Corpus-based methods for the quantitative linguistic description of registers are well established. In contrast, situational analyses of registers have been based on qualitative descriptions of categorical situational characteristics. In the present study, we address this inconsistency by describing the variation among texts and registers in a continuous (quantitative) situational space. We describe “registers” as categorical constructs – culturally recognized categories of texts – but propose that they should be described in continuous terms. Such descriptions allow quantitative comparisons of registers, as well as analysis of the extent to which a register is well-delimited in terms of its situational characteristics.
Applying this analytical framework, we also explore a deeper issue: the possibility that some texts are not instantiations of any culturally-recognized register category. Both issues are tackled through analysis of a corpus of web documents. We first identify quantitative situational dimensions of variation, employing the methods of multi-dimensional (MD) analysis. We then describe how the situational characteristics of texts and registers can be analyzed in a continuous MD space. And finally, we propose analysis of situational text types – categories that are statistically well-defined in their situational characteristics – as an approach to describing all texts, including texts that do not belong to a culturally recognized register category.
About the authors
Doug Biber is Regents’ Professor of Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University. His research focuses on corpus linguistics, English grammar, and register variation. His work has appeared in numerous applied and theoretical linguistics journals, as well as books published by Cambridge University Press, John Benjamins, Longman, and Oxford University Press.
Jesse Egbert is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University. He is General Editor of the international peer reviewed journal Register Studies, and Technical Strand Editor for the Cambridge Elements in Corpus Linguistics series. His research focuses on register variation, methodological issues in quantitative corpus linguistics, and applying linguistics to legal interpretation.
Daniel Keller is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University. His research focuses on the psychology of register and applied corpus linguistics in the areas of language teaching and learning, language and law, and hospitality management.
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