Variety, Registers and styles

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Summary

In sociolinguistics a variety, also called a lect, is a specific form of a language or language cluster. This may include languages, dialects, accents, registers, styles or other sociolinguistic variation, as well as the standard variety itself.Meecham, Marjorie and Janie Rees-Miller. (2001) "Language in social contexts." In W. O'Grady, J. Archibald, M. Aronoff and J. Rees-Miller (eds) Contemporary Linguistics. pp. 537-590. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. "Variety" avoids the terms language, which many people associate only with the standard language, and dialect, which is associated with non-standard varieties thought of as less prestig

Details

A register (sometimes called a style) is a variety of language used in a particular social setting.Ottenheimer, Harriet Joseph. (2006) The Anthropology of Language. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cenage. Settings may be defined in terms of greater or lesser formality, or in terms of socially recognized events, such as baby talk, which is used in many western cultures when talking to small children, or a joking register used in teasing or playing the dozens. There are also registers associated with particular professions or interest groups; jargon refers specifically to the vocabulary associated with such registers.

Unlike dialects, which are used by particular speech communities and associated with geographical settings or social groupings, registers are associated with particular situations, purposes, or levels of formality. Dialect and register may be thought of as different dimensions of variation. For example, Trudgill suggests the following sentence as an example of a nonstandard dialect used with the technical register of physical geography:

There was two eskers what we saw in them U-shaped valleys.

Most speakers command a range of registers, which they use in different situations. The choice of register is affected by the setting and topic of speech, as well as the relationship that exists between the speakers.Saville-Troike, Muriel. (1982) The Ethnography of Communication: An Introduction. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

The appropriate form of language may also change during the course of a communicative event as the relationship between speakers changes, or different social facts become relevant. Speakers may shift styles as their perception of an event in progress changes. Consider the following telephone call to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC.

Caller: ¿Es la embajada de Cuba? (Is this the Cuban embassy?)

Receptionist: Sí. Dígame. (Yes, may I help you?)

Caller: Es Rosa. (It's Rosa.)

Receptionist: ¡Ah Rosa! ¿Cóma anda eso? (Oh, Rosa! How's it going?)

At first, the receptionist uses a relatively formal register, as befits her professional role. After the caller identifies herself the receptionist recognizes that she is speaking to a friend, and shifts to an informal register of colloquial Cuban Spanish. This shift is similar to metaphorical code-switching, but since it involves styles or registers, is considered an example of style shifting.

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