Register in linguistics refers to the patterns of communication used in particular settings and for specific purposes. It is often an indicator of the formality or official nature of an occasion, or a mark of authority.
Linguists make the distinction that register varies with use, rather than with the user. For example, most people's speech contains pointers, lexical, syntactical, and phonological, of their class or social status. Such speech changes register when it is altered to fit an occasion, such as appearing in court or speaking to a bureaucrat, writing a scientific paper, making a business presentation, or interacting with an older relative or small child.
Register is marked by changes in syntax, accent or phonology, vocabulary, morphology. The study of register is commonly thought of as sociolinguistics, though it is also studied by other disciplines such as pragmatic grammar and stylistics.
Register is also identified by non-linguistic markers, such as body language and attire, The term has been used since the 1960s, when linguist Michael Halliday identified three variables or types of factors that affect register: Tenor, Field and Mode
Tenor: The relationship between the speakers matters, such as when a student is talking to a teacher, an offender to a police officer, an office worker to a superior, or a parent to an infant (baby talk). Here register is generally a marker of formality or intimacy, and commonly affects phonology, pragmatic rules, and accent.
Field: The subject of conversation or discourse matters, as particular situations call for particular kinds of vocabulary, mood etc. These variations are often called jargon, but are sometimes simply the form of a particular profession. For instance, priests use liturgical language, lawyers use 'legalese'. Philosophers use the language of subjectivity or rationality, while programmers have their own lexicon.
Mode: The medium of communication matters, such as whether it is spoken or written, and if either, on the level of formality or professionalism needed to be conveyed. Instant messaging, for example, is less formal than a handwritten letter, and a professional presentation is different from a coffee shop conversation. Here and in register determined by field, authority and expertise is being conveyed as much as formality.
There are five language registers or styles. Each level has an appropriate use that is determined by differing situations. It would certainly be inappropriate to use language and vocabulary reserve for a boyfriend or girlfriend when speaking in the classroom. Thus the appropriate language register depends upon the audience (who), the topic (what), purpose (why) and location (where).
You must control the use of language registers in order to enjoy success in every aspect and situation you encounter.
1. Static Register
This style of communications RARELY or NEVER changes. It is “frozen” in time and content. e.g. the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer, the Preamble to the US Constitution, the Alma Mater, a bibliographic reference, laws .
2. Formal Register
This language is used in formal settings and is one-way in nature. This use of language usually follows a commonly accepted format. It is usually impersonal and formal. The common format/s for this register are speeches. e.g. sermons, rhetorical statements and questions, speeches, pronouncements made by judges, announcements.
3. Consultative Register
This is a standard form of communications. Users engage in a mutually accepted structure of communications. It is formal and societal expectations accompany the users of this speech. It is professional discourse. e.g. when strangers meet, communications between a superior and a subordinate, doctor & patient, lawyer & client, lawyer & judge, teacher & student, counselor & client.
4. Casual Register
This is informal language used by peers and friends. Slang, vulgarities and colloquialisms are normal. This is “group” language. One must be member to engage in this register. e.g. buddies, teammates, chats and emails, and blogs, and letters to friends.
5. Intimate Register
This communications is private. It is reserved for close family members or intimate people. e.g. husband & wife, boyfriend & girlfriend, siblings, parent & children.
Rule of Language Use:
One can usually transition from one language register to an adjacent one without encountering repercussions. However, skipping one or more levels is usually considered inappropriate and even offensive.
In linguistics, a register is a variety of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. For example, when speaking in a formal setting an English speaker may be more likely to adhere more closely to prescribed grammar, pronounce words ending in -ing with a velar nasal instead of an alveolar nasal (e.g. "walking", not "walkin'"), choose more formal words (e.g. father vs. dad, child vs. kid, etc.), and refrain from using the word ain't, than when speaking in an informal setting.
As with other types of language variation, there tends to be a spectrum of registers rather than a discrete set of obviously distinct varieties – there is a countless number of registers that could be identified, with no clear boundaries. Discourse categorization 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. As a result of this complexity, there is far from consensus about the meanings of terms like "register", "field" or "tenor"; different writers' definitions of these terms are often in direct contradiction of each other. Additional terms such as diatype, genre, text types, style, acrolect, mesolect and basilect 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 jargon), 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 Thomas Bertram Reid in 1956, and brought into general currency in the 1960s by a group of linguists who wanted to distinguish between 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. 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), but increasingly prefer the term "style" – "we characterize 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: Printed unchanging language such as Biblical quotations; often contains archaisms. Examples are the Pledge of Allegiance, wedding vows, and other "static" vocalizations that are recited in a ritualistic monotone. 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.
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.