In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Register and Register Variation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Register Variation across Spoken and Written Registers
  • Historical Register Studies

Linguistics Register and Register Variation
Amanda Black, Tülay Dixon, Larissa Goulart, Stacey Wizner
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0278


Register research has been approached from differing theoretical and methodological approaches, resulting in different definitions of the term register. In the text-linguistic approach, which is the primary focus of this bibliography, register refers to text varieties that are defined by their situational characteristics, such as the purpose of writing and the mode of communication, among others. Texts that are similar in their situational characteristics also tend to share similar linguistic profiles, as situational characteristics motivate or require the use of specific linguistic features. Text-linguistic research on register tends to focus on two aspects: attempts to describe a register, or attempts to understand patterns of register variation. This research happens via comparative analyses, specific examinations of single linguistic features or situational parameters, and often via examinations of co-occurrence of linguistic features that are analyzed from a functional perspective. That is, certain lexico-grammatical features co-occur in a given text because they together serve important communicative functions that are motivated by the situational characteristics of the text (e.g., communicative purpose, mode, setting, interactivity). Furthermore, corpus methods are often relied upon in register studies, which allows for large-scale examinations of both general and specialized registers. Thus, the bibliography gives priority to research that uses corpus tools and methods. Finally, while the broadest examinations on register focus on the distinction between written and spoken domains, additional divisions of register studies fall under the categories of written registers, spoken registers, academic registers, historical registers, and electronic/online registers. This bibliography primarily introduces some of the key resources on English registers, a decision that was made to reach a broader audience.

General Overviews

As register analysis is heavily dependent on a theoretical framework, overviews tend to focus more on specific topics than on register analysis as a whole; however, there are a few resources that serve as valuable overviews. Biber and Conrad 2019 is the most comprehensive overview on register, while the original framework this book is founded upon is presented in Biber 1994. Biber, et al. 2020 updates the views on register presented in Biber 1994 and Biber and Conrad 2019. Register Studies is a fairly new journal targeted at publishing research on register studies.

  • Biber, D. 1994. An analytical framework for register studies. In Sociolinguistic perspectives on register. Edited by D. Biber and E. Finegan, 31–56. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This chapter develops an explicit situational framework to address a major problem in register analysis, which is that levels of generality are typically unspecified. Situational parameters are suggested so determinations of generality can be made. This chapter offers a clear overview of register analyses, situational considerations, and previously developed frameworks, and thus serves as a comprehensible introductory resource.

  • Biber, D., and S. Conrad. 2019. Register, genre, and style. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108686136

    This book provides an accessible explanation of what registers are, methods that can be used in register analysis, and applications of register studies. This is a useful introductory book for undergraduate and graduate students who want to gain a comprehensive understanding of register studies.

  • Biber, D., J. Egbert, and D. Keller. 2020. Reconceptualizing register in a continuous situational space. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 16.3: 581–616.

    DOI: 10.1515/cllt-2018-0086

    Recently, register studies have explored the situational characteristics of culturally recognizable registers. In this study, the authors propose a continuous and quantitative way to describe the situational characteristics of a register.

  • Register Studies. 2019–.

    An entire journal dedicated to publishing research on register and its relationship to language use. The journal has published two volumes; while all volumes contain high-quality research on register, the first issue (Volume 1) serves as a particularly comprehensive overview of register studies. Specifically, articles in this issue are dedicated to defining register in systemic functional linguistics, variationist linguistics, text-linguistics, computational language research, historical linguistics, and English for academic purposes.

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