A register is a set of linguistic meanings or semantic patterns used by a speaker to express different types of feelings or emotions. It includes words, body language, and voice tone. Depending on the situation and the person, a register may be informal, formal, or both.
Registers are important in communication. They provide a way for people to adjust their speech and writing styles, or even to switch between different registers in writing. Knowing what register is needed for the situation in which you are presenting your work is a key factor to communicating successfully. In the wrong register, you can undermine the confidence of readers.
For example, in an academic setting, you might use a formal register. You would address someone in authority using a more formal style of English, such as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Dr.’. However, in a more informal setting, you might use slang or expletives. Or you might speak in a more intimate manner, whispering in a lover’s ear.
While registers are generally related to the pitch and voice tone of sound, they can also be defined by the words, body language, and other forms of vocabulary. Whether you are writing for your own personal purposes, or for a professional audience, determining the appropriate register can help you make your message clear and engaging to readers.
Several scholars have argued that there are five distinct registers, although it is not known what the precise number of registers is. Some linguists have suggested that there are two registers, one formal and one informal. Other linguists have argued that there is no single register. This is because each register is defined by the context of the situation and the speaker’s tone of voice.
The term “register” was coined in 1956 by T. B. W. Reid, a linguist, who noted the differences between the speech styles of the two speakers. He argued that the use of a register is closely linked to the tone and the context of the communication.
The formal register is often associated with standardised versions of English, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But you can also write in a formal register in a more informal context, such as business presentations or local TV news broadcasts.
Formal register is usually used to address people in formal settings, such as a government office, an academic department, or a company. However, it is also used in a more informal context, such as in a private conversation or with family or friends. Similarly, the consultative register is often used in an informal manner, such as asking for expert advice.
A casual register is used in situations where a writer wants to build a rapport with a reader. It is typically used in group settings, and the writer’s words may include slang, contractions, and off-color language.
A frozen register is a special type of register that contains archaic or nonstandard language. This could include phrases like “thy” and “right to silence”. People also use a frozen register when they want to show that they are not trying to be funny or sarcastic.