it difficult for
you to keep up a flow of speech. Then you can avoid the problems
of subordination in four ways: (i) Convert the subordinate
construction into a co-ordinate one; (ii) Leave the subordinate
clause half-finished, and start uttering a new independent
clause in its place; (iii) Reconstruct the subordinate clause
differently, by introducing it with a simple
subordinator — rather than in any other way. (iv) Reconstruct
your utterance, by uttering the matrix clause first
and the subordinate clause next.
The fourth point is very important.
You see, written English often prefers the order ‘subordinate
clause first and matrix clause next’.
Eg: As I was coming from the office +
I saw an elephant.
But spoken English prefers the order ‘matrix
clause first and the subordinate clause next’.
Eg: I saw an elephant + as I was coming
from the office.
This is the natural order. You know, you
can avoid a lot of problems that subordination brings up by
this simple trick: Utter the matrix clause first and
the subordinate clause next.
Note 1: In writing as well as in speech,
co-ordination is more frequent than subordination. But between
writing and speech, you’ll find the percentage of co-ordination
far more in speech than in writing.
Note 2: If the speech is formal, the percentage
of subordination would be more than if it is informal. In
fact, the less formal the speech becomes, the less the percentage
of subordination and the more the percentage of co-ordination.
Nature of information-packing and
You see, when you connect one clause
to the next by co-ordination, you feel a sense of completeness
at the end of each clause. You have a feeling that there’s
no syntactic compulsion to continue in a rigidly-fixed direction.
You do not feel under any syntactic pressure to construct
the next clause in a particular way. No. In fact, you have
a feeling of considerable syntactic freedom, and you feel
free to construct it in a way that suits your convenience.
But what happens in subordination is entirely
Eg: As I was coming from the office + I saw
Here the subordinate clause ‘As I was coming
from the office’ has been placed first, and so this is a tight
arrangement. If you follow this tight arrangement, you feel
a sense of incompleteness at the end of the subordinate clause.
And there’s then in you a sense of restraint and a sense of
being tied down to something. This is because your mind is
burdened by a thought: “Now that I’ve uttered a subordinate
clause, I’ll have to utter a matrix clause too, and I’m bound
to construct it in a way that the subordinate clause dictates,
and not in a way that I find convenient”. That is, after uttering
‘As I was coming from the office’, you don’t feel that
your responsibility for the utterance is over. There’s a sense
of syntactic compulsion weighing down on your mind, asking
you to continue in a rigidly-fixed direction. You’re now under
considerable syntactic pressure to construct the next clause
in a pre-determined way. And you don’t have any syntactic
choice — as when you use co-ordination.
So at the end of the subordinate clause that’s
been placed first, you tend to lose your speech-composition
balance, and you tend to falter, and you find it difficult
to continue. In fact, subordination tends to make you lose
not only your speech-composition balance, but also your speech-delivery
balance. Mind you, when you utter the subordinate clause
first, there’s no sense of completeness at the end of that
clause. So your organs of speech are in stretched (and uncomfortable)
positions towards the end of the subordinate clause. And they
try to complete the subordinate clause and to start the matrix
clause from their stretched and uncomfortable positions —
and not from their normal or relaxed positions. Naturally,
you find it difficult to speak with a flow. Your speech tends
to falter and comes to a stop.
You see, this does not happen in co-ordination.
That’s why, if you employ subordination,
it’s generally better to utter the matrix clause first,
and the subordinate clause next. Do this as far as possible.
You see, when you do that, a lot of the syntactic pressure
on your mind gets relieved. This is because at the end of
the matrix clause (which you utter first), you have several
syntactic options for the next idea unit. Subordination then
becomes just one of those several options. And when you follow
this order, your subordinate arrangement becomes a lot similar
to a co-ordinate arrangement, because the structure of the
subordinate arrangement would then be:
Independent clause + Connector+ Independent
The only difference then between the
two types of arrangement is this: In co-ordination, the connector
is a co-ordinating conjunction, and in subordination, the
connector is a subordinating conjunction.
Now listen. Suppose that you happen to start
your utterance with a subordinate clause (rather than with
a matrix clause). And suppose that you run into speech-composition
difficulties. Then you can get over the difficulties by leaving
the subordinate clause unfinished. You see, this kind of unfinished
units and incomplete structures are quite common in naturally-occurring
speech. A main reason is this: When your organs of speech
are already in stretched positions, you’ll find it necessary
to relieve them of the pressure on them. So you give up the
structure half-finished. Then your organs of speech would
immediately come back to their normal positions, and they
become relaxed and free of the pressure on them. The organs
of speech can then start the next utterance from these