University Of Baghdad
College Of Arts
Register and style
By: Aseel Kazum Mahmood
Dialect, style and register are both ways of labeling varieties of language, although
they function differently, they do, most of the time, appear similar because the
same person may use different linguistic items to express more or less the same
meaning on different occasion and the concept of dialect cannot extend to include
such variation(Hudson 1980: 45).
Another point of similarity between these varieties is that they overlap
considerably - one person’s dialect is another person’s register, and sometimes
may differ by the style of transferring the message for example the items which
one person under all circumstances use informally may be used by someone else
on the most formal occasions.
This is the relation between native speaker of standard and non-standard dialect,
form that is a part of the standard speaker dialect is a part of a special register for
non-standard speakers shifting according the speaker style. (Spolsky 1998:33).
In the Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, Crystal (1991, p. 295) defines
register as "a variety of language defined according to its use in social situations,
e.g. a register of scientific, religious, formal English.’’
Register is widely used in linguistics to refer to ‘’varieties according to use’’.
In contrast to dialect defined as varieties according to user (chesihire1992,
downes1994, beiber1988), they are also are a set of language items associated with
discrete occupational or social group (wardhaugh, 2001:48).
We can say that saying jargon is an alternative term for register that is sometimes
used for this kind of language as in terms used by surgeons, air plane captions,
bank managers, sales clerks or jazz fans (Splosky, 1998:33).
As Ferguson (1994:20) states: people participating in recurrent communication
situations tend to develop similar vocabularies, similar features of intonation and
characteristics bit of syntax and phonology in these situations, he also added that
its special items for recurrent objects and events and formulaic sequences or
routine seem to facilitate speedy communication, other features apparently serve to
mark the register, establish feeling of support , and serve other services similar to
the accommodation that influence dialect formation, and by that; Register is
special variety marked by special set of vocabulary (technical terms) associated
with a profession or occupation or other defined social group forming part of its
jargon or in-group variety, as they are most likely used on specific situation and
with particular roles and status involved.
E.g.: toast at a wedding, sport broadcast, talking to a baby..etc.
Jargons: label new and needed concept, establish bonds between numbers and or
between members of the group, and enforce boundaries for outsides
E.g.: Thieves and underworld jargons (Trudgill, 1974:30). They are also the
varieties that are linked to occupational professions or topics are called registers
E.g.: register of medicine is different from the register of engineering.
Registers are characterized by vocabulary differences either by the use of particular
words or by the use of words in particular kind of language being produced by the
social situation, other factors connected to the situation in which language is being
used, over and above occupation will also have linguistic effects
Factors effecting register use:
1. Whether written or spoken as informal or formal.
2. Literal variety and colloquial variety.
3. Kind of subject matter; physical setting and occasions of language activity.
Functions of register:
There is a strong tendency among individuals and co-communicators to
develop register variation along many dimensions.
One person can control variety of registers.
Each register help one express his identity at specific time and place.
You may be judged to speak better or worst that another speaker who
have the same background as you, Bloomfield (1927) Article on variety
of speech provides a sufficient experience.
There seems to be some subtle bias into the way people tend to judge
dialects, sometimes not always people tend to exhibit preferences for
rural dialect over urban ones.
Sometimes the notion of better and worse solidify into those of
correctness and incorrectness according to Bloomfield words (1927).
Register differences can be identifies in terms of the model of acts identity as much
as the way of dialect differences. Each time we speak or write we not only locate
ourselves in relation to the rest of the society, but we also relate our act to the rest
of the society but we also relate out act of communication itself to complex
classificatory scheme of communication. This scheme takes the form of the
multidimensional matrix just like the map of our societies which we build our
minds, So dialect shows who we are, whilst register show what we are doing
The dimensions on which an act of communication may be located are no less
complex than those relevant to the social location of the speaker.
Halliday (1978:33) distinguish the three genres types of dimension:
Field: which refer to the purpose of the subject matter of communication;
why and about what the subject is.
Mode: a mean by which communication takes place speaking or writing;
Tenor: refers to the relationship between participants; (to whom).
E.g.: I am writing to inform you that
I just wanted to let you know
These examples only differ in terms of to whom (i.e. how the speaker views the
The first being impersonal (addressed to someone with whom the writer only has
formal relations, the second is personal.)
Another model has been proposed by Dell Hymes (1971) in which no less that
thirteen separate variables determine the linguistic items selected by the speaker,
each one of these models provide a framework within which any relevant
dimension of similarity and difference can be located.
E.g.: the relations between speaker and addressee involve more than one
Power (addressee in subordinate, equal or superior position than the addressor)
Solidarity relatively in terms of relation form distance. In English speakers
between themselves on these dimensions in relation to addressee largely by
choosing among the alternative ways of naming the addressee; Mr. Smith, John,
Registers as Discrete Variety:
Registers do not seem to exist as a discrete variety, they do not seem to have any
more reality than dialects for example it is easy that the selection of items within a
given sentence reflect different factors depending on which items are involved.
One item for instance may reflect the formality of the occasion while another may
reflect the expertise of the speaker and the addressee, but the expression of theses
dimensions is very dependent of each other so we may make four combinations in
between two dimensions from one simple sentence:
Formal, technical: we obtain sodium chloride.
Formal, non-technical: we obtained some salt.
Formal, non-technical: we obtained some salt.
Informal, non-technical: we got some salt.
In these sentences we notice that obtained is seen as formal word (in contrast with
got), While sodium chloride is technical expression in contrast with salt.
That suggest that different linguistics items are sensitive to different aspects of act
of communication in the same way different items react to different properties of
Register can only be seen as variety in the weaker sense of set of linguistic items
which all have the same social distribution (occur under the same circumstances)
although all models presented lay a great stress on the need for multidimensional
analysis of registers.
Register as formality scale:
One of the most analyzed areas where the use of language is determined by the
situation is the formality scale. Writers (especially in language teaching) have
often used the term "register" as shorthand for formal/informal style, although this
is an aging definition. Linguistics textbooks may use the term "tenor" instead
(Halliday 1978). 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. (Trudgill, 1992)
In one prominent model, Martin Joos (1968) describes five styles in spoken
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 that
are recited in a ritualistic monotone. The wording is the same every time it is
Formal: One-way participation; no interruption; technical vocabulary or exact
definitions are important; includes presentations or introductions between
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.
In Crystal & Davy (1969), however, the word style is used in the way most other
people use register: to refer to particular ways of using language in particular
contexts. The use of register had become too loosely applied to almost any
situational variety of language of any level of generality or abstraction, and
distinguished by too many different situational parameters of variation. (Using
style in the same loose fashion, however, hardly solves anything, and, goes against
the usage of style by most people in relation to individual texts or individual
authors/speakers.)Another thing that complicates the study of dialect is the fact that
speakers can adopt different styles of speaking depending on the circumstances;
speakers can speak very formally or informally, the level of speaker formality can
be chosen to a variety of factors:
-kind of occasion
-the various, social, age and other differences that exist between participants.
-the particular task is that it involves; speaking, writing
-emotional environment of one or more of the participants.
All these levels help define the appropriateness and the inappropriateness of how
we say things.
And according to Hudson(1996:46) your dialect says who you are while your
register says what you are doing, Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be
ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much
disadvantage, and be as ill received, as your person, though ever so well-
proportioned, would if dressed in rags, dirt, and tatters.
Coulthard (1985:40) the concept of style may seem very close to that of register
but there is a crucial difference since register mainly defined and recognized by the
topic and context specific lexis.
E.g.: the register of sermons is the language used in giving sermons.
Style however as the rules of alternative emphasize, are not mechanically
connected to particular situation speakers may choose among style and their choice
has social meaning. One of the most relatable ways of making people laugh is to
adopt style in appropriate particular context or message.
Linguistic varieties are linked to the formality of the situation are called style and
so Style and register principles are independent.
E.g.: the register of football called co-occurs with a formal style as in a report in
high newspaper or with informal style as in discussion in a bar).
The connotation of English address-forms such as Sir, Mr. Smith, John are all
different each has its stylistic implication and the rules of usage as well as the
frequency for usage. Varying from class to class, age, group and place
E.g.: used of sir in Britain and American.
In other languages, the problem may be complicated by the problem of personal
E.g. :( most European and the other languages) unlike English which has only you,
distinguish, especially in the singular between polite and familiar second-person)
As been argued the familiar pronoun were the normal forms of address for single
individual and the polite forms were either second- person- plural or third person
pronouns (stage 89).
This effect can be referred to as power another thing that can affect it is called
solidarity which not only signifies power but also social differences distance.
A number of elements affect the style interview, style-social context and social
Speaker either move along a scale of formality of style according to situation or
switch from separate style of dialect to another, the situational varieties are clearly
sub varieties of one regional or social dialect.
Bloomfield (1927)provide the popular explanation of ‘’correct and ‘’incorrect’’ as
solidification that reduces the matter to one of knowledge versus ignorance, there
is such a thing as correct English and an ignorant person may not know the correct
for he cannot help using the incorrect ones.
Verbal hygiene: introduces by Cameron (1996:36) as the authoritarian promotion
of elite varieties as norms of correctness through campaign for plain English
Dialect and language preservation.
Nonsexist and non-racist language.
Esperanto and the abolition of the copula.
Self-improvement activities such as; accent reduction, Neuro-linguistic
programming, assertive training and communication skills training.
Verbal hygiene was produced to eliminate certain believes and pass judgments on
issues of the language (1999, viii) linguists know that many popular beliefs about
language are false and that much we taught about language is misdirected, they
also know how difficult it is to effect change.
Q. what are the linguistic features we rely on to classify a person as being from a
particular place, class, profession?
A. Although many varieties of language exist, not all languages vary in different
possible way, it is still quite possible to listen to a person and infer very specific
things about the speaker after hearing little of his/her speech. One possible
hypothesis to tell is through relying on relatively few cues such as:
The presence and absence of certain linguistic items or features and the
consistency or inconsistency in the use of these cues. We may also see its use or
non-use to be categorical, i.e., the feature to be totally present or absent; all these
features are important since they raise an important question about human
Style is related to dimension of formality, the varying level of alternation to variety
forms a natural continuum, the various levels of which can be divided in different
ways, but what’s on that continuum or the level of that continuum are not
important as much as most accounts of language make reference to levels of
stylistic variations it is a language variation which reflects changes in situational
factors, such as addressee, setting, task or topic. Style is often analyzed along a
scale of formality, the level of formality is influenced by some factors like the
various differences among the participants, topic, emotional involvement, etc.
(Janet Holmes, 2001)
Labov found evidence in his sociolinguistics interviews conducted in new York
about the form or the type being used at certain point when a person was
interrupted or offered a cup of coffee or became excited about the story.
He would elicit more formal use by asking the subject to read a passage or a list of
words, for more casual speech he asked for emotionally significant story, which
gave him three or four levels and possibility of company change.
Principles of style:
William Labov first introduced the concept of style in the context of
sociolinguistics in the 1960s, though he did not explicitly define the term. Labov
primarily studied individual linguistic variables, and how they were associated
with various social groups (e.g. social classes). He summed up his ideas about style
in five principles:
"There are no single style speakers."
Style-shifting occurs in all speakers to a different degree; interlocutors
regularly and consistently change their linguistic forms according to context.
"Styles can be ranged along a single dimension, measured by the amount of
attention paid to speech."
Style-shifting correlates strongly with the amount of attention paid to
speech. According to studies conducted by Labov, this was one of the single
most important factors that determined whether or not an interlocutor would
make a style-shift.
"The vernacular, in which the minimum attention is paid to speech, provides
the most systematic data for linguistic analysis."
Labov characterized the vernacular as the original base mode of speech,
learned at a very young age, on which more complex styles build later in
life. This "basic" style has the least variation, and provides the most general
account of the style of a given group.
"Any systematic observation of a speaker defines a formal context where
more than the minimum attention is paid to speech."
In other words, even formal face-to-face interviews severely limit a
speaker’s use of their vernacular style. An interlocutor’s vernacular style is
most likely displayed if they do not perceive outside observers, and are not
paying immediate attention to their own speech.
"Face-to-face interviews are the only means of obtaining the volume
and quality of recorded speech that is needed for quantitative
Quantitative analysis requires the kind of data that must be obtained in a
very obvious, formal way.
In bilingual community’s stylistic levels may be marked by switching from one
variety into another, the commonly accepted explanation for this stylistic variation
can be the care that speakers and writers take with their expression. The more
formal the situation, this explanation goes, the more attention we pay to our
language and so the more we are likely to conform the favored and educated norms
of society.(Trudgill, 1992:50).Style shifting refers to a single speaker changing
style in response to context.
The norms in which the attention of care is more focused upon since it does not
deal with the possibility of conscious choice of a less or more formal style. One
idea to explain that is the notion of audience design which is a speaker who can
control more than one variety chooses a level of speech according to the audience
he or she is addressing in relation to unconsciousness accommodation.
E.g.: we may choose an informal style when speaking to a stranger in order to
This contributes to the social identity of the speaker and establishes social
Audience design can also be defined as recognition of stylistic levels as being
appropriate to specific social situation.
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