Register Variation on the Searchable Web: A Multi-Dimensional Analysis

Douglas Biber, Jesse Egbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Most previous linguistic investigations of the web have focused on special linguistic features associated with Internet language (e.g., the use of emoticons, abbreviations, contractions, and acronyms) and the “new” Internet registers that are especially salient to observers (e.g., blogs, Internet forums, instant messages, tweets). Multi-Dimensional (MD) analysis has also been used to analyze Internet registers, focusing on core grammatical features (e.g., nouns, verbs, prepositional phrases). MD research differs theoretically and methodologically from most other research approaches in linguistics in that it is built on the notion of linguistic co-occurrence, with the claim that register differences are best described in terms of sets of co-occurring linguistic features that have a functional underpinning. At the same time, though, most previous MD studies are similar to other previous research in their focus on new Internet registers, such as blogs, Facebook/Twitter posts, and email messages. These are the registers that we immediately think of in association with the Internet, and thus it makes sense that they should be the focus of most previous research. However, that emphasis means that we know surprisingly little at present about the full range of registers found on the web and the patterns of linguistic variation among those registers. This is the goal of the present study. Rather than beginning with a focus on new registers that are assumed to be interesting, we analyze a representative sample of the entire searchable web. End-users coded the situational and communicative characteristics of each document in our corpus, leading to a much wider range of register categories than that used in any previous linguistic study: eight general categories; several hybrid register categories; and twenty-seven specific register categories. This approach thus leads to a much more inclusive and diverse sample of web registers than that found in any previous study of English Internet language. The goal of the present study is to document the patterns of linguistic variation among those registers. Using MD analysis, we explore the dimensions of linguistic variation on the searchable web, and the similarities and differences among web registers with respect to those dimensions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-137
Number of pages43
JournalJournal of English Linguistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016


  • Internet language
  • Multi-Dimensional analysis
  • hybrid registers
  • register variation
  • web registers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Register Variation on the Searchable Web: A Multi-Dimensional Analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this