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register

Peter Roach, Phonetics (Oxford University Press, 2001)

Definition:

In linguistics, one of many styles or varieties of language determined by such factors as social occasion, purpose, and audience. Also called stylistic variation.

More generally, register is used to indicate degrees of formality in language use. The different registers or language styles that we use are sometimes called codes.


See also:

Etymology:

From the Latin, "record"

Examples and Observations:

  • "It fascinates me how differently we all speak in different circumstances. We have levels of formality, as in our clothing. There are very formal occasions, often requiring written English: the job application or the letter to the editor--the dark-suit, serious-tie language, with everything pressed and the lint brushed off. There is our less formal out-in-the-world language--a more comfortable suit, but still respectable. There is language for close friends in the evenings, on weekends--blue-jeans-and-sweat-shirt language, when it’s good to get the tie off. There is family language, even more relaxed, full of grammatical short cuts, family slang, echoes of old jokes that have become intimate shorthand--the language of pajamas and uncombed hair. Finally, there is the language with no clothes on; the talk of couples--murmurs, sighs, grunts--language at its least self-conscious, open, vulnerable, and primitive."
    (Robert MacNeil, Wordstruck: A Memoir. Viking, 1989)


  • Language Styles
    "Every native speaker is normally in command of several different language styles, sometimes called registers, which are varied according to the topic under discussion, the formality of the occasion, and the medium used (speech, writing, or sign).

    "Adapting language to suit the topic is a fairly straightforward matter. Many activities have a specialized vocabulary. If you are playing a ball game, you need to know that 'zero' is a duck in cricket, love in tennis, and nil in soccer. If you have a drink with friends in a pub, you need to know greetings such as: Cheers! Here's to your good health!

    "Other types of variation are less clearcut. The same person might utter any of the following three sentences, depending on the circumstances:
    I should be grateful if you would make less noise.
    Please be quiet.
    Shut up!
    Here the utterances range from a high or formal style, down to a low or informal one--and the choice of a high or low style is partly a matter of politeness."
    (Jean Aitchison, Teach Yourself Linguistics. Hodder, 2003)


  • Participants in an Exchange
    "Like variation in our manner of dress, stylistic variations in language cannot be judged as appropriate or not without reference to the participants in the interchange (i.e., speaker and listener or reader and writer). For example, you would not speak to a 5-year-old child, an intimate friend, and a professor using the same style of speech. Using the term eleemosynary 'charitable' would probably be inappropriate for the child and the friend, while using number one 'urinate' would probably be inappropriate for the friend and the professor."
    (Frank Parker and Kathryn Riley, Linguistics for Non-Linguists, 3rd ed. Allyn & Bacon, 1999)


  • Register Features
    "[R]egister features are core lexical and grammatical characteristics found to some extent in almost all texts and registers. . . .

    "Any linguistic feature having a functional or conventional association can be distributed in a way that distinguishes among registers. Such features come from many linguistic classes, including: phonological features (pauses, intonation patterns), tense and aspect markers, pronouns and pro-verbs, questions, nominal forms (nouns, nominalizations, gerunds), passive constructions, dependent clauses (complement clauses, relative clauses, adverbial subordination), prepositional phrases, adjectives, adverbs, measures of lexical specificity (once-occurring words, type-token ratio), lexical classes (hedges, emphatics, discourse particles, stance markers), modals, specialized verb classes (speech act verbs, mental process verbs), reduced forms (contractions, that-deletions), co-ordination, negation, and grammatical devices for structuring information (clefts, extraposition).

    "A comprehensive linguistic analysis of a register requires consideration of a representative selection of linguistic features. Analyses of these register features are necessarily quantitative, because the associated register distinctions are based on differences in the relative distribution of linguistic features."
    (Douglas Biber, Dimensions of Register Variation: A Cross-Linguistic Comparison. Cambridge University Press, 1995)
Pronunciation: REH-je-ster
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