Department of Linguistics

Stan: Life in the army menu

Stan: Life in the army

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Clause combining And is the most frequent conjunction that Stan uses to combine his clauses, occurring in lines 4,5, 11, 14, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 33, 35, 37, 40, 41, 45, 47, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 65, 67, 68, 69, 70, 77, 82, 84, 86, 87, 90, 92, 93, 98 and 99. Stan also uses so (lines 8, 12, 54, 73, 75 and 91) and but (line 9).

Conversational Historical Present

Stan uses this tense in line 86 to report something that he said in the past. The tense is the present progressive (not the simple present as in I say); which symbolically prolongs the moment and adds to the dramatic effect.

Discourse markers

oh is frequent. It often marks the structure of the discourse: for example it is usually at the beginning of a clause (lines 12, 27, 44, 48, 69, 73), sometimes with another discourse marker (well in line 13) or an interjection (blimey in line 48).

It also marks the discourse structure when it is at the beginning of the quote in reported direct speech (lines 12, 27, 53, 69, 72). In line 44 it marks an interruption to the main story, when Stan finds that he can't remember a character's name. Similarly, in line 48 oh after one day marks the beginning of a long digression from the main story, which Stan doesn't get back to until line 52, when he repeats one day.

At the same time oh sometimes indicates that what will follow is an evaluation of what Stan has just been talking about (his own evaluation in line 12; his superior officer's surprise in line 27). It sometimes signals that the information just given has been understood (lines 69 and 72).

well Stan uses well at the start of a clause, like oh (lines 16, 24, 80, 88), as well as at the beginning of a quote in reported direct speech (12, 25, 63, 70, 95) or reported thought (line 25), and to signal the beginning of a new episode in the story (lines 16, 80, 88).  Other functions are to soften a following negative comment (line 25), and to signal that what Stan intends to say may not be what the listener (here, the other character in the story) is expecting (lines 63, 95).

course and of course Stan also uses this discourse marker to mark the start of a clause (lines 3, 11, 13, 16, 24, 84). The literal meaning of of course, expressing certainty, sometimes lingers on so that Stan perhaps emphasises what he is about to say (for example, lines 13, 16, 24). In some of these cases of course may also signal that Stan is about to give the listener some new information (lines 11 '“ note that here the interviewer signals that he has understood by saying right '“13, 16, 24, 84).  Sometimes of course suggest that the information that is about to follow is something that we all know about (line 16). Of course also occurs at the end of a clause (line 8), perhaps, with the clause initial so, adding a note of irony (since the infantry is not where Stan had wanted to be).

you know The position of this discourse marker is flexible: Stan uses it at the beginning of a clause (line 30) and also mid-clause (lines 12, 67). You know involves the listener by appealing to shared understanding: in line 12 you know implies 'you may have thought the same' and in line 30 it implies that the listener may have seen people trying to show off their badges as they walk (note that the listener laughs).

you see in line 87 has a similar function, implying that the listener may have experience of people making little jokes when they lecture.

Note that like most older speakers, Stan does not use like as a discourse marker. The only way that he uses like is in its older uses as a conjunction (line 21) and a preposition (lines 30 and 83), not as a discourse marker.


sort of (lines 21, before the verb scratched away and 30, before the verb walk about) involves the listener by signalling imprecision '“ 'scratched away' may not be the best way to describe the sound of an old gramophone, and the impression Stan gives of the way he walked about (line 30) may not be exactly right.

about (line 75) signals that 30 is an approximate number.

Note that although young people use sort of and about too, in these contexts they may be more likely to use like.

Indefinite this (lines 19, 20, 40, 65, 75 and 90) introduces new information.

Note that this in lines 22, 30, 83, 86 and 93 has its more literal deictic meaning ('pointing' to things present at the time of speaking or that have just been mentioned): in line 22 it refers to the noises that Stan was hearing, in line 30 the way that he was pretending to walk, in line 83 to the country where Stan was at the time, in line 86 to the box that he had just been talking about and in line 93 to the way that Stan had just been talking (this line of patter).

Non-fluency features

er and erm (filled pauses)

These nearly always occur at the beginning of a clause, indicating that Stan wants to keep the floor while planning the grammatical structure of what he is about to say  (lines 2, 10, 11, 18, 25, 29, 77). Sometimes there is a silent pause too (lines 11, 25, 29).

Stan mainly says er (erm occurs only once), in line with attested gender differences in the use of er and erm.


On line 78 there is repetition of the first word of the clause and a silent pause, again indicating planning.

Quotative expressions

Zero quotatives (lines 43, 44 and perhaps also 74, though note that here that he said straggles 2 quotes). Although the quote is not introduced explicitly it is clear which character in the story is speaking, sometimes from a change in the voice that Stan uses for his characters. The zero form has the effect of highlighting what was said, which is a dramatic part of the story.

THINK introduces reported thought (lines 12, 25, 46, 57)

SAY The only other quotative expression that Stan uses is SAY (lines 6, 7, 22, 27, 40, 43, 53, 55, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 67, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 86, 93, 94, 95, 96, 98). Note that he uses the quotative to break up a long stretch of reported speech from the same character e.g. lines 58 and 59, 63 and 64, 70 and 71, 93 and 94, 95 and 96. He sometimes puts the quotative in the middle of the quote, which also helps to break it up (e.g. lines 72, 74). At other times the quotative frames the reported speech (e.g. it is clear when listening to the extract that on lines 58 and 59 he said comes both before and after the quote, framing it).

Note that although younger people may use a wider range of quotative expressions (mainly by using BE LIKE as well as SAY, GO and the zero form), they do not normally use BE LIKE to frame or break up long stretches of reported speech as Stan does with SAY.

Rhetorical strategies

In lines 15 and 50 Stan criticises army decisions. He does this by 'fronting': putting a dependent question clause in front of the main clause (compare I don't know [main clause] how they thought we were gonna get out there quickly to do it  [dependent clause] with the fronted how they thought we were gonna get out there quickly to do it I don't know; and I've never understood [main clause] why they wanted British troops there [dependent clause] with why they wanted British troops there I've never understood with). By fronting the dependent question Stan gives more emphasis to the decisions that he thinks were foolish.


Stan is 77 years old and lives in Havering, Essex. In this extract he reminisces about his army days. It could be interesting to consider which features of Stan's speech mark him out as a member of an older generation: for example, would a young person use the colloquial words and expressions chap (lines 6, 75), a good half hour (line 25), a blind bit of notice (line 31), blimey (line 44) or a great big fat corporal (line 18)?  Stan's hedges, discourse markers and quotative expressions are also more typical of an older speaker.
Much of the impact of the story comes from what Stan said to his superior officers and what they said to him, so there is a lot of reported direct speech and reported thought in his story.
His use of er and erm is in line with research findings on gender differences in the use of these forms.

Transcript PDF: 

Life in the army transcript.pdf

Discussion points PDF: 

life in the army discussion points.pdf


 Stan, male, aged 77, white British, from outer London

                                            Life in the army

of course I got called up for the army . when I was eighteen .
and er by then I'd become a fully fledged huh terrible amateur magician .
and when I had to go and register
and the chap said "what would you like to go in?"
I said "Ensa" which was the entertainments unit
so I finished up in infantry of course that was er …
but I got into the regimental concert party .
erm eventually I was trained as an army signaller .
and er . course when I got called up the war had just finished [Interviewer: right]
so I thought “oh well that's you know that's a bit safe”
but of course the war with Japan was still going on
and we were being trained to fight the Japanese
how they thought we were gonna get out there quickly to do it I don't know
well then of course they dropped the terrible bomb and finished that .
ended up . doing basic training
the erm a great big fat corporal from the signal corps . t. turned up
and then we all went in this side room
and he put on this record .
and it sort of scratched away like the old records used to the wind up gramophones and he s. and it said "this is a dot peep and this is a dash perp and if you think beep beep beep is the same as bur bur bur put A and not put B"
well course I'd learnt Morse code in the scouts .
and er . after a few weeks when we'd thought “well that was a good half hour sitting down doing nothing'.
come up and they said "oh you've got a natural aptitude"
they sent me to the signal school for six weeks
and er . when I went back to the unit with these lovely crossed flags
you know you sort of walk about like this <interviewer laugh>
no-one takes a blind bit of notice
then eventually I got posted abroad
and we were supposed to have gone to Austria as part of the Northamptonshire regiment
and we finished up in Greece as part of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire regiment which is typical of army organisation .
and after being used to standing to attention to lance corporals
being shouted at
when I got off the troop ship
and this corporal said "any signallers?"
and I put me hand up
"what's yer name?"
I said "(name) corporal"
"my name's .." oh blimey I can't think of his name now doesn't make any difference and I thought "talk to a corporal and call him by his christian name?"
then I found the signal sergeant liked to be called (name) .
and that was it no .
then one day oh we were posted then the whole battalion was posted from just outside Athens right up to the mountains in northern Greece little place called Odessa
why they wanted British troops there I've never understood .
occasionally we used to get a parachute drop for food cos we were cut off by the snow
and one day I was on the . switchboard
and they said "oh the signal sergeant wants to see you"
so I went down to his little office
and he said "come in corporal"
and I looked round
and I thought “who's he talking to?'
he said "get to the tailors and get a stripe up"
he said "you've been promoted to lance corporal"
I said "why?"
he said "you're going to brigade headquarters as an instructor"
I said "why an instructor?"
he said "well you were the last one to come through the signalling school"
he said "so if there's anybody who's had the latest information it's you" .
anyway I went . eventually went to headquarters at brigade headquarters and met this corporal in signals
and he said to me you know "why have they sent you?"
and I explained
and he said "oh what do you know about?"
and I said "well I don't know"
I said "I was on the switchboard when they sent for me and told me"
"oh" he said "you know all about the switchboard?"
so I said "yes"
"right that's gonna be the first lecture" he said "you can do that"
. so I was waffling away to this class of about thirty chaps
. come from all over the brigade area
and er while I'm talking .
their. their signals officer the East Surrey regiment it was
he came in and stood at the back of the class .
well in those days if you got hold of a little box a strong box you went down to the local market
and you could fill it up with currants sultanas or raisins
send it home to mum because dried fruit in this country was like gold dust
and course when you dismantle the switchboard all the cords and plugs all go in the box at the end
and I'm saying "you don't use this box for sending fruit home to mum that goes here" you see and I put in one or two little wise cracks
well when that part was finished they all have to go outside if they want to have a smoke
and this officer went <gesture>
so I staggered down the end of the hall in fear and trembling
and he shook hands
and he said er "this line of patter"
he said "where do you get that from?"
I said "well I do a little bit of amateur magic"
I said "probably from that"
and he put his hand out
he said "I'm (name) from the magic circle" and I couldn't do a thing wrong

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