Sociolect and Register, How These Terms are Overlapping and Not?

The terms sociolect and register are two linguistics terms that discuss the social aspect of language. These terms are concerned with how social aspects influence language within a group or community. For example, a group or community of a sailor in a certain area will have a different way to communicate with each other compared to office workers. Both groups have their own terms or special words to convey their message. To understand the similarities and differences between these terms, we need first to understand their definition.

The term sociolect is often used interchangeably with social dialect; it is concisely as a variety of lect which related to its speaker’s social background (Lewandowski, 2008). The term is related to referential functions such as occupational varieties and jargon. It is also related to expressive functions such as slang and language play (how the community is experimenting with the language).

The concept of the register was developed in 1978 by M.A.K Halliday. Term register can be defined as a variety according to the use (Lewandowski, 2008). Halliday developed the term register by three variables: field, mode and tenor. The field is the setting in which communication occurs, the purpose of the communication, and the subject or topic. Mode is the channel or the communication medium. For example, it could be written or spoken communication. Tenor is related to the relationship between the speaker and the addressee. For example, how you talk to your boss is a formal situation compared to how you talk informally with your friend.

Based on the description, sociolect and register discuss language influenced by social context. However, the register is way more specific in the research parameters. That is why the register is a more popular choice when I do a short analysis of the number of studies using sociolect theory.

Using sociolect as the main theory of your study require you as a scholar to have a broader view regarding your problem of study. I personally think it is more difficult given the theory does not mention specific parameters. Meanwhile, the register is an easier theory to adopt. It has clear parameters. So, you already have a clear view of what kind of data you should collect.


Lewandowski, M. (2008). the Language of Soccer–a Sociolect or a register?.



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