A research tool
After deciding upon one of the six basic units to observe (see Theoretical Overview: a speech community, situation, event, act, style or way of speaking) a researcher can then proceed to analyze it by using one of the tools that Hymes developed. These tools can be remembered easily by thinking about the word, S.P.E.A.K.I.N.G. By using the tools of S.P.E.A.K.I.N.G., a researcher opens up the potential meanings of a speech community or by examining these smaller units. Your interests should help you choose which of these tools will help you with your analysis.
S. The first letter ("S") designates Situation, which includes both the scene and the setting. This is where the activities are talking place and the overall scene in which they are a part.
P. The second refers to the Participants involved. This area includes the people present and the roles they play, or the relationships they have with other participants.
E. Next, the Ends or goals of communication can be studied.
A. Acts, or speech acts include both form and content. That is, any action can be considered a communicative action if it conveys meaning to the participants.
K. One can also choose to focus upon the Key or tone of speech. How the speech sounds or was delivered.
I. Instrumentality or the channel through which communication flows can be examined.
N. The Norms of communication or the rules guiding talk and its interpretation can reveal meaning.
G. Finally, one can look at cultural or traditional speech Genres, such as proverbs, apologies, prayers, small talk, problem talk, etc.
By using these tools (S.P.E.A.K.I.N.G.) to analyze one unit, such as particular speech community, a researcher can come to learn more about how people communicate and how that communication is often patterned.
A researcher does not need to use all the units and tools every time he or she sets out to look at a speech community. It depends upon the types of questions that the researcher is interested in asking as to what units and tools he or she will choose. For example, if you are interested in questions of identity -- How can you tell who is a member and what does it mean to be a member of this group? -- then you can focus on the "P.A.S." components of the S.P.E.A.K.I.N.G. tools. You would ask, who the participants ("P") are and how their actions ("A") help to define their identity as a group member in particular situations ("S").