Exploring the role of lexis and grammar for the stable identification of register in an unrestricted corpus of web documents

Veronika Laippala, Jesse Egbert, Douglas Biber, Aki Juhani Kyröläinen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The Internet offers great possibilities for many scientific disciplines that utilize text data. However, the potential of online data can be limited by the lack of information on the genre or register of the documents, as register—whether a text is, e.g., a news article or a recipe—is arguably the most important predictor of linguistic variation (see Biber in Corpus Linguist Linguist Theory 8:9–37, 2012). Despite having received significant attention in recent years, the modeling of online registers has faced a number of challenges, and previous studies have presented contradictory results. In particular, these have concerned (1) the extent to which registers can be automatically identified in a large, unrestricted corpus of web documents and (2) the stability of the models, specifically the kinds of linguistic features that achieve the best performance while reflecting the registers instead of corpus idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, although the linguistic properties of registers vary importantly in a number of ways that may affect their modeling, this variation is often bypassed. In this article, we tackle these issues. We model online registers in the largest available corpus of online registers, the Corpus of Online Registers of English (CORE). Additionally, we evaluate the stability of the models towards corpus idiosyncrasies, analyze the role of different linguistic features in them, and examine how individual registers differ in these two aspects. We show that (1) competitive classification performance on a large-scale, unrestricted corpus can be achieved through a combination of lexico-grammatical features, (2) the inclusion of grammatical information improves the stability of the model, whereas many of the previously best-performing feature sets are less stable, and that (3) registers can be placed in a continuum based on the discriminative importance of lexis and grammar. These register-specific characteristics can explain the variation observed in previous studies concerning the automatic identification of online registers and the importance of different linguistic features for them. Thus, our results offer explanations for the jungle-likeness of online data and provide essential information on online registers for all studies using online data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-788
Number of pages32
JournalLanguage Resources and Evaluation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Discriminative features
  • Model stability
  • Online data
  • Online registers
  • SVM
  • Text classification
  • Web genre identification
  • Web genres
  • Web-as-corpus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Library and Information Sciences


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