Diaphasic variation

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variazione diafasica | variation diaphasique | diaphasische Variation


By diaphasic variation we indicate a change of register that is actively applied by the speaker to adapt to specific social or pragmatic circumstances (the label was introduced by Coseriu 1981). It differs from diastratic variation, which has similar outcomes, because it is context-dependent, and, as such, results from an active effort or choice by the speaker.

In corpus languages, distinguishing diaphasic and diastratic variation can be extremely difficult and the two can be told apart only basing on careful contextual analysis. In general, for the diaphasic phenomenon to be observable, a change must occur within a single text.

The relevance for contact analysis depends on the fact that in multilingual or diglottic scenarios, diaphasic variation may trigger code-switching or code-mixing, whenever the speaker resorts to a different dialect or language for the puropos of increasing, decreasing or simply altering the register.


In the Hittite instruction text IBoT 1.36, Melchert (1996) identified a trace of diaphasic variation, depending on the colloquiality level of the context.

The bodyguard […] says to the chief of the bodyguard or to the chief of the pa[lace] personal […], to him he says, “It’s wrapped up (colloquial Hittite: hu-u-la-li-it-ta-at)”. The chief of the bodyguard, or the commander of 10 bodyguards or the military herald says to the king, “It is finished” ( standard Hittite: ta-ru-up-ta-at)

Whether in some cases the switch to other languages in the Hittite texts may also have diaphasic relevance remains unclear.


Coseriu, E. 1981. Los conceptos de 'dialecto', 'nivel' y 'estilo de lengua' y el sentido propio de la dialectologia. Lingüística española actual 3, pp. 1-32. Melchert, H.C. 1996. Review of Güterbock, H.G. and van den Hout Th. The Hittite Instruction for the Royal Bodyguard (Assyriological Studies 24), 1991, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55, pp. 134-135.