Language varies according to factors in the cultural and social context.
Whether composing language ourselves or comprehending the language used by others, we make meaning through features associated with each of the languages modes: spoken, written, nonverbal, visual and auditory.
While spoken and written language are both used in many ways, each is used characteristically in particular circumstances. Most typically, spoken language is used in face-to-face situations to comment upon and describe things that are present in the context, and to discuss knowledge shared by the speakers. Written language is better suited to recording information and argument, and to explaining complex phenomena and events which occur at other times or in other places.
Spoken texts have been associated historically with action as in narrating events, transacting business and personal relationships, and directing or receiving directions. Written texts were historically concerned with reflection on action, phenomena or people as in lyric poetry, reports and expositions. While such tendencies are clear in analyses of spoken and written texts, changing social patterns are causing a shift in that spoken texts are often combined with visual texts. television documentaries are one such example. these changes are essentially outcomes of advances in the mass communication media.
Public speeches and mass media presentation represent an important hybrid variety of spoken and written texts. While spoken, they are generally written in advance to be read. Frequently, they are intended to be "heard" as natural speech. Because of the reflection involved in their preparation, however, they tend to be more dense and more systematically organised than unrehearsed speech.
Language can be described in terms of its structural components. These are often referred to as textual features. Some types of textual features are common to both spoken and written language.
In spoken language, a great deal of meaning is often carried by nonverbal language such as gestures, facial expressions and body language. at times, nonverbal language is used as a primary menas of communication. This may occur when people who want or need to interact do no speak the same language. It may also occur when either the speaker or the listener is unaware of specialised vocabulary or expressions needed to exchange particular information.
Written language is often accompanied by visual language including images such as photographs, illustrations, diagrams, graphs, tables and symbols. Textual features of still and moving images include camera angle, composition, lighting and size of objects. Visual language is sometimes used on its own, as in paintings, still photographs and mime. It may also be used in the same way as nonverbal language, that is, as an alternative to shared written expressions that depend upon specialised language.
Mass media texts such as those presented through radio, stage, film, television and video are often composed in writing but presented in spoken form. In these media, much of the meaning is conveyed by nonverbal or visual language, and by auditory language through music and sound effects.
Many people choose to use a variety of technological aids such as computers and facsimile machines to communicate. Interactive multimedia technology allows access to combinations of media, thus making available simultaneously written texts, graphics and video and audio texts. Users are able to make choices about altering the medium. It is also possible to choose the extent to which available information is accessed.
[Source: Queensland English Syllabus for Years 1 to 10
Dept of Education, Queensland, 1994]