LINGUIST List 2.281

Monday, 10 June 1991

Disc: Register

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Allan C. Wechsler, Register
  2. Celso Alvarez, Re: Register and Net-Discourse
  3. Woody Starkweather, register

Message 1: Register

Date: Thu, 6 Jun 1991 15:03-0400
From: Allan C. Wechsler <ACWYUKON.SCRC.Symbolics.COM>
Subject: Register
A cautionary note: we're going to have a tough time defining "register"
given the traditional difficulty of defining "language". Having said
this, I'll try my hand.

A register is a part of a language. You can think of a language as
owning a lexicon of registers the same way it owns a lexicon of
morphemes. As with the morpheme lexicon, not all speakers can use all
the registers of a language. Registers are different from dialects in
that a single speaker chooses from among a (usually small) set of
registers situationally.

Many languages have a "baby talk" register used by adults in talking to
very young children. In one American dialect of English, the baby-talk
register substitutes "ums" [Umz] for "you". Register change can involve
a coordinated set of linguistically significant changes on all levels:
discourse, syntax, lexicon, morphology, phonology, and phonetics. When
I was in high-school we had a register that I can only describe as the
"Joe Cool" register. One of its features was that all segments were
voiced. Id was rilly gool.

Japanese has about four registers conditioned by social status. It also
has a baby-talk register in which (among other things) /boku/ "I" is
used to mean "the baby", regardless of who is speaking to whom. (In a
Japanese restaurant, we asked for a spoon for our 3-year-old. The
waitress called into the kitchen in Japanese. Someone answered from the
kitchen, also in Japanese, "For whom?" The waitress answered
"/Boku-ni/", literally, "For me," but in context, "For the baby."

Australian langauges have lots of peculiar registers for social
avoidance and ritual purposes.

I'd be interested in hearing other examples.
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Message 2: Re: Register and Net-Discourse

Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 22:23:37 PDT
From: Celso Alvarez <>
Subject: Re: Register and Net-Discourse
Peter Gingiss asks about "register" and "style". My opinion is that
the notion of style is not sociologically informed. It individualizes
talk, and deemphasizes the social construction of communicative
conventions. Register (e.g. "formal" vs. "informal"), on the other
hand, alludes to situational constraints, which are social in nature.

Celso Alvarez
U.C. Berkeley
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Message 3: register

Date: Fri, 07 Jun 91 05:20:34 EST
From: Woody Starkweather <V5002E%TEMPLEVM%pucc.PRINCETON.EDURICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: register
I may have missed some of the earlier discussion, so forgive me if I re-
peat something that someone else said. Register is a term used more by
public speakers, announcers, and other speech production types to refer to
the level of formality. The lowest register would be casual conversation
between two friends, a notch higher would be talking to someone higher
in status, a notch higher than that might be an informal public speech,
such as a classroom, a notch higher than that a large audience to which
one speaks on a specific topic. Higher than that is the broadcasting situ-
ation, where the audience can't be seen or heard. Register influences more
than just lexicon. It influences also the clarity with which one articulates,
and it influences pronunciation rules as well (you wouldn't say gonna or
doin' on the air). Fluency level rules are also different. Um is quite
acceptable at low levels but forbidden in broadcasting. Syntax is also
influenced; consider the language of instruction. I suppose register is
one dimension of pragmatic variation.

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