Our communications are governed by our relationship with others; such relationship can be seen as: formal, semi-formal and informal. The language and body behaviour is formal with strangers, officials etc. where intimacy is zero. This is semi-formal with acquaintances, elders etc. where status difference indicates a certain amount of formality and where intimacy is seen in lesser degree. This is informal with those we are very intimate.
Relationship expressions (group into categories)
Think about these situations:
Should your language to a stranger reflect respect?
Do you speak to your lecturer the same way you speak to a friend?
Do you use the same language to all your friends?
Do you share the same thoughts with your mother, father, brother, friend?
Do you share the same thoughts with all your friends?
How do you dress for a job interview: jeans and shirt tucked in front and open at the back
or creased pants and shirt well tucked in?
Remember your responses and read on.
We can put these people into specific groups:
formal = polite, respectful, zero intimacy
informal = some intimacy or high intimacy
semi-formal = almost no intimacy and so politeness necessary
Relationships and their nature:
Wherever we may live, there’ll be differences in the way we behave and move with others. That is, we don’t treat everyone on the same footing, our relations with others differ from person to person.
In other words, the level of intimacy will be from zero to maximum.
We can look at relationships in two ways:
1. Nonpersonal (formal) 2. Personal (semi-formal and informal)
This is formal in nature, so has zero / no intimacy. We don’t move with these people closely at all. So the language and the tone that we use will be formal.
Four types of people belong to this ‘formal’ category:
· officials : people working in public/government or private organisations
· superiors : those whose orders we should obey (in offices)
(This applies to student-teacher relationship as well.)
· editors (newspaper/ magazine)
· strangers : people other than those belonging to the three categories above
This is nonformal in nature, so has intimacy (closeness). But we don’t feel close to these people equally. So the language and the tone we use will be different according to the various levels of intimacy.
Four types of people belong to this ‘nonformal’ category:
· parents, brothers, sisters (immediate family)
distant relatives—maternal and paternal
· neighbours, townfolk, elders in the community, public figures well known
to society through their services or respective fields of activity
· acquaintances whom we met somewhere and who remain such
The intimacy between us and the people listed above varies because our wishes,
dreams, thoughts, age, expectations, hopes and theirs are not the same. Such differences lead to more intimacy with some and less with some others.
As a result, personal relationship, is of two kinds:
1. more intimacy (informal)
2. less intimacy (semiformal)
more intimacy (informal)
· relatives—distant or immediate
Our ideas and the ideas of these people are identical or almost identical. Attraction and affection starts and improves between them and us. So we speak freely, we share our inner thoughts with them. Thus there are almost no boundaries between them and us.
less intimacy (semiformal)
· relatives—distant or immediate
These people and we don’t see eye to eye on several issues. Attraction and affection is that much less. So we don’t speak to each other freely, we avoid sharing our inner thoughts with them. Thus, our relationship with them remains defined.
Below are several dialogues. Read them carefully and say the category to which each belongs. The categories are: formal, semi - formal, informal. The expressions (the language) in the dialogues will help you.
A: I wonder if you could make these trousers a little wider at the ankle. I find
them rather tight.
B: Well, Sir, it’s the fashion. All my customers are asking for very narrow
A: Oh, I see. I’m afraid I’m rather ignorant of the fashions.
A. Can you come and see us this evening?
B. I don’t think I can. I have to give a talk. If it’s
important, can I suggest tomorrow evening?
3. A: Meet me this evening.
B: Don’t you remember? I have a
a talk to give.
A: How about tomorrow morning, then?
4. A: Let’s meet this evening, shall we ?
B: Sorry Raj. I have a talk to give.
A: I see. Shall we meet tomorrow
B: Mm, Agreed.
5. A: If you aren’t too busy, could we meet this evening ?
B: I should love to, but I have an appointment.
A: Could we possibly meet tomorrow morning, then?
B: That would be fine.
6. A: Excuse me. I wonder if you could tell me how to reach
the post office.
B: I’m so sorry. I’m also new around here. If I may suggest ...
A: Yes, please.
B: You might try the Chemist across the street.
7. A: Excuse me. Which is the way to the post office?
B: I’m also a stranger. You can try the Chemist across the street.
8. A: I’d like to meet Mr. Kadir.
B: Oh, you must be Mr. Raman. I am Kadir, please come in.
I’ve been expecting you.
A: I got lost coming here.
B: I’m awfully sorry. I ought to have told you how to get here.
Would you care for a drink?
A: No, thank you. I must hurry back. Here’s the package I’ve
been asked to deliver.
B: Thank you so much.
9. A: How are you, Mrs. Sadhana ?
B: Very well, thank you. I’ve come about Siddharth.
B: You see, he’s always complaining of stomach ache.
10. A: Nasty accident that !
B: Yes. Subhash’s lost four of his fingers.
A: It’s going to be tough on him. Don’t you think?
B: It’ll be, I guess.
11. A: I don’t like going to the cinema.*1
B: I’m surprised. All people enjoy films.
A: The trouble is that most of the films are Westerns *2
which bore me.
*1 the cinema = a place where films are shown. We use this to mean a film. And we use ‘the
theatre’ as a synonym for ‘the cinema’. But ‘the theatre’ actually refers to
a place where dramas are staged/ shown.
*2 westerns are cowboy films.
12. A: I don’t like going to the cinema.
B: Don’t tell me! Didn’t you see a film last week?
A: Yes. But I’m fed up with seeing Westerns.
13. A: Would you care for another helping ?*
B: No, if you wouldn’t mind. It was delicious, but I’m trying
not to get fatter.
14. A: Won’t you have another helping ?
B: No, thank you. I don’t like to get any fatter.
15. A: Have another helping ? *
B: No. I won’t get any fatter.
A: Aren’t you exaggerating ?
16. A: What could be better? ! We are all eating at the Taj.
B: Really? That’s great!
A: You know why we are going? To celebrate your new
B: Ah, I see.
A: Yes, we’ve all agreed, haven’t we?
C, D, E: Yes, yes.
A: Do you know who’s paying the bill?
B: We are sharing, aren’t we? (silence) Who is the kind person?
A: Who else? You!
B: Me ? Oh, no!
More conversation samples
A party where strangers, acquaintances and friends are together. Depending on who meets who, the situation may be formal / semi formal informal.
Suman : Raj, come, I’ll introduce you to Dr. Raghu.
: Dr Raghu, this is Prof. Raj.
Raj : How d’you do ? (extending his hand)
Raghu : How d’you do ? (shaking hands)
(the conversation continues . . .)
note: ‘How d’ you do?’ is the response to ‘How d’ you do?’ This expression has no meaning of its
Suresh : Hello, Shyam!
Shyam : Hello! How come you are here?
I thought you were ...
Suresh : Supposed to be at Kolkata. Had to cancel it.*
Shyam : Anything wrong with Raji?
Suresh : No, no. She is of course recovering.
It’s the storm. Didn’t want to risk.........*
Shyam : Risk? What risk?
Suresh : I meant the mess at Kolkata.
Mr Guha : Good evening, Mr. Prabhu!
Mr. Prabhu : Oh good evening, Mr Guha! What a pleasant surprise!
Mr. Guha : But I had expected you, here.
* Incomplete sentences (especially without subject) are common in informal
A is formal, B informal and C semiformal.
A train journey is one where people stay together. Where people talk to each other without getting introduced, from where they leave without a word said or without getting introduced
Passenger A : Excuse me, is the Sports Star the latest ?
Passenger B : Yes. (extending it)
Passenger A : Thank you.
Passenger B : Not at all.
Passenger A : Thank you. I’m Karthik.*
(returning Works Manager, HCL
Passenger B : I’m Chandran *, Sales Manager, GCIM.
Passenger A : Then you must be knowing Mr. Kanthan,
your Works Manager.
Passenger B : I do. In fact, we’re very close. How do you....
Passenger A : We were classmates at SIM, Bangalore.
* We are generally known by our own names (Christian names) not our fathers’
(surnames). But Westerners use their surnames in formal / official situations (Not
their Christian names) ; they use their Christian names only when there is a degree of
intimacy or where intimacy exists or is permitted. When you introduce yourself,
don’t use any title with your name (Mr/ /Dr) But see below.
In a conference (during lunch)
Participant A : Congratulations! You raised a few very disturbing questions. I’m Mrs Deepika Chandran,
Editor, Science Section, SCITECH, Chennai.
Participant B : Thank you, Mrs. Deepika. I wondered if any one listened at all. I’m Ms.Chandrika,
lecturer in Economics, SIET, Mayiladuthurai.
As a woman, introduce yourself as Mrs if you wish to be addressed so. Otherwise, use Ms (pronounced as Miz) or simply your name [I’m Chandrika].
In a debate competition
Karthik : Congrats, Mr. Sekhar for winning the Cup.
You were faultless.
I’m Karthik, third year student of Mech. NEC, Thanjavur.
Sekhar : Experience, I guess. Is it your first in Chennai? (Karthik nods)
Well, for a novice, you spoke extremely well but poor time management was your
Karthik : You are quite right. I had so much to say. Mr Sekhar, you are a. . . . .
Sekhar : Sorry to interrupt. But no Mr. I’m just Sekhar.
Final year Law, Madras Law college.
Glad to know you, and see you soon. Bye.
Karthik : Glad to know you, too. Before I leave, will your College participate if my College invites?
Sekhar : Honestly, we don’t go to the districts but now that I know
you, I’ll see to it.
Karthik : I’m so glad. That’ll be another opportunity to listen to
you. Bye, Sekhar.
A is formal, B is semiformal, C is informal though in all of them the speakers are strangers to begin with. But in B and C the speakers have something in common and this makes them avoid being formal though they are meeting for the first time.
On the Phone
Sankar : Is that 28253763? [ two eight two five three seven six three]
Sankar : Could I speak to Suresh ?
mother : Suresh is not in. I’m Suresh’s mother. And you are ...
Sankar : Sankar. Suresh’s classmate.
I’m calling to know if he’s decided to go with me for the field trip.
mother : You have a phone?
Sankar : Yes, he has my number.
mother : That’s fine. You can also reserve for him.
Sankar : Thank you, auntie (madam). Bye.
: Hello! This is 26328107. [ two six three two eight one 0 seven]
Sharanath : I’d like to speak to Mr Pande.
Mr. Pande : Speaking.
Sharath : Good morning, Mr. Pande. I’m Sharath, Student President, GEC.
Your PA told me you’d be available at your house today.
She gave me your residence number.
Mr. Pande : Good morning, Mr Sharath. What’s the urgency?
Sharath : Sorry to disturb you, sir. I had to ring you because
she said you were going on a tour and I wanted to know
if you would be free to give a lecture.....
Mr. Pande : Sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Sharath. When do you want me for the lecture?
Sharath : Any day between the 20th and the 25th, sir.
Mr. Pande : I see. Will 22nd be all right?
Sharath : That would be fine, sir. We’d like you to speak on journalism in India.
Mr. Pande : Mm. Am I free to choose - anything close to this?
Sharath : Of course, yes, sir.
Mr Pande : Please meet me on 19th at my office at 10 am.
Sharath : Yes. And thank you, sir. Good bye.
Krishnan : Hello ! Krishnan, here.
Kuruvilla : Guess who’s speaking.
Krishnan : Is that Abey kuruvilla?
Kuruvilla : Who else could it be? How ARE* you, Krish?
Krishnan : How are YOU*, Abey? Is this an STD call?
Kuruvilla : Yes, I’m coming to Chennai next week. Let’s have a chat.
Krishnan : Sure. How long are you staying?
Kuruvilla : Five days.
Krishnan : When are you arriving? I’ll receive you.
When you meet a friend after a long gap, if you are asking first, you stress ‘ARE’ and your
friend ‘YOU’. This emphasis indicates affection.
Mr Narayanan : Yes, come in.
Sundar : Mr Narayanan? I’m Sundar.
Mr. Narayanan : Please be seated, Mr Sundar.
How can I help you?
Sundar : Our phone is not working.
Mr. Narayanan : Are you the owner of the phone?
Sundar : No. It’s my father, Prof. Raghavan.
Mr. Narayanan : Is the sound coming garbled? Is it cross talk? Or is the phone dead?
Sundar : Our problem is we are always getting wrong numbers.
Mr. Narayanan : Did you have trouble before?
Sundar : Not as far as I know.
Mr. Narayanan : I see. On your way out, please fill particulars on a form at the
reception. We’ll send down someone tomorrow.
Sundar : Tomorrow?
Mr. Narayanan : We are short of personnel. Latest tomorrow, we’ll have
your phone working. Bye, Mr. Sundar.
Sundar : Thank you. Bye, Mr Narayanan.
A visitor to home
Somu’s dad : Somu, see who is at the door.
Somu : Yes, dad. (opens the door, sees a stranger)
Visitor : Is Mr Sugumaran at home?
Somu : Yes. May I. . . .
Visitor : I’m Gnanasekaran. A friend of Mr Sugumaran.
Somu : I’m Somu, his son. Please come in.
(Mr. Gnanasekaran enters)
Please be seated. (switches on the fan.)
Visitor : No, thank you. It doesn’t agree with me.
Somu : (Switching it off)
I’m sorry! I didn’t know.
Visitor : It’s okay. How could you?
Somu : I’ll inform father. In the meantime, would you like to read today’s Hindu?
Visitor : Thank you, Somu.
Somu : Dad! A Mr Gnanasekaran has come to see you.
He’ll be here in a moment. What would you like for a drink?
Visitor : Nothing for the moment. Thank you, anyway.