Register (sociolinguistics)

In sociolinguistics, a register is a variety of language used for a particular purpose or in a particular communicative situation. For example, when speaking officially or in a public setting, an English speaker may be more likely to follow prescriptive norms for formal usage than in a casual setting; examples might include pronouncing words ending in -ing with a velar nasal instead of an alveolar nasal (e.g. "walking", not "walkin'"), choosing words that are considered more "formal" (such as father vs. dad, or child vs. kid), and refraining from using words considered nonstandard, such as ain't.

As with other types of language variation, there tends to be a spectrum of registers rather than a discrete set of obviously distinct varieties—numerous registers can be identified, with no clear boundaries between them. Discourse categorisation is a complex problem, and even in the general definition of "register" given above (language variation defined by use not user), there are cases where other kinds of language variation, such as regional or age dialect, overlap. Due to this complexity, scholarly consensus has not been reached for the definitions of terms such as "register", "field" or "tenor"; different scholars' definitions of these terms are often in direct contradiction of each other. Additional terms such as diatype, genre, text types, style, acrolect, mesolect, basilect, sociolect and ethnolect, among many others, may be used to cover the same or similar ground. Some prefer to restrict the domain of the term "register" to a specific vocabulary (Wardhaugh, 1986) (which one might commonly call slang, jargon, argot or cant), while others argue against the use of the term altogether. These various approaches with their own "register", or set of terms and meanings, fall under disciplines such as sociolinguistics, stylistics, pragmatics or systemic functional grammar.

History and use

The term register was first used by the linguist T.B.W. Reid in 1956 (Agha, 2008), and brought into general currency in the 1960s by a group of linguists who wanted to distinguish among variations in language according to the user (defined by variables such as social background, geography, sex and age), and variations according to use, "in the sense that each speaker has a range of varieties and choices between them at different times" (Halliday et al., 1964). The focus is on the way language is used in particular situations, such as legalese or motherese, the language of a biology research lab, of a news report, or of the bedroom.

M. A. K. Halliday and R. Hasan (1976) interpret register as "the linguistic features which are typically associated with a configuration of situational features – with particular values of the field, mode and tenor...". Field for them is "the total event, in which the text is functioning, together with the purposive activity of the speaker or writer; includes subject-matter as one of the elements". Mode is "the function of the text in the event, including both the channel taken by language – spoken or written, extempore or prepared – and its genre, rhetorical mode, as narrative, didactic, persuasive, 'phatic communion', etc." The tenor refers to "the type of role interaction, the set of relevant social relations, permanent and temporary, among the participants involved". These three values – field, mode and tenor – are thus the determining factors for the linguistic features of the text. "The register is the set of meanings, the configuration of semantic patterns, that are typically drawn upon under the specified conditions, along with the words and structures that are used in the realization of these meanings." Register, in the view of M. A. K. Halliday and R. Hasan, is one of the two defining concepts of text. "A text is a passage of discourse which is coherent in these two regards: it is coherent with respect to the context of situation, and therefore consistent in register; and it is coherent with respect to itself, and therefore cohesive."

Register as formality scale

One of the most analyzed areas where the use of language is determined by the situation is the formality scale. The term "register" is often, in language teaching especially, shorthand for formal/informal style, although this is an aging definition. Linguistics textbooks may use the term "tenor" instead (Halliday 1978), but increasingly prefer the term "style" – "we characterise styles as varieties of language viewed from the point of view of formality" (Trudgill, 1992) – while defining "registers" more narrowly as specialist language use related to a particular activity, such as academic jargon. There is very little agreement as to how the spectrum of formality should be divided.

In one prominent model, Martin Joos (1961) describes five styles in spoken English:

  • Frozen: Also referred to as static register. Printed unchanging language, such as Biblical quotations, often contains archaisms. Examples are the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States of America and other "static" vocalizations. The wording is exactly the same every time it is spoken.
  • Formal: One-way participation; no interruption; technical vocabulary or exact definitions are important; includes presentations or introductions between strangers.
  • Consultative: Two-way participation; background information is provided – prior knowledge is not assumed. "Back-channel behavior" such as "uh huh", "I see", etc. is common. Interruptions are allowed. Examples include teacher/student, doctor/patient, expert/apprentice, etc.
  • Casual: In-group friends and acquaintances; no background information provided; ellipsis and slang common; interruptions common. This is common among friends in a social setting.
  • Intimate: Non-public; intonation more important than wording or grammar; private vocabulary. Also includes non-verbal messages. This is most common among family members and close friends.

ISO standard

The ISO has defined standard ISO 12620 on Data Category Registry (ISO, 2018). This is a registry for registering linguistic terms used in various fields of translation, computational linguistics and natural language processing and defining mappings both between different terms and the same terms used in different systems. The registers identified are:

  • bench-level register
  • dialect register
  • facetious register
  • formal register
  • in house register
  • ironic register
  • neutral register
  • slang register
  • taboo register
  • technical register
  • vulgar register


The term diatype is sometimes used to describe language variation which is determined by its social purpose (Gregory 1967). In this formulation, language variation can be divided into two categories: dialect, for variation according to user, and diatype for variation according to use (e.g. the specialised language of an academic journal). This definition of diatype is very similar to those of register.

The distinction between dialect and diatype is not always clear; in some cases a language variety may be understood as both a dialect and a diatype.

Diatype is usually analysed in terms of field, the subject matter or setting; tenor, the participants and their relationships; and mode, the channel of communication, such as spoken, written or signed.

See also


  • Agha, Asif (2008). "Registers of language". In Alessandro Duranti (ed.). A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 23–45. ISBN 978-0-470-99726-0.
  • Gregory, M. (1967), "Aspects of Varieties Differentiation", Journal of Linguistics 3: 177–197.
  • ISO 12620 Data Category: register (Accessed 2018-11-09)
  • Halliday, M. A. K. and R. Hasan (1976), Cohesion in English, London: Longman.
  • Halliday, M. A. K. (1964), "Comparison and translation", in M. A. K. Halliday, M. McIntosh and P. Strevens, The linguistic sciences and language teaching, London: Longman.
  • Halliday, M. A. K. (1978), Language as Social Semiotic: the social interpretation of language and meaning, Edward Arnold: London.
  • Joos, M. (1961), The Five Clocks, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.
  • Quirk, R., Greenbaum S., Leech G., and Svartvik J. (1985), A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman, Harcourt.
  • Reid, T. B. (1956), "Linguistics, structuralism, philology", Archivum Linguisticum 8.
  • Swales, J. (1990), Genre Analysis. English in Academic and Research Settings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Trosborg, A. (1997), "Text Typology: Register, Genre and Text Type", in Text Typology and Translation. 3–23. (ed: Anna Trosborg), John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Trudgill, P. (1992), Introducing language and society. London: Penguin.
  • Wardhaugh, R. (1986), Introduction to Sociolinguistics (2nd ed.), Cambridge: Blackwell
  • Werlich, E. (1982), A Text Grammar of English, Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer.

External links

Abstand and ausbau languages

In sociolinguistics, an abstand language is a language variety or cluster of varieties with significant linguistic distance from all others, while an ausbau language is a standard variety, possibly with related dependent varieties. The terms were introduced by Heinz Kloss in 1952 to denote two separate and largely independent sets of criteria for recognizing a "language": one based on linguistic properties compared to related varieties (German: Abstand, IPA: [ˈʔapˌʃtant] (listen), "distance"), and the other based on sociopolitical functions (German: Ausbau, IPA: [ˈʔaʊsˌbaʊ] (listen), "expansion").This framework addresses situations in which multiple varieties from a dialect continuum have been standardized, so that they are commonly considered distinct languages even though they may be mutually intelligible. The continental Scandinavian languages are usually cited as an example of this situation. One of the applications of this theoretical framework is language standardization (examples since the 1960s being Basque and Romansh).

Charleston, West Virginia

Charleston is the most populous city in, and the capital of, the U.S. state of West Virginia. Located at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha rivers, the population during the 2017 Census Estimate was 47,929. The Charleston metropolitan area as a whole had 214,406 residents. Charleston is the center of government, commerce, and industry for Kanawha County, of which it is the county seat.Early industries important to Charleston included salt and the first natural gas well. Later, coal became central to economic prosperity in the city and the surrounding area. Today, trade, utilities, government, medicine, and education play central roles in the city's economy.

The first permanent settlement, Ft. Lee, was built in 1788. In 1791, Daniel Boone was a member of the Kanawha County Assembly.

Charleston is the home of the West Virginia Power minor league baseball team, the West Virginia Wild minor league basketball team, and the annual 15-mile (24 km) Charleston Distance Run. Yeager Airport and the University of Charleston are also in the city. West Virginia University, Marshall University, and West Virginia State University also have campuses in the area.


Diction (Latin: dictionem (nom. dictio), "a saying, expression, word"), in its original meaning, is a writer's or speaker's distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression in a poem or story. In its common meaning, it's the distinctiveness of speech, the art of speaking so that each word is clearly heard and understood to its fullest complexity and extremity, and concerns pronunciation and tone, rather than word choice and style. This is more precisely and commonly expressed with the term enunciation, or with its synonym articulation.Diction has multiple concerns, of which register is foremost—another way of saying this is whether words are either formal or informal in the social context. Literary diction analysis reveals how a passage establishes tone and characterization, e.g. a preponderance of verbs relating physical movement suggests an active character, while a preponderance of verbs relating states of mind portrays an introspective character. Diction also has an impact upon word choice and syntax.

Aristotle, in The Poetics (20) states that "Diction comprises eight elements: Phoneme, Syllable, Conjunction, Connective, Noun, Verb, Inflection, and Utterance. However, Epps states that in this passage "the text is so confused and some of the words have such a variety of meanings that one cannot always be certain what the Greek says, much less what Aristotle means."


In linguistics, diglossia () is a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety (labeled "L" or "low" variety), a second, highly codified lect (labeled "H" or "high") is used in certain situations such as literature, formal education, or other specific settings, but not used normally for ordinary conversation. In most cases, the H variety has no native speakers.

The high variety may be an older stage of the same language (as in medieval Europe, where Latin remained in formal use even as colloquial speech diverged), an unrelated language, or a distinct yet closely related present day dialect (e.g. Standard German alongside Low German; or Chinese, with Mandarin as the official, literary standard and local varieties of Chinese used in everyday communication). Other examples include literary Katharevousa versus spoken Demotic Greek; literary Tamil versus spoken Tamil, and Indonesian, with its Baku and Gaul forms; and literary versus spoken Welsh.

The Garifuna language is unusual in that it has gender-based diaglossia, with men and women having different words for the same concepts.

Impression management

Impression management is a conscious or subconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event. They do so by regulating and controlling information in social interaction. It was first conceptualized by Erving Goffman in 1959 in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and then was expanded upon in 1967. An example of impression management theory in play is in sports such as soccer. At an important game, a player would want to showcase themselves in the best light possible, because there are college recruiters watching. This person would have the flashiest pair of cleats and try and perform their best to show off their skills. Their main goal may be to impress the college recruiters in a way that maximizes their chances of being chosen for a college team rather than winning the game.Impression management is usually used synonymously with self-presentation, in which a person tries to influence the perception of their image. The notion of impression management was first applied to face-to-face communication, but then was expanded to apply to computer-mediated communication. The concept of impression management is applicable to academic fields of study such as psychology and sociology as well as practical fields such as corporate communication and media.


Jargon is specialized terminology used to define specific words and phrases used in a particular profession, trade, or group.Jargon is a type of language that is used in a particular context and may not be well understood outside that context. The context is usually a particular occupation (that is, a certain trade, profession, vernacular, or academic field), but any in a group can have jargon. The main trait that distinguishes jargon from the rest of a language is special vocabulary—including some words specific to it, and often different senses or meanings of words, that out-groups would tend to take in another sense—therefore misunderstanding that communication attempt.

Medical terminology

Medical terminology is language used to precisely describe the human body including its components, processes, conditions affecting it, and procedures performed upon it. Medical terminology is used in the field of medicine.

Medical terminology has quite regular morphology, the same prefixes and suffixes are used to add meanings to different roots. The root of a term often refers to an organ, tissue, or condition. For example, in the disorder hypertension, the prefix "hyper-" means "high" or "over", and the root word "tension" refers to pressure, so the word "hypertension" refers to abnormally high blood pressure. The roots, prefixes and suffixes are often derived from Greek or Latin, and often quite dissimilar from their English-language variants. This regular morphology means that once a reasonable number of morphemes are learnt it becomes easy to understand very precise terms assembled from these morphemes. A lot of medical language is anatomical terminology, concerning itself with the names of various parts of the body.

Relaxed pronunciation

Relaxed pronunciation (also called condensed pronunciation or word slurs) is a phenomenon that happens when the syllables of common words are slurred together. It is almost always present in normal speech, in all natural languages but not in some constructed languages, such as Loglan or Lojban, which are designed so that all words are parsable.

Some shortened forms of words and phrases, such as contractions or weak forms can be considered to derive from relaxed pronunciations, but a phrase with a relaxed pronunciation is not the same as a contraction. In English, where contractions are common, they are considered part of the standard language and accordingly used in many contexts (except in very formal speech or in formal/legal writing); however, relaxed pronunciation is markedly informal in register. This is also sometimes reflected in writing: contractions have a standard written form, but relaxed pronunciations may not, outside of eye dialect.

Certain relaxed pronunciations occur only in specific grammatical contexts, the exact understanding of which can be complicated. See trace (linguistics) for some further info.

Stilted speech

In psychiatry, stilted speech or pedantic speech is communication characterized by situationally inappropriate formality. This formality can be expressed both through abnormal prosody as well as speech content that is "inappropriately pompous, legalistic, philosophical, or quaint". Often, such speech can act as evidence for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or a thought disorder, a common symptom in schizophrenia or schizotypal personality disorder.

To diagnose stilted speech, researchers have previously looked for the following characteristics:

speech conveying more information than necessary

vocabulary and grammar expected from formal writing rather than conversational speech

unneeded repetition or correctionsWhile literal and long-winded word content is often the most identifiable feature of stilted speech, such speech often displays irregular prosody, especially in resonance. Often, the loudness, pitch, rate, and nasality of pedantic speech vary from normal speech, resulting in the perception of pedantic or stilted speaking. For example, overly loud or high-pitched speech can come across to listeners as overly forceful while slow or nasal speech creates an impression of condescension.These attributions, which are commonly found in patients with ASD, partially account for why stilted speech has been considered a diagnostic criterion for the disorder. Stilted speech, along with atypical intonation, semantic drift, terseness, and perseveration, are all qualities known to be commonly impaired during conversation with adolescents on the autistic spectrum. Often, stilted speech found in children with ASD will also be especially stereotypic or rehearsed.Patients with schizophrenia are also known to experience stilted speech. This symptom is attributed to both an inability to access more commonly used words and a difficulty understanding pragmatics—the relationship between language and context. However, stilted speech appears as a less common symptom compared to a certain number of other symptoms of the psychosis (Adler et al 1999). This element of cognitive disorder is also exhibited as a symptom in the narcissistic personality disorder (Akhtar & Thomson 1982).There is disagreement on the definition of psychophenomonology within the discipline of psychiatry, e.g. published sources provide definitions that are "various and sometimes conflicting (Rule 2005)" (Andreasen 1979).

Style (sociolinguistics)

In sociolinguistics, a style is a set of linguistic variants with specific social meanings. In this context, social meanings can include group membership, personal attributes, or beliefs. Linguistic variation is at the heart of the concept of linguistic style—without variation there is no basis for distinguishing social meanings. Variation can occur syntactically, lexically, and phonologically.

Many approaches to interpreting and defining style incorporate the concepts of indexicality, indexical order, stance-taking, and linguistic ideology. Note that a style is not a fixed attribute of a speaker. Rather, a speaker may use different styles depending on context. Additionally, speakers often incorporate elements of multiple styles into their speech, either consciously or subconsciously, thereby creating a new style.


Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. The English language draws a terminological distinction (not all languages do) between translating (a written text) and interpreting (oral or sign-language communication between users of different languages); under this distinction, translation can begin only after the appearance of writing within a language community.

A translator always risks inadvertently introducing source-language words, grammar, or syntax into the target-language rendering. On the other hand, such "spill-overs" have sometimes imported useful source-language calques and loanwords that have enriched target languages. Translators, including early translators of sacred texts, have helped shape the very languages into which they have translated.Because of the laboriousness of the translation process, since the 1940s efforts have been made, with varying degrees of success, to automate translation or to mechanically aid the human translator. More recently, the rise of the Internet has fostered a world-wide market for translation services and has facilitated "language localization".

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