The CRC Register aims to investigate aspects of intra-individual variation in linguistic behavior that are influenced by situational and functional settings — what we will here define as register. Specifically, we target the linguistic knowledge that a speaker possesses about situational and functional variation, which we will here refer to as register knowledge. The central question we aim to investigate in CRC Register is:

Q: What constitutes a language user’s register knowledge?

We will illustrate the relevance of register with three examples: First, the sentences Meine Mama ist sauer ‘My mom is ticked off’ and Meine Mutter ist verärgert ‘My mother is angry’, even though they can describe the same state of affairs, are appropriate in different situations. These situations can be distinguished perhaps by level of formality. Second, the expressions 7:53 pm and (around) 8 o’clock, could be used to report the time of the same event, but have different contexts of use. While here level of formality may play a role, other factors are also relevant, such that e.g. 7:53 pm would be preferred even in informal conversation between close friends if the topic is the departure time of a train. The third example involves pronunciation, specifically the realization of /ç/ in German as either [ç] (the so-called ‘ich-Laut’) or [ʃ] (the final consonant of fish). In words like ich ‘I’, speakers of e.g. the urban multiethnolect Kiezdeutsch variety generally have both the Kiezdeutsch [ʃ] and the standard [ç] realizations at their disposal and deploy them in ways that depend on their interlocutor(s) and the social face they want to project. Level of formality, purpose, status of the interlocutor and social projections are situational or functional features that influence the choice of one variant over another. A language user’s ability to negotiate this space as both an author and addressee constitutes their register knowledge.¹

Register is a topic of great popular awareness, often in the guise of notions such as formal, colloquial, and standard language, and it is a ubiquitous property of languages. Although register-related phenomena have been described and studied in numerous descriptive, dialectal, historical, sociolinguistic, and corpus-based accounts of language, they have not yet played the important role that they require in linguistic or psycholinguistic modeling. The purpose of CRC Register is twofold:

  1. to enhance our understanding of the role of register knowledge in language use, acquisition, processing, variation, and change
  2. to develop a general theory of register knowledge to complement current models in grammatical theory and psycholinguistics

We have reason to think that register knowledge constitutes a multifaceted, quantitative phenomenon pertaining to all linguistic levels, and relevant to all aspects of linguistic theory. It is our conviction that the time is right for a comprehensive and targeted investigation of register phenomena and register knowledge, and that our group combines the many different types of expertise that are crucial for this investigation. We will carry out this comprehensive and targeted investigation in CRC Register by pursuing three long-term research goals:

  1. We will contribute substantially to the inventory of well-described register phenomena, covering both the variants and alternatives involved and the facts that influence the choice among them.
  2. We will describe the co-occurrence of different variants and alternatives and different factors in specific linguistic domains (such as phonology or syntax), yielding multifactorial and multidimensional models.
  3. Viewing the findings in 1 and 2 as reflexes of register knowledge, we will aim to integrate register knowledge into theoretical models of linguistic knowledge more broadly.

[1] We use the term ‘author’ to refer to a person in the role of language production, independent of modality, i.e. a speaker, signer or writer. Analogously, an ‘addressee’ refers modality-independently to a person in the role of language perception. We use ‘language user’ as a cover term for a person using language in either production or perception roles.