Chapter one

Expository discourse

Expository discourse is the use of language to convey information (Bliss, 2002). It differs from conversational discourse, which is more interactional and usually less formal (Crystal, 2002) or narrative discourse, in which a speaker’s main purpose is to recount a story or event (Longacre, 1983).

Expository discourse is important for children and young adults as it is often required in educational settings, to explain how to carry out an experiment, to interpret information from various sources about a historical event, or to describe what happens when a volcano erupts, for example.

Expository discourse requires precise, clear, structured language, and is often characterised by greater linguistic complexity than other forms of discourse, for example by longer sentences with greater use of subordinate clauses (Nippold et al., 2005; Nippold et al., 2008).

Expository discourse is interesting for researchers because it elicits this more complex language and therefore can illustrate a person’s linguistic abilities more effectively than other discourse, which may offer fewer opportunities to demonstrate ability and may be thus taken to demonstrate inability instead.

In Chapter one, we use a simple expository task with the participants (based on Nippold et al., 2005). All participants were asked to describe their favourite game or sport. We began with a simple, open question about the sport, then asked specific questions such as ‘what are the rules of the game?’ or ‘what skills do you need to be really good at the game?’.

While you watch the videos, try to get a feel for the participant and their language skills. Listen out to see if they use complete sentences, and how long their sentences are. Does their explanation make sense overall? Is it in a logical order? If you can’t follow what they say, what’s making it difficult to follow?

Also watch their body language: do they make eye contact? Do they seem comfortable while they talk? When you’ve finished watching the video, we’ll think about these things in a bit more detail.

Bliss, L. S. (2002). Discourse impairments: Assessment and intervention applications. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Crystal, D. (2002). The English language: A guided tour of the language (2nd ed.). London: Penguin books.

Longacre, R. E. (1983). The grammar of discourse. New York: Plenum Press.

Nippold, M. A., Hesketh, L. J., Duthie, J. K. and Mansfield, T. C. (2005). Conversational versus expository discourse: A study of syntactic development in children, adolescents, and adults. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 48. 1048-1064.

Nippold, M. A., Mansfield, T. C., Billow, J. L., Tomblin, J. B. (2008). Expository discourse in adolescents with language impairments: Examining syntactic development. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 17. 356-366.