Language – Register and Modes

AAAGGGGGGHHH more language!!! On the up side, I did all the hard work so you just need to read it 😉

Register and Modes

Register is the type of language used in different situations. Deciding which register is appropriate to use depends on several factors:

Type Explanation
Audience This is to do with the relationship between the speaker or writer and the audience. For example, if the speaker or writer knows the audience personally, the register they use will usually be quite informal. It might include informal lexis, like slang and abbreviations. This may be more apparent in informal speech than in informal writing.
Purpose For example, a report will use a formal register, is its purpose is to convey information accurately. When the purpose is more persuasive, e.g. an advert, the register will often be more informal as the text needs to get the audience’s attention in order to persuade them.
Field This is the subject being talked about. For example, if the topic is football, the lexis will include words linked to football, like ‘match’ and ‘penalty’. Some fields have a larger specialist lexicon (stock of words), like biochemistry. Most workplaces have their own lexicon connected solely with that field, from car repair shops to hospitals.
Form For example, business letters will be written in a formal register. Text messages, on the other hand, tend to use a more informal register.

Whether the register is appropriate depends on the context it’s used in – using an informal register in a formal situation is inappropriate because it could seem disrespectful or rude. Using formal language in an informal situation could sound unfriendly and stuffy.

Register variation

Different registers use different lexis and grammar, and the way they’re pronounced can vary too. For example:

  • Lexis – a conversation between two specialists would contain technical vocabulary that they would both understand.
  • Grammar – register can often affect syntax – the structure of clauses and complexity of sentences. Some registers have even grammatical constructions that are specific to them, like the legal register (known as legalese), which uses lots of clauses and mainly passive sentences.
  • Phonology – this is to do with how the words in a particular register are pronounced. The informal register people use when speaking with friends often involves things like dropping the <h> from words like ‘have’ and missing <g> from words with ‘ing’.


Written modes

  1. Written modes include letters, essays, novels, and reports. Written modes tend to be the most formal.
  2. In written modes the words have to make the meaning clear, because there’s no opportunity for non-verbal communication between the writer and the reader.
  3. Sometimes writers try to convey prosodic features like tone, intonation and pitch to make the meaning clearer, using features like italicising, underlining, CAPITALISING, and punctuation like exclamation marks.

Spoken modes

  1. Spoken modes are things like interviews, broadcasts and presentations. Spontaneous speech (like a conversation between friends) is normally the least formal mode.
  2. In spoken modes speakers can rely on non-verbal communication like gestures and prosodic features to get their point across.
  3. The grammar of informal speech is often disjointed – it contains lots of interpretation and incomplete sentences. It also contains non-fluency features (things that interrupt the flow of speech) like self-correction, pauses, repetition fillers (‘you know’, ‘sort of’, ‘I mean’) and false starts.
  4. Speech also tends to contain phatic expressions (small talk expressions that have a social function, so their meaning isn’t particularly important, like ‘hello’ and ‘how’s things?’).

Multi-modal texts

Lots of texts are a mixture of spoken and written modes, especially electronic texts like emails and text messages.

  • These are written modes that can contain elements of spoken language, e.g. phatic communication like ‘hello’ and ‘bye’.
  • Very informal emails or messages between friends contain phonetic spelling, like ‘b4’ for ‘before’.
  • Formal business emails still tend to be less formal than letters – they tend not to use conventions like writing the sender’s address at the top. Paragraphs and sentences tend to be shorter.

Different modes can be classified in different ways:

Continuum classification Positon on a scale that places written Standard English at one end and spoken informal speech at the other. In the middle are multi-modal texts like email.
Typology Grouping together genres that have characteristics or traits in common, e.g. sport commentaries, music reviews, formal interviews, novels, etc.
The dimension’s approach Looking at different aspects of modes, e.g. lexis, grammar and structure to analyse the level of formality in a certain text.

Isn’t it nice when the work’s short and sweet? Like this if you found it useful, and please comment anything it made you think about or you thought needed to be added to the notes to make them better.

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