SPEAKING model (D. Hymes)


Dear All,
Today, I would like to discuss with you famous anthropologist and linguist Dell Hymes’ SPEAKING model (1974). According to Hymes, a speech situation can only be understood if not only linguistic, but also other aspects are taken into consideration, such as: the setting of the communication, its goals, and the information about the participants. In order to reflect all these factors and help speech act analysts to make more in-depth analysis, Hymes coined the following acronym: SPEAKING [model/paradigm]. Below is the explanation of how to decode it:

S=SETTING/SCENE – i.e. where the speech situation is taking place (e.g. a University lecture hall) – this is the setting; the overall mood and context (is the conversation serious or funny; what is the cultural ambiance) – this is the scene [aka psychological setting].

P=PARTICIPANTS – i.e. the information about the participants (e.g. their cultural and sociolinguistic background).

E=ENDS (goals) – i.e. what are the goals and the actual outcomes of the speech act (e.g. John wanted to confess his love to Helen, but instead of saying “I love you”, he awkwardly murmured “It is good to see you”. As a result, his confession was put off).

A=ACT SEQUENCE – i.e. what happens first, second, etc.; also how exactly the events unfold (e.g. a FAQ section of a website: short questions first, brief answers follow; a TV host interviewing a university student-hero and the applause of the audience).

K=KEY – i.e. whether the situation is formal or not; whether the participants are happy or sad (e.g. an informal birthday party or a family reunion).

I=INSTRUMENTALITIES – i.e. the linguistic and non-linguistic tools used to make the speech act possible (e.g. a phone, English used by a Spaniard and a Ukrainian who meet in Canada).

N=NORMS – i.e. the conventions used by the speakers to arrive at their set communicative goals (e.g. in France, university students use “vous” (you-respectful) when they address their professor).

G=GENRE – i.e. the kind of the speech act (e.g. the final research paper; a small talk before a class).

What is redundant in the model? What is missing in it?

Recommended posts:
High- and low-context cultures
Chronemics: monochronic and polychronic cultures
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions

Hymes, D. (1974). Foundations of sociolinguistics: An ethnographic approach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.



  1. In my view, the “scene” is somewhat redundant taking into consideration the “key” aspect. Nonverbal means of communication are in turn underrepresented in the model; this may be related to the fact that at the time the book was published, they were not studied sufficiently, although Gumperz (to whom Hymes refers multiple times in his book) underlines the importance of nonverbal cues.

    However, these drawbacks should not undermine the considerable value of the model since it pays the due tribute to the role of the context and points at various factors (both linguistic and non-linguistic) that need to be considered in the analyses of a speech situation.


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