One of the common aspects a translator may be confronted with in his activity is the variable form of the language used in the text or document to be translated. This is in fact about the level of the language used, which may differ depending on the speaker’s characteristics and on the communication situation he/she is involved in. In specialized terms, this is called a language register.
As far as the speaker’s characteristics are concerned, one should take into account the family upbringing, the level of education, the age, the mood at a given moment and the capacity to use one register or another. As far as the communication situation is concerned, we should also consider the level of familiarity between the speakers or the hierarchical relations between them.
In French, for example, there are three main language registers (informal, standard and formal), without strict delimitations between them. The difference is more evident in point of vocabulary and less evident in point of grammar. The same is applicable to the Romanian language where the word boozy from the informal register means drunk in the standard register and in an inebriated state in the formal register. Another example would be to kick the bucket (informal), to die (standard) and to decease, to pass away (formal).
Those who speak or study a language, even native speakers, may make not just pronunciation, lexical or grammatical mistakes, but also mistakes in point of language register if the one they use is not adequate for the respective communication situation. For example, if someone uses the informal or the formal language register in a social environment where people use the standard register, the other speakers may feel shocked.
The informal register is generally used for oral communication which does not make any social constraints: among family members, friends and work mates with no hierarchical level requirements. It is spontaneous and influenced by the secondary, popular language. It is also used in fictional literature to render speech in this register. It may include short, no predicate sentences that may include slang or vulgar words. The speaker will try to be expressive using intentional exaggerations, hyperbolas.
The standard register includes frequently used words, understandable to anyone. It is used when shopping, asking for information, in professional relations, etc. and among individuals who know each other, but are not close. It is generally used for oral communication, but not exclusively. Mass media uses this type of language register. The terms are precise, without specialized concepts, with simple, neutral sentences, without stylistic effects.
The formal register is used exclusively in writing. It is the opposite of the informal one, it lacks spontaneity and it is deliberately elaborate. It is used in higher socio-cultural environments, in highly polite communications, speeches. It is influenced by the literary language of an artistic nature which the formal language is completely devoid of. The formal vocabulary is rich, elaborated, and contains rare words. The sentences are complex and properly built, using more diverse verbal modes and tenses than the other language registers. The speaker will aim to achieve stylistic effects as well.
It is therefore obvious that a good translator will start by determining the type of language register to be used before beginning the actual translation activity.