Humanities › English What Is Register in Linguistics? Share Flipboard Email Print Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images English English Grammar An Introduction to Punctuation Writing By Richard Nordquist English and Rhetoric Professor Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester B.A., English, State University of New York Dr. Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks. our editorial process Richard Nordquist Updated July 25, 2019 In linguistics, the register is defined as the way a speaker uses language differently in different circumstances. Think about the words you choose, your tone of voice, even your body language. You probably behave very differently chatting with a friend than you would at a formal dinner party or during a job interview. These variations in formality, also called stylistic variation, are known as registers in linguistics. They are determined by such factors as social occasion, context, purpose, and audience. Registers are marked by a variety of specialized vocabulary and turns of phrases, colloquialisms and the use of jargon, and a difference in intonation and pace; in "The Study of Language," linguist George Yule describes the function of jargon as helping " to create and maintain connections among those who see themselves as 'insiders' in some way and to exclude 'outsiders.'" Registers are used in all forms of communication, including written, spoken, and signed. Depending on grammar, syntax, and tone, the register may be extremely rigid or very intimate. You don't even need to use an actual word to communicate effectively. A huff of exasperation during a debate or a grin while signing "hello" speaks volumes. Types of Linguistic Register Some linguists say there are just two types of register: formal and informal. This isn't incorrect, but it is an oversimplification. Instead, most who study language say there are five distinct registers. Frozen: This form is sometimes called the static register because it refers to historic language or communication that is intended to remain unchanged, like a constitution or prayer. Examples: The Bible, the United States Constitution, the Bhagavad Gita, "Romeo and Juliet."Formal: Less rigid but still constrained, the formal register is used in professional, academic, or legal settings where communication is expected to be respectful, uninterrupted, and restrained. Slang is never used, and contractions are rare. Examples: a TED talk, a business presentation, the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, "Gray's Anatomy," by Henry Gray.Consultative: People use this register often in conversation when they're speaking with someone who has specialized knowledge or who is offering advice. Tone is often respectful (use of courtesy titles) but may be more casual if the relationship is longstanding or friendly (a family doctor.) Slang is sometimes used, people may pause or interrupt one another. Examples: the local TV news broadcast, an annual physical, a service provider like a plumber.Casual: This is the register people use when they're with friends, close acquaintances and co-workers, and family. It's probably the one you think of when you consider how you talk with other people, often in a group setting. Use of slang, contractions, and vernacular grammar is all common, and people may also use expletives or off-color language in some settings. Examples: a birthday party, a backyard barbecue.Intimate: Linguists say this register is reserved for special occasions, usually between only two people and often in private. Intimate language may be something as simple as an inside joke between two college friends or a word whispered in a lover's ear. Additional Resources and Tips Knowing which register to use can be challenging for English students. Unlike Spanish and other languages, there is no special form of a pronoun expressly for use in formal situations. Culture adds another layer of complication, especially if you're not familiar with how people are expected to behave in certain situations. Teachers say there are two things you can do to improve your skills. Look for contextual clues such as vocabulary, use of examples, and illustrations. Listen for tone of voice. Is the speaker whispering or yelling? Are they using courtesy titles or addressing people by name? Look at how they're standing and consider the words they choose. Sources Yule, George. "The Study of Language." Cambridge University Press, 2014, Cambridge.Eaton, Sarah. "Language Register and Why It Matters." Drsaraheaton.com. 22 May 2012.Lund University staff. "Register Types." .Lunduniversity.lu.se. 21 February 2011.Wolfram, Walt, and Natalie Schilling. "American English: Dialects and Variation, 3rd Edition." John Wiley & Sons, 2015. Young, Jennifer. "How Did That Register? Five Levels of Formality in Language." Altalang.com. 1 May 2012.