Douglas Biber, Jesse Egbert, Daniel Keller
February 13, 2020
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.