Vance uses the psychological term “learned helplessness” to describe the resignation of his peers, many of whom have given up on the idea of upward mobility in a region that they see as permanently left behind. Writing in a higher register, he says that there is something “almost spiritual about the cynicism” in his home town.

What's the meaning of 'higher register' here?

  • Thank you! I'm new around here. I will follow the forum guidelines carefully in the future. – Arefin Rafee Sep 14 '16 at 6:28

Register refers to the style of the language you use, higher register means more formal, more elaborated language.

  • (language) the style of language, grammar, and words used for particular situations: People chatting at a party will usually be talking in (an) informal register.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • In linguistics, register is one of the many styles or varieties of language determined by such factors as social occasion, purpose, and audience. Also called stylistic variation.

  • More generally, register is used to indicate degrees of formality in language use. The different registers or language styles that we use are sometimes called codes.


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    I wonder whether, in the example given, the reviewer is using a different meaning of register. A vocalist has a number of different registers available, including for example a very high "falsetto". Some registers can be quite shrill or piercing, some can seem exaggerated. I think that the reviewer is being critical of the rather florid style, implying that "spiritual cynicism" is rather like an exaggerated singing tone. – djna Sep 14 '16 at 6:44
  • @djna - it says "writing" in higher register..I don't see any reference to voice register in the extract. – user5267 Sep 14 '16 at 6:48
  • allow for a little poetry: writers have a "voice" – djna Sep 14 '16 at 8:42
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    @djna Register, with both writers and vocalists, is a metaphor drawn from the construction of pipe organs, which have multiple banks of pipes of different shapes: the 'register' is the mechanical device which activates a specific bank by allowing air to flow to it. See this. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 14 '16 at 10:51
  • @StoneyB - thanks, I should have recognised that, my son is an organist ;-) I'd be intrigued to know what the original reviewer had in mind here. – djna Sep 14 '16 at 11:16

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