Enregisterment explained

Today, fellow English teacher, blogger, and podcaster Dan Clayton posted this on BlueSky:

In a follow-up post, he clarified that the enregisterment in this xtweet was the “like roadmen” part. I had never heard of the term “enregisterment” so I googled “enregisterment meaning” and “enregisterment linguistics”. I found lots of very dense, academic papers and explanations, but no quick answers.

(A “roadman”, in case you do not know, is a London term for a youth that spends a lot of time on the streets and may sell and use drugs, or cause trouble. If you “talk like a roadman”, you are probably speaking Multicultural London English.)

So what is enregisterment?

Dan helpfully supplied the following definition of enregisterment: “When one or more linguistic features are linked in people’s minds […] with a social persona or the stereotyped speaker of a linguistic variety.”

So when you say to someone “you sound like a roadman”; “you talk like a hippie”; “your accent is so valley girl“, those are all examples of enregisterment.

Where does the term come from?

A register is “a style of a language used in a particular context”. The term is probably most familiar in the context of “formal register” or “informal register”.

To “enregister”, then, is “to become a register”.

Valley girls started off just being people going about their daily business, until people started stereotyping them and connecting them with a certain speech pattern and called it “valley girl accent”, “valley girl speech” or “valley girl English”.

What they wouldn’t say, but what would be linguistically correct to say, is “those girls speak in a Valley Girl register.” Voila, the valley girl stereotype has become enregistered, by the process of enregisterment.

Hope this explanation helps!

Heddwen Newton is an English teacher and translator. She is fascinated by contemporary English and the way English changes. Her newsletter is English in Progress. 1100 subscribers and growing every day!

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