Language Varieties

Rhetorically effective language displays correctness, clarity, forcefulness, and appropriateness.

Correctness: language that is well formed grammatically
Clarity: means that the speakers's or writer's choices are understandable, they convey a comprehensible meaning to the intended audience
Forcefulness: finding the memorable or striking expression that will reinforce the rhetor's message

In rhetorical manuals appropriateness was discussed in terms of three levels of style: simple or low, the middle, and the grand or high.

Simple style: conversational and colloquial, suitable for friendly exchanges and comic accounts
Middle: unmarked, neutral stance, fitted for straight narration and exposition
Grand: highly formal, appropriate for the highest, most serious and intense topics

Low, Middle, High

Verbs like get or adverbs like sure (I would sure like to...) are informal, spoken style or of the low style. Contractions (can't, don't, haven't) also fit into this category because they are informal.

Standard Edited American English: middle level of style

Upscale variant of Standard Edited English, formal english: high style
Appears in official documents and scholarly publications and in some speeches on highly ceremonial occasions.

Regiolects and Sociolects

Regiolects: Within any are of where English is spoken there will be further variants

Sociolects: Groups of people inhabiting the same geographical region may still use different varieties of English if they come from different social, racial or ethnic groups.

Idiolect: A personal pattern of usage


Register: another dimension of appropriate language use has to do with what linguists and discourse analysts call register, a subset of language tied to a particular activity or situation.

Require special terms and phrases and occasionally distinctive speech patterns, but not alternate grammars.

Disciplinary Registers: include the special lexicon and special ways of talking and writing in a field of learning.

Occupational Registers: a fluid subset of the language, but is nevertheless recognizable because of the repeating who, where, when, and why of its use. (a police register)

Genre and Register

Stable Registers: Co-occuring set of lanuage features, develop in recurring situations from people in the same types of roles communicating on the same subjects

Genre: Registers can be studied from another perspective, that types of discourse or texts, or genre.
Genres are genres because they have consistent language features or registers

Shifting and Mixing Language Varieties

Register Shift: Insertion of a word or phrase that comes from another discourse niche

Register Mixing: Writing part of a text in one language variety and part in another
Often indicate attempts to reach multiple audiences

Spoken Versus Written

Mode of Delivery

Words like "kind of" and "sort of" are usually common in speech but uncommon in written form.

Planned Speech: deliberately prepared and often practiced oral performance, which may originate from a written text.

Familiar Language

"Without Borders": words and phrases appropriate for all kinds of subjects and audiences in all kinds of contexts.

Prepared Phrases, Cliches, and Idioms

Capable speakers and writers have strings of words that they use frequently, and units, across situations. Such collocations in wide use can be called "stock phrases," "prepared phrases," or even "expected phrases." These phrases have a life span; they come into and fall out use.

Cliche: She hit the nail on the head, You came in the nick of time, He kicked the bucket

Idiom: Put your best foot forward (doesn't actually include your feet)

Catch Phrase: "It's the real thing," from a Coca-Cola commercial

Familiar language in all its varieties communicates immediately, conveying not only content but also shared values and attitudes.

Maxims and Proverbs

Don't put all your eggs in one basket; Nice guys finish last; If anything can go wrong, it will; When the going gets tough, the tough get going


Allusion: importation of a phrase from one context into another
An illusion alludes to or recalls another context, but it does so without naming the other context.
Allusions are thus examples, in a very precise way, of intertextuality, the reliance of one text on language borrowed without citation from another source familiar to the audience.
Allusions have no effect if the reader does not recognize them.


Any individual text will present a unique combination and, more importantly, it will shift and mix at critical points of emphasis.


See also: Editorial Style Chapter 9
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