A Level English

Monologue, dialogue or..?

From the times of primary school we generally know about a clear division between a monologue—one person speaks—and a dialogue, which is, obviously, when two people taking turns talking about something. Everything seems to be straightforward and clear.

By the middle school time we realize that these two categories cannot satisfy all our needs. Sometimes we have more than two people speaking at once, we get to a polylogue and that will do to cover all

Certainly, both forms may be in an oral form as well as in a written form. We can easily imagine both, say, a speech or a dialogue between two characters in a story.

This great system starts getting shaky when you give more thought and look into the context deeper. When you get to your A Levels, there is no other option but to analyse everything, everything that can bring points or explain the text more.

First of all, you don’t need to be alone for a monologue. It’s perfectly fine to have someone else around. As long as an immediate response is not expected, this system will work fine. After all, we always have ourselves and never alone with ‘me, myself and I’.

In-between

A grey area category includes ‘pseudo-dialogues’. Who of us was never cursing a stubborn car, scolding a naughty puppy or asking the plant to hold on a bit more? Those talks cannot be considered monologues as we directly appeal to something, the only problem is that it is an inanimate object.

How about talking to a newborn baby? It’s extremely important for the baby’s development, for the parent-baby connection; can we expect a reply? Not really, though a cheerful babbling tends to be considered as a reply and even ‘translated’ to the adult version of the language. Same case when a dentist keeps talking to a patient who has no chance to produce a single word with all the equipment in his mouth.

Another case of a misleading appearance is a dialogue which at the first glance seems to be a proper monologue. If you rehearse lines for a performance but skip the words of another person – it’s still a dialogue by all its functioning. A part of a lesson, with possible questions-answers is still a dialogue even if a person goes through it all alone a few days earlier.

Monologues also may pretend to be dialogues on some occasions. A politician may deliver an amazing speech with the supporters cheering and applauding in specifically prepared pauses, but it’s still a monologue.

To make a choice you need to look at the pragmatic of the text, analyse how much both sides participate and contribute in the discussion. Do not be fooled by the punctuation only, don’t jump into conclusions without having a second thought about the nature of the text.

Think about it

Read a description of a situation and decide if it is a monologue, a dialogue or a pseudo-dialogue:

  • A written exam paper (it has some questions, students are to write their answers);
  • A letter to an old friend;
  • a church service with the priest reading some lines from the Bible and the parishioners replying ‘Amen’;
  • A pre-recorded lecture in a MOOC course;
  • A foreigner trying to ask for help from a person not knowing his language;
  • A diary entry;
  • A pray;
  • A post on a social media website;
  • A chapter in a course book.

The article material is based on ‘How Language Works’ by David Chrystal, pp 262-266; Penguin Books, 2007

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