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Review of Register, genre, and style

posted January 30th, 2012

Register, genre, and style. By Douglas Biber and Susan Conrad. (Cambridge textbooks in linguistics.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. ix, 344. ISBN 9780521677899. $41.

Reviewed by Natalia Levshina, University of Leuven

This book provides a theoretical framework and methodological tools for analyzing registers, genres, and styles in English, with a particular focus on the register. Based on the teaching experience of the authors, the book offers copious examples of register analysis, as well as activities and practical guidelines that can be used by senior undergraduates and graduate students in their own research.

The book consists of nine chapters, two large appendices, a list of references, and a subject index. In the first chapter, the authors introduce the fundamental concepts of register, genre, style, situation, and variety. The differences and commonalities between these notions are explained in detail. The first part of the book, which consists of Chs. 2 and 3, provides the analytical framework for studying registers. Ch. 2 explains how to conduct a situational analysis, and contains a list of important situational characteristics, whereas Ch. 3 shows how to link these situational properties with linguistic features and interpret them functionally.

The second part of the book contains a detailed description of different registers, genres, and styles. Spoken interpersonal registers (conversation, university office hours, and service encounters) are dealt with in Ch. 4, followed by a discussion of written registers (newspaper writing, academic prose, and fiction) in Ch. 5. Ch. 6 offers a historical perspective and shows the evolution of a few written varieties from early modernity up to the present day, whereas Ch. 7 presents an overview of emerging electronic forms of communication, such as e-mail, internet forums, and text messages. The final part of the book adds a broader theoretical and methodological perspective. It introduces multivariate analysis as the main tool of empirical research of registers (Ch. 8) and contrasts the notion of register with related sociolinguistic and functional categories, such as dialects, sociolects, speech, and writing (Ch. 9). Each chapter ends with a set of activities for overview, reflection, and analysis. It also offers project ideas for large-scale studies. The book has two appendices: an overview of register studies and a collection of activity texts.

In consideration of the authors’ outstanding achievements in the realm of register studies, the book is a perfect example of how the results of academic research can be converted into a ready-to-use toolkit. The book is richly illustrated with examples of texts taken from various corpora. The lists of linguistic and situational features of registers, based on the extensive empirical research, can be applied immediately in a new project. To summarize, the book provides theoretically and methodologically advanced, yet accessible, insight into the intricacies of register, genre, and style.