The three levels of language

There are three levels of formality in spoken and written language. These levels or tones of language impact the communicative style. Each speaker or writer adjusts his language to the various contexts in which he uses it. I am referring here to the notion of style and the related dimension of formality.

In our speech or writing, we are sometimes more careful and sometimes we are more relaxed, just as sometimes we are more relaxed in other types of behavior. In other words, different ways of writing and speaking require different use of language, just as styles of dress are appropriate for different social occasions. Each language has its own way of doing it. The more formal a situation is, the more attention we pay to our language. Every educated native speaker has the ability to consciously choose a less or more formal style. The forms and functions of any language vary, not only according to geography, but also in sync with social and cultural levels.

There are three dimensions of English use: informal, semi-formal, and very formal. The levels of formality at which English is used are called registers. These levels reflect the context in which they occur. No style of vocabulary and grammar is superior to another. What matters is its appropriateness to the context. But we shouldn’t settle for poor English. Standard language should be a universal goal in education.

In the following situations, you may find:

1. Informal – colloquialisms, slang, informal vocabulary, regional words and expressions and casual expressions. Jargon is the most informal level of language. We use informal language all the time in daily conversation. It is used in everyday writing and speaking.

2. Semiformal – standard vocabulary, conventional sentence structure and few or no contractions (full forms such as I have, no, etc.). In semi-formal writing, colloquialisms are much less common. For example, the indefinite pronoun one appears instead of the most conversational you. You will find this tone in the essays assigned to students.

3. Very formal – standard vocabulary (or more words learned), technical jargon and complex syntax. Formal words occur more frequently. You will find this style in a professional magazine.

It is important to note that an author’s tone and attitude are the combination of diction, vocabulary, syntax, and rhetorical devices used to create the specific piece of writing that you intend to inform your audience with.

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