Defining formality levels: cultural scripts as a guide to the formality scale of register



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This report presents a new way of applying cultural scripts (a form of reductive paraphrase) to the study and description of culturally specific linguistic behavior. Cultural scripts are used to define levels of formality in German culture. This is done by describing typical situations that range from formal to informal in terms of how members of German culture typically conceive of them. The purpose of these levels is to create a scale of formality that can be used to rate particular linguistic expressions in a reference source, thus approximating native speaker intuitions about linguistic formality, and helping readers understand the norms of (in)formal linguistic behavior in German culture. Such a reference source would be immeasurably helpful for students of German, as register variation, particularly formality variation, can be quite difficult for foreign language learners to master. This reference source should help students determine when it is appropriate to use one linguistic expression over another with a similar meaning (and a different level of formality). It would inform students, for example, that a word like “Bulle” in German (“cop” or “pig”) is not appropriate in an academic presentation on European law enforcement agencies, and that the less colloquial terms, “Polizist” or “Polizeibeamte”, would be better suited to such a context.