Many genres and fields of discourse have their own style of language. When a language style is defined socially or situationally, we use the term REGISTER. Many registers, such as those of medicine or the law, are technical or professional.
The term register is also sometimes used more generally to describe the level of formality within a piece of speech or writing. This level of formality is usually determined by the context of utterance or writing, and one of the indicators of the register is the choice of lexis. English is a language which has many synonyms, which makes such variation possible.
Arrange the following types of written communication along a continuum from most formal to least formal:
letter booking a holiday; e-mail to a friend; letter applying for a job; letter to a friend; letter thanking a godparent you don't often
see for a birthday present.
(a.) Look at the following words for horse:
steed, charger, horse, nag, gee-gee.
In what situation might you use each?
(b.) Look at the following words for home:
domicile, residence, abode, home, dwelling, doss.
Which word would you put in each of the following categories?
Formal/archaic; poetic; official; core term; slang; formal.
(The core term is the one which is most widely used.)
(c) Use an etymological dictionary to discover the language of origin of the various words in Task 2. Can you draw any
conclusions from this?
LEXIS is one of the main determiners of register; but SYNTACTIC and, in spoken language, PHONOLOGICAL choices are also relevant. Competent communicators are able to use a range of registers in different situations, making the appropriate choices. Different genres may also require different registers.
Different syntactic choices include sentence-structure (simple/compound/complex/compound-complex); passive or active constructions; full forms or abbreviations.
Phonological choices relate to pronunciation.
The variables in establishing register are field (subject matter); medium (speech or writing); mode (genre); channel (the technical means, e.g. telephone); tenor (the relationship between the participants); and context (the situation).
The most common registers (described by Martin Joos, 1962) are:
Formal, consultative, casual, intimate and frozen.
Describe the syntactic, lexical and phonological features you might expect to find in each of Joos's five registers.
© CD Selwyn-Jones