Independent fiction editor Karen Conlin, in addition to writing this article, has hosted an #ACESChat about understanding register.
In August, I led a Twitter #ACESChat about register in writing and editing. Interestingly, at least to me, many of those attending realized they knew what register was, but not what it was called.
Linguists use register to describe the level of formality we use when speaking to others. Here is a post I wrote for BookWorks.com, explaining how register works in writing. It’s similar to voice, but it’s not the same. Register and voice work together to create each author’s style, and it’s our job as editors to understand that synthesis and work within it for each client.
There’s a difference, too, between register and code switching. I was only beginning to learn about this at the time of the #ACESChat. Since then, I’ve gotten some great input and clarification from linguists about it, in particular from Alexandra D’Arcy (@LangMaverick).
Register variation occurs within a language. Code switching goes between languages. Think of an African American Vernacular English (AAVE) speaker who uses that with family and friends, and switches to standard English if they’re meeting with, let’s say, a doctor or a banker.
Very briefly, here are the five registers:
Frozen is the kind of language we hear at church (think of the group recitations, often from memory) or in court (especially when the bailiff speaks the call to order).
Formal is the language we encounter in academic and medical journals (and probably others, but I have experience with those myself).
Consultative is what we hear and use when we meet with professionals, like bankers, teachers or lawyers; there’s a certain level of respect on both sides (at least one hopes there is!).
Casual register is what we use with our peers.
Intimate goes a step further by incorporating pet names, in-jokes and perhaps even code words no one outside the relationship will understand.
Why not try this quiz to see how well you grasp the idea of register as it relates to writing and editing? For each question, jot down which register you think is being used. Answers are at the end of the quiz.
Header photo: Vintage image created by Jcomp - Freepik.com