Biber and Conrad (2009) propose an analytical approach to text varieties
described at different levels of generality, based on the identification of registers in
order to develop a framework of analysis. Thus, registers can be identified and
described based on analysis of either complete texts or a collection of text excerpts.
As register is a variety associated with a particular situation of use
(including particular communicative purposes), the description of a register covers
three major components (Biber and Conrad, 2009):
1. the situational context (if produced in speech or writing, interactive etc.);
2. the linguistic







3. the functional relationships between the first two components (it
results in the systematic patterns of register variation).
E.g. Steps in the register analysis of face-to-face conversation:

Description of situational characteristics:

face-to-face conversation

requires direct interaction between at least two people who are
together in the same place at the same time. Both participants discuss
events, thoughts, and opinions related to their personal lives or
something in the immediate context.








consideration of multiple texts from the target register, to discover the
linguistic features that are frequent across texts.

Interpreting the relationship between situational characteristics and
pervasive linguistic features in functional terms.

Text Sample Conversation (a group of friends is walking to a restaurant)
Judith: Yeah I just found out that Rebeca is going to the University of Chicago to
get her PhD. I really want to go visit her. Maybe I'll come out and see her.
Eric: Oh is she?
Judith: Yeah.
Eric: Oh good.
Elias: Here, do you want one? [offering a candy]
Judith: What kind is it?

Before analyzing the situational characteristics of a text variety. Elias: That's the joy of life. - appreciating the role of culture in identifying registers. - For a spoken register such as face-to-face conversation. DESCRIBING THE SITUATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS OF REGISTERS The situational characteristics include the physical context. general registers/genres have short. Elias: I think it would be kind of dumb to put them on the ground. Kate: Did they put fake ones up in there one year? Elias: No they're just all around on all the buildings. It probably would be empty. but also many other considerations.g. Eric: I don't like the color lights on the tree though. Kate: Did you guys come through the plaza on your way? Judith: No. simple names. Judith: Yeah we'll do that. there is a single author producing language in the written mode for a large number of readers scattered across different places and times. Elias: We drove through it tonight. Eric: They're good.2. E. while more specialized text varieties have longer more complex names. Kate: Oh yeah. Judith: Oh. - culturally recognized register distinctions. there are two or more participants producing language in the spoken mode and interacting directly with one another in a shared place and time. - For a written register such as newspaper articles. such as the actual time and place. [LSWE Corpus] 3. identifying the variety to investigate implies: - recognizing the level of generality of different registers. Kate: You have to go through it on your way home. such 29 . Kate: Those are good. in many cases.Elias: Cinnamon. For example "conversation" includes specialized kinds of interaction.

some characteristics will be easy to analyze based on your own experience.Plural (e.g. Furthermore. A framework for situational analysis The analysis of register characteristics (situational and linguistic) will generally focus on the comparison of two or more registers. while others will require more research. One of the main differences between the two registers is the physical mode: - speech versus electronically conveyed writing. Participants A Addressor(s) (i.1. both are typically interactive.g. but no author is identified) - Unidentified 2. . conversation and e-mail messages are similar in many respects: both are produced by a person addressing another person. Addressees 1. depending on the registers that are being compared. often dealing - with personal/social topics. education.e. etc. 2009: 40) I." and so on. speaker or author) 1.g. 30 . where the second person responds to the first. personal letters and e-mail messages are also often addressed to an individual). single (e. Type: - Single (e. newspaper editorials present the official point of view of a newspaper. E. have a major influence on the language produced in the text B. singers in a choir) Institutional ((e. There are a number of sources of information/METHODS that can help you describe the situational characteristics of a register. "casual conversation among colleagues. most spoken registers are produced by individual addressors who are readily identifiable).g. Social characteristics such as age. The framework for analyzing situational characteristics (Biber and Conrad.g. profession. 3. Particular situational characteristics will be more or less important.2."telephone conversation.

addressing one another on the stage. but that entire conversational interaction is observed by the audience of on-lookers. colleagues. - but that interaction can be spread over days and weeks. power differences can influence language choices even in a casual - conversation. strangers Shared knowledge: personal and specialist Participants can also have different degrees of shared background knowledge. 31 . the addressees of radio broadcasts or television shows. as in the case of two classmates having a - conversation. A newspaper article is even less interactive. Social roles: relative status or power socially equal participants. In registers like conversation.g. D. B. all participants are present and able to directly respond to one another. C. E. III.g. Are there on-lookers? E. because the author is not - easily accessible to address a response to (limited interaction through the "letter to the editor"). Interactiveness: to what extent do the participants directly interact with one another? E. II. Channel A.g. self / other C. . Participants in an e-mail interchange directly respond to one another.. published written registers). university classroom teaching is addressed to a larger group of listeners. in theatrical performance: actors are conversing. while there are also much more restricted modes like drum talk or smoke signals. Signing in particular is a fully developed mode of communication. Personal relationship: friends.un-enumerated ((e.plural (e. while a major conference lecture might be addressed to a group of several thousand listeners). 2. Mode: speech / writing / signing The difference between speech and writing is intertwined with other situational characteristics.g.g. Relations among participants A.

. Specific medium: . For example. summarize information from numerous sources. - Many registers combine several communicative purposes. explaining or interpreting information. textbooks usually combine descriptive and explanatory purposes. providing procedural information about how to perform certain activities.g. Time: contemporary. describing some state of affairs. Communicative purposes A. Specific purposes: e. conversation. 32 . describe. the participants share the physical context and so they can directly refer to it (e. describe methods. how-to / procedural. Place of communication - Private (e. the speaker is producing language at the same time - that he is thinking about what he wants to say. persuade. such as a chapter within a book) C.In many spoken registers. entertain.. arguing or persuading. B. textbooks) - Specific setting ( written texts may have a specific setting by being published as part of a larger document.g. V. The time and place of communication shared by participants (the physical context of the communication) . historical time period VI.. Setting A. B. etc. where the participants do not share the same time or place. and revealing personal feelings or attitudes. entertaining the addressee.B.g. with words like yesterday or here).Permanent: taped/transcribed/printed/handwritten/e-mail . personal letters)/ public (e. present new research findings. General purposes: narrate / report.. classroom teaching. etc. such as narrating or reporting past events. Written registers typically differ in all of these respects: the writer has as much time as needed to plan exactly what she wants to write and then revise the material until conveying exactly the intended meaning. - Such situation-dependent reference is not appropriate in most written registers. Communicative purpose can be described on several different levels: - It is usually possible to identify the general purposes of a register.Transient speech: face-to-face / telephone / radio / TV IV.g. inform / explain. Production circumstances: real time / planned / scripted / revised and edited - In spoken registers.

Self / other C. Shared knowledge varies Production and comprehension circumstances A. Expression of stance: epistemic. domestic. Personal relationship none D. science. Specific topic C. personal opinion. Single / plural / usually singular or plural. Social status of person being referred to. speculation. Social characteristics often adult trained professional but varies with subregister (e. religion. no overt stance (expressions both of personal attitudes and the extent to which information is certain or generalizable. daily activities business /workplace.g. revising. opportunity for re-reading 33 . Situational characteristics of academic prose (adapted from Biber and Conrad 2009: 111-112) Participants A. government / legal / politics.C. education / academic. Table 3. sometimes institutional institutional / unidentified 2. D.. B. etc.It is possible to distinguish among very general topical domains. Social roles variable C. Factuality: Does the addressor intend to convey factual information. or explanations of the source of the information). On-lookers? other N/A Relationships among participants A. more specialized enumerated 2. attitudinal. Topic is an open-ended category that can be described at many different levels. editing. Production time for planning. Addressee 1. or fiction/fantasy. Comprehension often careful reading but may be skimmed quickly. Addressor 1. . VII.g. Space constraints vary B. can be student) B. Single / plural /un- single / plural. A. Interactiveness no direct interaction B. but any text will have its own specific topics. General topical "domain": e..

Single / plural / usually singular or plural. Single / plural /unenumerated 2. explanatory purpose (e. other professionals in the academic field. Social characteristics adult educated (or.g. sometimes institutional institutional / unidentified 2. but varies with subregister B. research article presents new findings. students.g. Factuality factual with interpretation D. at least. Shared knowledge Variable 34 . etc. General topic area varies C. Addressee 1. Expressing stance varies. Interactiveness no direct interaction B.. not usually expected to be overt Topic A. Place of communication 1. Personal relationship No personal relationship D.Setting A.) other N/A Relationships among participants A. Private / public public public (available for others to view) 2. On-lookers? group (more specialized than for newspaper – e. Social roles Variable social roles C. Specific setting no specific setting C. Time period contemporary Communicative purposes A. Self / other C. Specific purposes vary within an informative. Addressor 1. textbook explains information for novices) C. Time and place shared by No shared time or place participants? B. General purposes informational – inform and explain/interpret B. literate). Specific topic varies Table 4 Distribution of selected situational features in officialese Participants A.

describing specific policies. Identify the most important differences in the communicative purposes. opportunity for re-reading. providing procedural information. Specific purposes . Time and place shared by time or place may be shared or not participants? B. Private / public public public (available for others to view) 2. - talking with your best friend about what you did last weekend. . Production time for planning. Place of communication 1. in order to avoid misinterpretation Setting A. Binding two parties in an undertaking B. 35 . Time period contemporary Communicative purposes A. social relationship between participants. Space constraints vary. revising. Specific setting no specific setting C. B. General purposes Informational (sending out /conveying factual information to the public). Expressing stance varies. Comprehension careful reading. . editing. making requests C.relaying instructions.Production and comprehension circumstances A. Factuality factual D. planning your research programme (for the dissertation thesis). Specific topic varies Task 1. General topic area varies C. and other aspects of the situational context: - talking with your advisor during office hours.establishing contact (opening up the channel of communication). not usually expected to be overt Topic A. Consider the following speech situations (all spoken and directly interactive).

Reduced forms and dispreferred structures (contractions. p. - or associated with aesthetic effects achieved by particular authors/speakers in the case of style analysis”4. Function word classes (determiners. 5. Verb features (verb valencies: intransitive. Derived words (nominalizations. phrasal verbs. ANALYSING LINGUISTIC FEATURES AND THEIR FUNCTIONS Linguistic description is also essential in analyzing text varieties from the three perspectives proposed by Biber and Conrad (2009): - In the genre perspective. voice.3. D. prepositions. Cambridge University Press. adjectives. etc. verbs. S. semantic classes of verbs). the interpretation of observed differences is associated functionally with the situational context in the case of register analysis. copular verbs. aspect. - In identifying “pervasive lexico-grammatical features. coordinators. grammatical categories: tense. vocabulary distributions). 2. 7. 6. modal verb classes. 3.78-82.3. "conversion). Ibidem. (2009): Register. pp. Genre and Style. Prepositional phrases. Vocabulary features (the use of a specific multi-functional word. 4. Main clause types. specialized words. Coordination (independent clause coordination or phrasal coordination). lists of the common words in different registers. and Conrad. 4 5 Biber. 8. ditransitive. vocatives and attentiongetters. 10. modal verbs. discourse markers. the focus of the linguistic analysis is on “describing the conventional devices or rhetorical organizations used to structure complete texts from a variety”. expletives). derived verbs/adjectives/adverbs. Content word classes (nouns. other kinds of ellipsis and incomplete sentences. adverbs). stranded prepositions). 36 . pronouns. relative pronoun deletion. 50. Some linguistic features which may also be introduced as part of register analysis5 are: 1. 9. Pronoun features. complementizer that deletion.

determiner / article use. noun clauses). Table 5. clefts and focus devices). final). medial. 13. Nominal features Nouns Very common Nominalization Extremely common. group noun etc. nominal preand postmodifiers. ing-clause. Adverbials: phrases and clauses (major type. 12. Other features Sentence structure Standard syntax Questions Rare Type-token ration Higher than in conversation register 37 . Circumstance adverbials of time Rare and place 4. particle placement. to-clause. syntactic role). syntactic position: initial. Complement clauses (major type: -that-clause. non-finite.. Distribution of selected linguistic features in the academic prose register (adapted from Biber and Conrad 2009:116-117) 1. prepositional phrase. wh-clause. indirect object placement. syntactic realization: single adverb. gender reference. 14. Verb characteristics Present tense Far more common than past tense Past tense Rare Modals Uncommon Can and may most common Passives About 25% of all finite verbs 3. Word order choices (extraposition. by-passive vs active. finite clause.11. especially -tion Prepositional phrases after noun Extremely common Attributives adjectives Extremely common Nouns as premodifiers of nouns Common Personal pronouns Rare 2. Linking adverbials Very common 5. Noun phrases and clauses (semantic category of noun: animate. cognitive. concrete.

technical terms postmodifiers of noun heads: extremely common marked for tense (present more sentence patterns frequently used). Prepositional phrases as Verb phrases are Canonical specialized. standard Nouns language nominalizations – and Complex verb Sentence very phrases are structure: common commonly used standard syntax clichéd. voice abbreviated forms Nouns as premodifiers of deontic accompanied nouns: commonly used (expressed Noun by explanatory notes necessity statements: by extremely shall) is common often comprise numerals widespread in Questions: reflecting the reference official documents group elements number of the official documents 38 rare . aspect.Table 6 Distribution of selected linguistic features in officialese Lexical features Nominal features Verbal and Syntactic adverbial features characteristics Formal.