Register, genre, and style (review)
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Reviewed by
Douglas Biber and Susan Conrad. 2009. Register, genre, and style. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 344. US$100.93.

The series Cambridge textbooks in linguistics provides discussions of main topics of general or theoretical linguistics. In one of the latest installments to this series, Biber and Conrad present three analytical approaches to investigating the language used in various types of spoken and written texts: registers, genres, and styles. While the volume includes an overview of these three approaches, the primary focus of the book is on the register perspective. As the authors themselves indicate, compared to the register perspective, from which “any text sample of any type can be analyzed” (p. 2), the genre and style perspectives provide more specialized analyses. [End Page 164]

The volume consists of an introductory chapter and three main parts. Chapter 1, “Registers, genres, styles: Fundamental varieties of language”, sets the scene for the remaining chapters of the book. In this chapter, Biber and Conrad provide an overview of perspectives on text varieties. Each perspective is analyzed comparatively in terms of its textual focus, linguistic characteristics, distribution of linguistic characteristics and interpretation.

Part I, “Analytical framework”, includes two chapters on the analytical framework employed to study registers. The authors first discuss the situation of usage in Chapter 2, where they define situational characteristics as those which are related to the physical context (e.g. participants, channel, setting). Additionally, a framework for situational analysis is provided. Chapter 3 provides information on the linguistic analysis of registers. As the authors themselves indicate, the goal of employing linguistic analysis is “to identify the language features that are typical or characteristic of the target register” (p. 51). This chapter also discusses ways to conduct quantitative analyses and to decide on which linguistic features to investigate.

Part II, “Detailed descriptions of registers, genres and styles”, exemplifies particular text varieties in English. Chapter 4, “Interpersonal spoken registers”, focuses on three spoken interpersonal registers: conversation, university office hours, and service encounters. Written registers, such as newspaper writing, academic prose, and fiction, are discussed in Chapter 5. Building on the descriptive approach of these two chapters, Chapter 6 looks at these text varieties from a historical perspective. The final chapter of this part covers the characteristics of emerging electronic registers such as emails, internet forums, and text messages.

Part III, “Larger theoretical issues”, is directed at those readers who wish to conduct more advanced and sophisticated analyses. Chapter 8 provides a discussion of multidimensional analysis. Biber and Conrad define multidimensional analysis as “a quantitative approach that allows the researcher to compare many different registers, with respect to several different linguistic parameters—the dimensions” (p. 223). The chapter further provides an overview of the methodology in the multidimensional approach by providing step-by-step instructions. In an attempt to illustrate the multidimensional approach, the authors present a case of multidimensional analysis of university spoken and written registers. In addition, readers are presented with a detailed summary of information on register studies in Chapter 9. Very useful appendices are provided for readers who want to further their reading on register, genre, and style analyses. In Appendix A, the authors provide an annotated list of major register/ genre studies. Appendix B presents a compilation of text samples for instructors to use when teaching register studies in their classrooms.

Overall, the volume is definitely a useful and an essential companion to the previously acclaimed book involving the same authors, the Longman grammar of spoken and written English (1999). Previous literature on register, genre and style analyses had looked at the area mainly by providing the results of massive investigations of texts. Very few, however, presented a practical, step-by-step guide to the practice of register analysis in the way that Biber and Conrad do in this volume. What distinguishes this volume from previous publications is that it explains the most important kinds of texts in English along with major ways to analyze them. In this volume, [End Page 165] readers are provided with possible ways to deal with various texts rather than solely with the results of the analyses of those texts.

This outstanding and highly accessible guide should definitely...