This article seeks to find confirmation for the claim (cf. Biber et al. 1998; Biber et al. 1999; de Haan 2001) that the syntactic differences between spoken and written English virtually all point to the same conclusion, viz. that the written variety has a strong nominal character, whereas the spoken variety has a strong verbal, or clausal character. In other words, the noun phrase, with its noun phrase functions, is the typical central unit of the structure of written English, whereas the clause, with its clause functions, is a far more typical unit of the structure of spoken English.
This article is based on the assumption that the non-nominal character of spoken English is shown in the relative absence of nouns ending in typical nominalisation suffixes like –ness, –ity, –ance, –ation, etc., as well as in the differences in syntactic make-up between NPs centred around these nouns in spoken and written English. The data have been collected from the BNC sampler CD-ROM, which comprises 1 million words of spoken English and 1 million words of written English.
It is shown that there is a cline from informal spoken language to informative writing, in that the non-nominal character of spoken English is most outspoken in informal texts, while more formal spoken interactions have a more nominal character than imaginative writing. Informative writing has the strongest nominal character.