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Hymes SPEAKING Sociolinguistic Model

Updated on February 12, 2017

What Is The SPEAKING Model?

The SPEAKING tool is a sociolinguistic model to understand a communicative event. The creator of this tool, Dell Hymes, defined a communicative event as a block where communicative acts interact to meet a specific outcome. Communicative acts are utterances and body language, whereas communicative events are complete units with a single goal such as a greeting, a speech, a song in a concert or a chapter in a book.

This tool is used by the student of a communicative event to analyze the language in a social context, where groups share linguistic norms to understand the texts. In this sense, the groups are speech communities, which members understand the meaning of words and situations in a similar way. SPEAKING is an acronym that stands for:

  • Setting
  • Participants
  • Ends
  • Acts sequence
  • Key
  • Instrumentalities
  • Norms
  • Genre

Setting refers to the place and time where a communicative event takes place including the pertaining sociocultural implications. Participants are the people, animals, and objects involved; ends refer to the aim of a communicative event. Acts sequence is the order in which the communicative acts occur and key depicts the tone and register used to frame them.

Instrumentalities refer to the modes, codes, and channels, while the norms are the expected rules for the given event; the genre refers to the kind of events such as a song in a concert, an office meeting or a chapter of a book.

The following is an example of how to apply the SPEAKING model to analyze a communicative event.

Defining The Communicative Situation

Anna and Gabriel meet at the library in the morning to complete an assignment. Gabriel will dictate and Anna will type an essay of 2000 words, that both worked on the previous evening. They will send it on-line as soon as they finish.

I will use the SPEAKING model to analyze three communicative events:

  • Anna and Gabriel greet
  • They do the homework.
  • They send the assignment on-line.

Applying The SPEAKING Model Communicative Event No 1

Anne and Gabriel meet at the library to complete a homework.


  • Setting: The communicative event occurs in the morning at the library.
  • Participant: Anna and Gabriel.
  • Ends: Small talk before working in the assignment.
  • Acts sequence: Anna says good morning to Gabriel and Gabriel responds politely asking how was her previous evening. Anna takes her computer out of her back and places it on the desk while she replies to his question. Anna and Gabriel sit, he opens his notebook and both are ready to work.
  • Key: Anna and Gabriel use a formal language suitable for a social interaction between classmates.
  • Instrumentalities: Speaking.
  • Norms: Polite, respectful, and brief.
  • Genre: Conversation.

Communicative Event No 2

Dictating and Typing

  • Setting: The communicative event occurs in the morning at the library. They use a common desk and natural light.
  • Participants: Anna and Gabriel.
  • Ends: Typing the last assignment of the year.
  • Acts sequence: Gabriel reads and dictates then Anna listens and types until they complete the essay.
  • Key: Gabriel and Anna will use formal language while reading and typing.
  • Instrumentalities: A computer, Gabriel reads, dictates while Anna types.
  • Norm: The rules followed by Gabriel and Anna are academic and professional in nature.
  • Genre: Anna and Gabriel are writing a college assignment for academic purposes.

Communicative Event No 3

On-line submission

  • Setting: The communicative event occurs in the late morning at the library.
  • Participants: Anna and Gabriel.
  • Ends: Submission of the final assignment of the year.
  • Acts sequence: Saving, uploading the file and clicking the submission button.
  • Key: Professional, efficient
  • Norm: Anna and Gabriel follow the instructions to submit a file.
  • Instrumentalities: The elements used to submit the file are a computer, the internet, and instructions.
  • Genre: Technological application.

I find this approach very useful when analyzing cross-cultural communication as the norms and speech communities will change as consequence of the change of the meaning of acts and words in different contexts. This is what Hymes calls communicative competence, a concept that goes further from linguistic competence, which is more concerned with the mechanical use of language.

Reference List

Bock, Z. Gift M. (2013). Language, Society, and Communication. Braamfontein. Van Schaik Publishers.

Dell Hymes. Wikipedia. Accessed on the 9th February 2017.


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