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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2022

Register Variation in a Cognitive (Socio)linguistics Perspective

Benedikt Szmrecsanyi and Alexandra Engel


Key questions in Cognitive (Socio)Linguistics include the following: “How do language users acquire lectal competence, how is it stored mentally, and how does it work in language production?” (Geeraerts, Kristiansen, and Peirsman 2010: 10). We aim to shed more light on the storage and production component of this question. Specifically, we will explore the extent to which language users have different probabilistic grammars for different situational varieties of speech and writing (“registers”) - do our linguistic choice making processes differ depending on whether we engage in e.g., informal conversation or write blog entries? This issue is under-researched but loaded theoretically. Our case study is about the dative alternation in English (John gave the president a present versus John gave a present to the president). The methodology is usagebased and relies on both corpus evidence (i.e., observation) and a rating task experiment. We distinguish between four broad registers: informal spoken language, formal spoken language, informal written language, and formal written language. Analysis shows that different registers do indeed come with different probabilistic grammars, which indicates that lectal/register differences play an important role in cognitive categorization.

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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