Language and Popular Culture

Examples of Linguistic Registers

H. Schiffman, Instructor

The following are samples of different registers of English. Most have been taken from newspaper accounts of various sorts; they are thus examples of different types of reportage in journalism, but most are also citing material from other registers that they are reporting about. The last few examples are from scientific writing, in particular abstracts of scientific articles.

  1. `Plaintiff alleged that defendent did hit, beat, pummel, punch, and mutilate plaintiff, and did damage and/or destroy valuable photographic equipment belonging to plaintiff.'

  2. SHERIFF'S SALE: By virtue of a Writ of execution, to me directed, issued out of the SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, CHANCERY DIVISION, CAMDEN COUNTY, DOCKET NO. F-8373-96 will be sold at Public Venue on Friday the 29th day of December, 1997, at 12 o'clock, local time noon of said day, property located as described below. [description omitted].

  3. SAUTEED MARINATED BRAINS. Parboil the brains. Cool and cut in thick slices. Marinate for several hours in a mixture of 1/2 cup olive oil, 3 tbsp. lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. Tabasco, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tbsp. each chopped parsley and chopped chives. Remove from marinade, dip in flour, beaten egg, and fresh bread crumbs, and saute in hot oil until golden brown. Serves 4.

  4. CUDDLER, OUTDOORS LOVER. Tall, cute, SWM, 46, N/S, educ. New to Phila. area seeks youthful, affectionate, playful, nurturing fem to share life with. Do you enjoy getting away from it all & long to build a happy relationship? Attitude more important than age, race, looks. Height & weight proportional plz. P/P nice but not neces.

  5. WALLACE CLARK, 73, researcher. Wallace H. Clark Jr., 73, a dermatologist whose research into moles, freckles and other skin discolorations led to the early identification and treatment of certain forms of skin cancer, died of an aneurysm Friday at his home in Kennebunk, Maine.

  6. William Bolcom clearly appreciates the plainspoken beauty of Kenyons' language, and he frames it with near-perfect music. A piano, smooth, discreet, controlled, laps over and over a four-note motif at the start of ``Otherwise" ---whose key, G sharp minor, is ominously repeated, altered, and reinforced in the held tones of the bass line. How succinctly, in the space of 34 measures, Bolcom underlines the New Hampshire Day described by his late friend Jane Kenyon. ...

  7. Regional Forecast. Poconos: Sunshine followed by increasing clouds. High 40. A period of rain tonight, low 35. Showers may occur early tomorrow with flurry late. High 38.

  8. PENN SHIFTS PROBE OF ATHLETE. A panel of academics, not the athletic department, will handle the eligibility investigation. ... Meanwhile, a lawyer for fifth-year student Mitch Marrow--the all-Ivy League student-athlete at the center of the controversy--said his client was ``a smart kid, a squeaky-clean kid" who was being victimized by a Penn history professor with a grudge.

  9. flash point n (1878) 1 The lowest temperature at which vapors above a volatile combustible substance ignite in air when exposed to flame 2: a point at which someone or something bursts suddenly into action or being 3: TINDERBOX 2

  10. SIXERS SLAMDUNK SONICS FOR SIXTH WIN IN SEVEN GAMES ... More than compensating for the loss of All-Star center Alonzo Evening, Austin, despite straining a groin in the first quarter, scored 28 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and had a career-best five steals to lead the Sixers to a 94-81 victory over the Seattle Supersonics Wednesday.

  11. "While Silverstein disingenuously claimed to support the master plan, his actions, then and up to the present time, bespeak a clear intent to derail the project wherever he perceives a conflict with his personal financial interests," the lawsuit said. [...] Silverstein Properties said through a spokesman, Howard J. Rubenstein, that it was surprised by the lawsuit. "It has always been our desire to avoid a senseless courtroom fight," Mr. Rubenstein wrote in a statement. [...] Silverstein Properties said yesterday that it understood "that just a few days ago, the Libeskinds accepted our repeated suggestion of mediation by some neutral third party and that they were in fact considering a list of potential mediators." [...] "That being said, we fully expect to prevail." But the Libeskinds' legal papers said the Silverstein mediation proposal was "nothing more than a further stratagem to delay resolution of this fee dispute and frustrate progress of the master plan."


    Your heart is telling you something.

    To unleash your spirit.

    To get behind the wheel of an Eldorado Touring Coupe with the Northstar System.

    To feel the 300-horsepower V8 weld your back to the leather of the seat.

    To take control of the only luxury coupe with the astonishing handling advantages of StabiliTrak.

    Your heart is telling you something.

    Are you listening?



  • Here's an example of the register of an auctioneer which even many native speakers of English might not understand.

    Now look at some scientific registers:
    Notice what kinds of claims they make, and what verbs they use to do this:

    1. We review research on the neural bases of verbal working memory (WM), focusing on human neuroimaging studies. We first consider experiments that indicate that verbal working memory is composed of multiple components. One component involves the subvocal rehearsal of phonological information and is neurally implemented by left-hemisphere speech areas, including Broca's area, the premotor area, and the supplementary motor area. ... These experiments provide some support for the hypothesis that, when a task requires processing the contents of working memory, the dorsolateral prefontal cortex is disproportionately activated.

    2. Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) encompass a group of fatal neurodegenerative diseases in animals and man which can be transmitted experimentally. The etiology of naturally occurring TSEs seems to comprise horizontal and vertical transmission as well as genetic predisposition, yet for the majority of cases the etiology is unclear. The onset of clinical illness is preceded by a prolonged incubation period of months to decades. Clinical symptoms of TSEs include dementia and loss of movement coordination. Neuropathological examination typically reveals gliosis and spongiform changes, sometimes accompanied by the formation of amyloid deposits (amyloid plaques). In the 1980s it was established that a common hallmark of TSEs was the accumulation of an abnormal isoform of the host-encoded prion protein in the brains of affected animals and humans.

    3. Tamil is unusual among the world's languages in that some of its dialects have five contrasting liquids. This paper focuses on the characterization of these sounds in terms of articulatory geometry and kinematics, as well as their articulatory-acoustic relations. This study illustrates the use of multiple techniques--static palatography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and magnetometry (EMMA)--for investigating both static and dynamic articulatory characteristics using a single native speak of Tamil. Dialectal merger and neutralization phenomena exhibited by the liquids of Tamil are discussed. Comparisons of English /r/ and /l/ with Tamil provide evidence for generality in underlying mechanisms of rhotic and lateral production. The articulatory data justify the postulation of a class of rhotics and a class of laterals in Tamil, but do not provide evidence in favor of a larger class of liquids. Such a superclass appears to have largely an acoustic basis. 1999 Acoustical Society of America [S0001-4966(99)03809-6]

    4. Linguistic assimilation in the German-American church has been studied by Hofman (1966:139-50, 1972) and tangentially by Schneider (1939), Beck (1939), Dietz (1949), Stellhorn (1963), Graebner (1965), and Kloss (1966). Except for Hofman and Kloss, most of these studies have accepted the notion that linguistic assimilation was a given, and that the process only needed to be documented. Most also have studied the ``official'' change in language policy (from German to English) in the German-American churches by examining the statistics on number of churches offering English-language services, confirmation classes in English, and number of church publications sold in English vs. German. Hofman concludes, for instance, that

      ``the most crucial variable in the relatively greater persistence of German [as opposed to Scandinavian or other ethnic languages] may well be the greater numerical concentration of Germans. ... [C]onservatism is an unnecessary assumption in order to account for the somewhat greater retentiveness of German''. (1972:623).

      Kloss (1966) goes beyond this to offer a useful taxonomy of factors affecting language maintenance, but admits the contradictory effect of some of them (in some cases a given factor will aid maintenance, while in others the same factor will hasten assimilation).

      [...] The literature seems to assume that the official language policy of these German-American churches is representative of the actual de facto language preference of their members, and then attributes the quick change-over to English after World War I to the harsh regulations of that era; or, these groups are acknowledged to be already English-preferential, but their English dominance is attributed to the ``enormous assimilative power of American civilization'' (Glazer 1966:360). The overwhelming evidence from internal documents of these churches, and particularly their schools, however, indicates that the German-American school was a bilingual one much (perhaps a whole generation or more) earlier than 1917, and that the majority of the pupils may have been English-dominant bilinguals from the early 1880's on.

    Harold Schiffman
    last modified 7/07/2004