What is a Linguistic Register & Language Register? A quick way to improve your English

26 June, 2023

Language Register: A Quick Way To Improve Your English

Linguistic register (also known as the language register) is a set of language varieties that are used in particular situations. As speakers we tend to modify the way we speak depending on the context in which we find ourselves. Different environments require different registers.

For example, we do not communicate our anger towards a teacher in class the same way we would towards the referee in a football match. These changes we make allow us to adapt to different communicative situations. Thus the appropriate language register depends upon the audience (who), the topic (what), purpose (why) and location (where).

In this blog, we will be looking at what is a language register, why and when register varies, so that you can improve your own English!


Contextual elements that determine the linguistic register:

  • Channel: The media in which the conversation takes place, which can be both oral and written. Oral communicative exchanges are more often associated with informal registers, whereas written communication tends to be more formal in tone.
  • Topic: Usually, more general topics are related to a standard language register and the more specific the subject matter, the more likely it is that specialised registers will appear in the conversation: When two specialists talk about meteorology, it is normal to use terms specific to this science. But when we talk about the weather with our neighbour, on the other hand, we use less complex terms and grammatical structures.
  • Communicative purpose or intention of the sender:  Language allows us to carry out very different activities: to inform, give opinions, explain, express feelings, create friendly or hostile atmospheres, etc.

The intention that governs the emission of the message has a notable influence on whether, throughout the message, one register or another is developed. If someone starts speaking in a colloquial register, for example, this will help to create a relaxed atmosphere in which the interlocutor(s) feel comfortable and willing to take part in the conversation. 

  • Sender-receiver relationship: This is undoubtedly the factor that most determines the use of one register or another. Conversational uses are appropriate when we are dealing with people with whom we have a close, equal relationship. For example: with friends, family members, classmates, etc. 

However, when we find ourselves in a situation of hierarchical inferiority, whether for reasons of age or professional situation, we will almost certainly use a more formal register, out of courtesy to our interlocutor.




Language user impact on the linguistic register:

When we are competent speakers, these changes help us adapt our message to the context, intention, and content of our message. This is dependent on our level of education, our language knowledge, and our personal characteristics.

To give more context about how personal characteristics might influence our register, here’s a quote from George Yule’s book “The study of language”:

“…We are also aware of the fact that people who live in the same region, but who differ in terms of education and economic status, often speak in quite different ways. Indeed, these differences may be used, implicitly or explicitly, as indications of membership in different social groups or speech communities. A speech community is a group of people who share a set of norms and expectations regarding the use of language. The study of the linguistic features that have social relevance for participants in those speech communities is called “sociolinguistics.”

As a result, our social and educational contexts can affect our ability to adapt our speech.

This is not the case with dialects, or regional variations; you can be equally formal in Argentinian Spanish or informal in peninsular Spanish. In other words, dialects are different ways of expressing the same thing that can be equally adaptable to different contexts. 



Text Inspector and how it can help you determine a linguistic or language register:

The adaptability of speech, specially in formal contexts can also be measured by lexical diversity which can be a great indicator of the level of formality that can be easily analysed using the Text Inspector tool.

Try it by visiting  Start A New Analysis and pasting your text into the search box or uploading your document. 

You will be given an in depth overview of your text, including an analysis of spelling errors, lexical diversity, tags of the “Grammatical parts of speech” and much more…



Register Categories

There are just two register categories, according to some linguists: formal and informal. Though not inaccurate, this oversimplifies the situation. The majority of linguists contend that there are five distinct registers.

Let’s take a look at the different registers in English:

  • Static or frozen: The language at this level is literally “frozen” in time and form. No changes are made to it. The repetition of this type of language is often done by rote.

Examples: biblical verses, prayers, the Pledge of Allegiance, laws…

  • Formal: This language is used in formal settings and is one-way in nature. Professional, elevated and precise. Uses complete sentences, complex or longer sentence structures, and standard grammar. A speaker who uses formal register typically intends to inform the audience about a topic, but it can also indicate a lack of personal relationship between the speaker and the listener

Examples: conferences, debates, News reporting, Graduations, sermons, scholars…

  • Consultative:There is an established structure of communication between users. It is formal and societal expectations accompany the users of this speech. It is professional discourse.

Example: communications between a superior and a subordinate, doctor and patient, lawyer and client, lawyer and judge, teacher and student, counselor and client..

  • Casual: Also known as informal, it is usually used in a relaxed social context where no specialized or complex use of language is required. It can take place in restaurants, family reunions.
  • Intimate: Used between people who have a shared history, close acquaintances, such as family members, close friends, spouses and so on.


Culture and use of language registers

The previous classification can be different from language to language. Cultural context is also another element to take in consideration, as each culture has different ways to address this matter. 

For example: English does not have a specifically formal form of a pronoun in contrast with other latin languages; Usted for Spanish or Vous in French. 

Some Asian languages, like Korean, have 7 verb paradigms or speech levels. Every Korean verb has a unique set of verb endings that denote the level of formality of the situation.


Conclusion

Register is a complicated phenomenon. It is a combination of linguistic, sociological, and psychological factors.

It is important to note that register is not the same as style. Style refers to the overall tone and approach that we take when communicating, whereas register refers to specific choices of vocabulary and grammar that are appropriate for a particular context.

Languages are aggregates of registers, and they evolve through registers. 

Registers emerge as adaptations to new contextual pressures on languages, (as we have seen previously registers are heavily influenced by culture and social realities) and they may fade away as contextual conditions change. 

For example, we started to talk about “electronic” registers with the evolution of technology and social media.

The ability to switch between registers is known as “code switching”, and its use (or misuse) can determine the outcome of a social interaction.

Generally, there are no consequences when switching from one language register to a nearby one. However, skipping a level or more is typically viewed as unprofessional, if not disrespectful.

Therefore, if you want to take your English to the next level, make sure to pay close attention to your linguistic register!

Bibliography:

Yule, George. “The Study of Language.” Cambridge University Press, 2014, Cambridge.

Eaton, Sarah. “Language Register and Why It Matters.” Drsaraheaton.com. 22 May 2012.

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