linguist • writer • editor • lecturer • broadcaster
[Thursday 03 January, 2013]
MRS P: I don’t go to our local greengrocer’s very much. There’s not much variety.
MRS Q: What a pity. Our local shop’s got a splendid variety of fruit in this week.
You can see what variety means in everyday speech: it means ‘a range of different kinds of something’. Fruit and veg, in the case of the greengrocer. In language, a variety is a particular kind of speech or writing that you find in a particular situation - a style which belongs to that situation. It’s also sometimes called a register.
For instance, lawyers in court speak in a special way to the judge: they’re using the variety (or register) of legal English. Cricket and football reporters on the radio speak in a special way when they’re describing a match. They’re using the variety of sports commentary. Newspaper reporters write in a variety called journalese. People on posh occasions use the variety of formal speech. Friends talking on everyday occasions use the variety of informal speech. There are hundreds of varieties in English - American and British, north and south, male and female, upper-class and lower-class, specialised and everyday . . . Some are highly distinctive, others are less so. But one thing’s clear: the language shop’s got a splendid variety, too.

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