Department of Linguistics

Zack: The bike incident menu

Sound clip: 

Download: Zack_ Bike incident.WAV

Discussion points: 

Digest links:

Clause combining As usual in spontaneous speech, most of the clauses are linked to the previous one with and (lines 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 13, 16, 18, 22, 23, 24 and 25). A smaller number are linked with so (line 14, 15, 21 and 27).

Conversational historical present tense The verbs in the orientation section of Zack's story are in the past progressive tense (lines 2-5), presenting actions that were ongoing before the action began. Once Zack begins the blow by blow account of what happened he switches to the simple past tense (lines 6-7, 9-11, 14-17, 19-23 and 26-28). He uses the conversational historical present tense at moments of high drama in the story: to report what the teacher said when he first told Zack to get off his bike (line 8) and then when the teacher insisted (line 13), and finally when the situation changes from verbal confrontation to physical confrontation as Zack walks over to the teacher and comes face to face with him (lines 24-25).

Discourse markers

yeah Zack often marks the end of a clause with yeah, simultaneously checking that the listeners are following what he is saying (lines 1, 9 (like I've gotta go home), 12, 13, 15, 18, 21, 22 and 26). Note that in line 7 yeah is not a discourse marker but is used in direct reported speech as a question, with rising intonation.

like Zack uses like at the beginning of a clause (lines 12, 14 and 29) and also at the end of a clause (lines 15 and 17).In line 12 he uses like 3 times, marking the different chunks of information in the clause. Note that the pronunciation of the verb like in lines 25 and 26 is different from the pronunciation of the discourse marker like and like in the quotative expression BE LIKE: the vowel in the verb is longer and more stressed.

Hedges kind of (lines 14 and 15) introduces an element of vagueness into the actions that Zack is recounting here, allowing the listener to fix the precise meaning of shoved me off the bike in line 14 and stumbled in line 15, and in this way involving them in imagining the scene.

Narrative structure Zack's story fits well with William Labov's framework for analysing narratives of personal experience. The clauses can be divided into an orientation section which sets the scene (lines 1-5, and then line 18), a series of complicating action clauses which give a blow-by-blow account of what happened (lines 6-11 and 13-27), a resolution that tells listeners what happened in the end (line 28) an evaluation in line 29 which makes the point of the story clear (Zack wasn't allowed into any school after he'd attacked a teacher) and finally a coda (line 30) that bridges the 'story world' and returns the speaker and the listeners to the present, as Zack explains that this is why he is now taking a painting and decorating course at the college where the recording is being made.  Line 12 is an evaluation clause where Zack explains why he told the teacher that he didn't intend to get off his bike.

Nonstandard grammar

Past tense BE forms Zack uses nonstandard I weren't (line 29). Note though that all other past tense forms of BE with I  in the extract are (standard) was, in line with the frequent tendency to use was in positive contexts and were in negative contexts. The system is variable, though, as shown in line 18 where Zack uses (standard) we were.


bike (e.g. lines 3, 5, 6,8) Zack pronounces some vowels as monophthongs that in older Londoners' speech are diphthongs, such as the vowel in bike.

the entrance (line 12) Like Alex (in the 'At the Airport' extract), Zack does not make a distinction between the pronunciation of the when it comes before a vowel and when it comes before a consonant: older Londoners say [ðÉ] bus (roughly, 'thuh bus' but [ði:] entrance,'thee entrance' whereas Alex says [ðÉ],'thuh', in both cases.

Quotative expressions Like many of the stories in the extracts, the drama lies in what the characters in the story said to each other, so there is a lot of direct reported speech in Zack's story. He introduces the reported speech with GO (lines 8, 13 and 25), BE LIKE (lines 7, 9, 10, 11, 17, 19, 20 and 26) and the new London quotative expression this is +speaker (line 24). Note that he uses the new quotative(in the conversational historical present tense) at the moment of high drama when he has walked over to the teacher and confronts him.



This is an extract from a recording of two male friends, Alex and Zack. Both boys are 16 years old and live in inner London. They were talking to the interviewer about their experiences of school. Here Zack explains to the interviewer why he had been thrown out of his secondary school. He tells a short story about an argument he had with a teacher when he was leaving school at the end of the day. Both boys are skilled storytellers (see Alex's story about the airport). Zack's story contains several features typical of the structure of narratives of personal experience.

Transcript PDF: 

Zack_Bike incident.pdf

Discussion points PDF: 

Zack_Bike incident_discussion points.pdf


Zack, aged 16, white British, from inner London

                                                        The Bike Incident    

1          Zack:  no it was like . it was the end of school yeah so that school's finished yeah

2                   and everyone was going home

3                   and I was getting my bike from the bike rack

4                   and I was going out

5                   and I was riding my bike

6                   and he stopped my bike.

7                   I was like "yeah"

8                   and he goes "get off the bike'

9                   I was like "why am I getting off the bike I'm going home like I've gotta go home" yeah

10                 he was like "no get off the bike walk the bike outside of school"

11                 I was like "what's the point?"

12                 yeah cos like it's quite far like to get out the school from the entrance like in the school yeah

13                 and he goes "ah no get off the bike" yeah

14                 so like he kind of shoved me off the bike

15                 so I dropped it but I didn't fall over like but I kind of stumbled yeah

16                 and he put his. he tried to take my bike up to his office like he was gonna keep my bike there.

17                 I was like "no" like

18                 and this time everyone was gathering round cos we were shouting at each other yeah

19                 he was like "no I'm taking your bike upstairs"

20                 I was like "what's the point in that when I'm just gonna take it back downstairs'

21                 so I must have pulled the bike off him yeah

22                 and I put it . I put it I leant it up against the wall yeah

23                 and I walked over to him

24                 and this is me "what. what's your . what's your problem?"

25                 and he goes 'œI don't like you'

26                 I was like 'œI don't like you" yeah

27                 so I just swung for him and then we like .

28                 but we had a fight though. [S: did you]

29                 and I got kicked out of school .

30                 like I weren't allowed into any school that's why I came here last year

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