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The Concept of Register in Literary Discuss



Register is seen as a situational use of language. The language suitable for the court room may not be suitable for banking sector. Gregory and Caroll assert that register ‘A text variety is embedded in a situation, it reflects not only individual capacity of the situation in which the text belongs but also the previous experience of individual (134).

This shows that register used for any language situation reflects the personal experience of an individual. In a formal communication situation, the only language that is acceptable is the standard language or variety. In linguistic analysis, different styles of language are technically called Register. Register refers to properties within a language variety used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. M.A.K Halliday and R. Hasan (1976) interpret ‘register’ as the linguistic features which are typically associated with a configuration of structural features – with particular values of the field, mode and tenor. These are generally concepts for describing how the context of situation determines the kinds of meaning that are expressed. Field is the total event in which the text is functionally together with the purposive activity of the speaker or worker. It includes the subject matter as one of its element. Mode is the function of the text in the event, including both the channel taken by language spoken or written, extempore or prepared – and its genre, rhetorical mode, as narrative, didactic, persuasive, ‘phlox communion’ etc. The tenor refers to the type of role interaction, the set of relevant social relations, permanent and temporary, among the participants involved. These three values – field, mode and tenor – are the determining factors for the linguistic features of the text.

The register is the set of meanings, the configuration of semantic patterns that are typically drawn upon under the specified conditions, along with the words and structures that are used in the realization of these meanings. Register, in view of M.A.K. Halliday and R. Hasan, is one of the two defining concepts of text. The notion of register is at once very simple and very powerful. It refers to the fact that the language we speak or write varies according to the type of situation. What the theory of register drives is to attempt to uncover the general principles, which govern Vanuatu, so that we can begin to understand that situational factors determine linguistic features. Ure (1971) provides an example of register variation. He shows that at least in English, the textual density of a text, which means the proportion of lacteal items to words as a whole, is a function first of the medium, and within that of the social function

Fowler (1966) defines register as a set of contextual features characterized by the use of formal features. The sum resultant formal characteristics may be called a style. The interplay of the two notions is implied in such phrases as “the language of…” where language means ‘style’ and the blank is filled by a reference to the register in question.

A worker uses register when he conforms to the language of the topic under discussion. The topic of a text sometimes governs the selection of linguistic features a writer employs. Ghadessy (1 - 2) sees register as “the matching of situational factors in linguistic features.” It is the link between language and situation that he sees as the basis for establishing many varieties of English or registers. However, register is seen as the total retexture of varieties of words (technical or non - technical) that exist in a given field of specialization; and that affects or influences the style or variety of writing. Yule believes that “variation according to use in specific situations is also studied in terms of register.”(245).

The effective use of register would reveal certain deep meanings that a casual reader may simply stumble over. The point here is that words given the environment in which they exist are embodied with meanings that are capable of making them totally different from the synonym. It would be difficult to look at register in isolation of the linguistic and socio-cultural context. In stylistics and socio-linguistics, register is a variety of language defined according to its use or social situation. Since ‘register’ affects all users of language and particularly the ecology of style, it will be beneficial to examine more closely the concepts of context, sense medium and tenor.


Derbyshire sees context as ‘the situation that produces any language use: although he does not provide a clear explanation of what these situations are. Biber (1988: 25) points out the components of a speech situation which provide the “situational context” for speech events. He lists some of these components as message, content, speaker-hearer, purpose, channels and norms of interactions. These components, including participants in the speech situation, influence language use.

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A broad definition of context (situational context) will include such things as personal characteristics of participants, stability (as in personality, interest, beliefs) or temporary (as mood, emotion) Biber (1988: 29) believes that these characteristics are presumably, the primary influence on a person’s style. He also includes setting as part of context. Setting refers to the different aspects of the physical and temporal context. Included in setting are such factors as where the communication is taking place, when it takes place and what activity it is part of.


The item is closely connected with context, as context will in most cases dictate sense. Lyons (1997: 197) explains that ‘sense’ is the term used by a number of philosophers for what others would describe simply as their meaning, or more narrowly cognitive or descriptive meaning. It has also been denotation and connotation. Thus, a stylistic analysis of a text along the line of senses would actually be an examination of cognitive or descriptive meaning.


Medium is the physical embodiment of the message conveyed. Other texts and sense will tend to dictate the medium. These two media can be sub-divided into a number of distinctions. The relevant medium for our purpose is the written language. This medium is normally less ‘adhoc’ than the spoken, sub-dividing it could even be more accurate and the term can be conventional or institutional.

Field of Discourse

The field of discourse means the features which are seen to characterize a particular area of language activity, such as a profession, or a specific occupational activity. Thus, law, advertising, officials and religious worship are considered as constituting different fields of discourse, each with its own distinguished linguistic repertoires. The field of discourse helps us to determine or influence the choice of local items in a given situation.


Closely related to the component of medium is tenor, which is the way in which the decoder of messages influences language use. Halliday (1978) calls it ‘role relationship ‘. Tenor is important in the study of style because the kind and amount of language use arising out of context will be affected not only by the sense or meaning it embodies, but also by what the addresser thinks, knows or imagines about his audience in relation to the context and medium.

Mode of Discourse

The mode is the concrete shape that a discourse takes. This could be spoken or written. Mode is also seen as the channel or medium of communication. In other words, mode of discourse could be referred to as the form or structure of a text.

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