Types of Stylistics

July 10, 2017 | Author: Moses Chika' Christian | Category: Linguistics, Phonology, Ethnicity, Race & Gender, Feminism, Ideologies
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Introduction Before delving into the murky waters of types of stylistics, it may be useful to give some definitions of stylistics itself. This is essential because the different types of stylistics derive from these notions or definitions of stylistics. What is stylistics and what does it entail? Some linguists have even asked the curious question “who is stylistics?” (Short 1-34) If questions about stylistics are asked in the light of the personal (human) interrogative pronoun “who,” it presupposes that the subject stylistics is gender-sensitive. This in turn is suggestive of the fact that there are more than one type, or even several types, of stylistics. Stylistics has been defined by a lot of scholars. In a majority of their definitions is the recurrent concept of “style”. We shall look at what others have said about the term “stylistics” before we proffer our own definition of the term. Nils Erik Enkvist considers the multi-faceted nature of stylistics and its relationship with the disciplines of linguistics and literary study: We may… regard stylistics as a subdepartment of linguistics and give it a special subsection dealing with the peculiarities of literary texts. We may choose to make stylistics a subdepartment of literary study which may draw on linguistic methods. Or we may regard stylistics as an autonomous discipline which draws freely, and eclectically, on methods from linguistics and from literary study. (27) A summation of Enkvist’s explanation would be that stylistics straddles both linguistics and literary analysis. This mediating role which stylistics plays between linguistic description and literary appreciation has been represented diagrammatically by Leo Spitzer in his “philological circle” (Leech and Short 13-14). Hartman and Stork describe stylistics as “the application of linguistic knowledge to the study of style” (223). Geoffrey N. Leech describes stylistics simply as “the study of literary style, or… the style of the use of language in literature” (1). M. H. Abrams, after reviewing different definitions of stylistics, concludes that


[stylistics] is expanded so as to incorporate most of the concerns of both traditional literary criticism and traditional rhetoric.. it insists on the need to be objective by focusing sharply on the text itself and by setting out to discover the ‘rules’ governing the process by which linguistic elements and patterns in a text accomplish their meanings and literary effects. (284) Mick Short asks the question, “Who is stylistics?” and describes “her” as a friend of his. He says “she” is an approach to the analysis of literary texts using linguistic description” (1). All the above notions consider stylistics as a hybrid discipline crisscrossing literary criticism and linguistics. But linguistics has not always been considered as an inalienable part of stylistics. For example, Geoffrey N. Leech and Michael H. Short define stylistics in very broad terms as “the (linguistic) study of style” (13). This notion gives us two options: stylistics could be linguistic or non-linguistic. The non-linguistic notion of stylistics would relate to the discussion of style by general literary critics and other dilettanti who would discuss the artistic elements of some linguistic or nonlinguistic event or object without applying linguistic tools. However, this non-linguistic notion of stylistics is not of much use to us here. Indeed, it has been suggested that the –ics element in the word “stylistics” is taken from “linguistics” and appended to “style” to form a kind of blend. But even within the linguistic notion of stylistics, the concept may be given both literary and non-literary orientations. For example, the work of David Crystal and Derek Davy adopts this broad linguistic view of stylistics. In other words, stylistics is simply the employment of linguistic tools in the analysis and interpretation of linguistic events, including religious, sports, legal and literary discourses. It is in the rather strict sense that stylistics is used to denote the linguistic study of literary texts. This is the sense adopted here. Therefore, for our purpose here, stylistics refers to the employment of the elements, approaches and procedures of linguistics to the analysis and interpretation of literary texts or events. Richard Bradford considers rhetoric as the “most notable predecessor” of stylistics (3). He says stylistics enables us to identify and name the distinguishing features of literary texts and to specify the generic and structural subdivisions of literary texts (xi). A major advantage of stylistics, according to Ronald Carter and John McRae, is that it “can also help teach the confidence to make sense of language input which is not always – in real communicative contexts – neat, clear and immediately comprehensible” (5).


Katie Wales observes that stylistics, as the study of style, has the goal “not simply to describe the formal features of texts for their own sake, but in order to show their functional significance for the interpretation of the text; or in order to relate literary effects to linguistic causes where these are felt to be relevant” (438). It is from these varied but interrelated notions and goals of stylistics that different types of stylistics emerge. Indeed, they are not so much “types” as they are the approaches, orientations or aims which the analyst adopts or has in embarking on the analysis. In this direction, Wales points out that stylistics has varieties “due to the main influences of linguistics and literary criticism” (437). Besides the influence of these disciplines, some “types” of stylistics arise from the instrument used in gathering data for analysis as well as the range of reference the analyst brings to bear on the analysis. The purpose of the analysis results in further labels. Indeed, some labels may conflict and create confusion, but they are all names used by several linguists to describe certain analytical procedures in stylistics, some of which have come to be tagged “types of stylistics.” In the following paragraphs, we discuss some of such labels. 1.

General Stylistics or Stylistics:

This is stylistics viewed from the broad notion of the linguistic study of all types of linguistic events from different domains of life. It is used as a cover term for the analysis of non-literary varieties of language, or registers (Wales 458). Hence, one can undertake a stylistic study of a religious sermon, a sport commentary, a legal document, a political speech, a business conversation, etc. 2.

Literary Stylistics:

This is the type of analysis that focuses on literary texts. In the broad sense, such a study may be linguistic or non-linguistic, but in the more specialized sense, it is essentially linguistic. To make this linguistic orientation clearer, the terms linguistic stylistics or linguostylistics are sometimes employed to denote the linguistic analysis or interpretation of literary events. Other types of stylistics below are largely subtypes of this linguistic literary stylistics. 3.

Textualist Stylistics (Textlinguistics):

This is the type of stylistics which engaged in an “empty technology” of a text. It merely identifies the raw linguistic patterns of a (literary) text such as the phonological, grammatical, lexical and semantic patterns without attempting to relate these patterns to the message in the text. This approach was popular at the early stages of the evolution of stylistics as a discipline where linguists viewed literary texts merely as linguistic events and felt literary interpretation, involving thematic concerns or artistic significance, were not of concern to them as linguists, especially as they involved an 562

understanding of the artist’s intention which was hardly subject to the objective verifiability emphasized by the scientific claim of modern linguistics. 4.

Interpretative Stylistics:

This is the practice engaged in by most stylisticians nowadays. It involves the analysis of the linguistic data in a (literary) text, the unravelling of the content or artistic value of the text and the marrying of these two. As depicted in Leo Spitzer’s philological circle, the interpretative stylistician relates linguistic description to literary appreciation by seeking artistic function and relating it to the linguistic evidence or first seeking the linguistic features in the text and relating it to the artistic motivation. The belief is that the linguistic patterns are chosen deliberately to express certain artistic or literary goals and that the two can hardly be divorced. Interpretative stylisticians see themselves as both linguists and literary critics and integrate the roles of the two scholars. This may be seen as the more wholistic approach to literary stylistics or the analysis of literary texts in general. 5.

Formalist and Functional Stylistics:

These terms may be viewed as alternatives for textualist stylistics and interpretative stylistics respectively as discussed above. Formalist stylistics concentrates on the linguistic forms in the texts, paying little attention to the function of these forms in relation to the overall content of the text. Conversely, functional stylistics emphasizes the contextual function that the linguistic elements are used to perform. (See Taylor and Toolan) 6.

Evaluative Stylistics:

This is a term used by Richard Bradford to designate the type of analysis which uses linguistic tools to assess or measure the worth or merits and demerits of a text. It assumes that the quality of a text is revealed in the quality of language patterns it employs. Such analyses may involve the juxtaposition of two or more texts for comparative evaluation. 7.

Discourse Stylistics:

This is the stylistic approach which employs the procedures and terminology of discourse analysis in the explication of literary language use. Ronald Carter explains it this way: [discourse stylistics] operates under the direct influence of work in pragmatics, discourse analysis and text linguistics, and this work continues to provide the field of stylistics with increasingly sophisticated means of discussing both longer stretches of text and, 563

indeed, longer texts…. In the basic elementary definition, it is the application of discourse analysis to literature. (5) Thus, an advantage of the discourse analysis approach is that it enables us to study longer stretches of language beyond sentences, which traditional linguistics may not reach. Such terms as “cohesion,” “coherence,” “location,” “perlocution,” “maxim,” “implicature,” “speech acts,” etc which are regular in pure discourse analysis are employed in literary explication. 8.

Contextualist Stylistics:

This has various factions that are united in their emphasis on the ways in which literary style is formed and influenced by its contexts. These involve (1) the competence and disposition of the reader; (2) the prevailing sociocultural forces that dominate all linguistic discourse, including literature; and (3) the systems of signification through which we process and interpret all phenomena, linguistic and non-linguistic, literary and nonliterary” (Bradford 73). What happens with contextual stylistics is that it takes into cognizance the various contexts in which a stylistic analysis is done. It is actually reader-centred. 9.


This has been described by Hartman and Stork as “the study of the expressive function of sounds” (223). In practice, phonostylistics may not be considered as a distinct type of stylistics but rather as one of the phonological levels at which a stylistician could analyse a text, (other levels of linguistic analysis being the grammatical, the syntactic and the morphological, the lexical (vocabulary), the semantic and the contextual). Such a phonological analysis would involve the identification (and functional interpretation) of both the segmental patterns (vowels and consonants) and suprasegmental features (syllable, stress, rhythm, tone, intonation, etc). Phonological schemes like alliteration, assonance, consonance, chiming, volume, onomatopocia, etc are discussed. 10.


This is actually a subject which studies, for instance, the language of writers considered as social groups (e.g. the Elizabethan University wits, pamphleteers, or fashions in language) (Wales 438). The emphasis is on how the language identifies particular socio-literary movements such as the metaphysicals, the romanticists, African writers, imagists, expressionists, modernists etc.



Feminist Stylistics:

In the introductory pages of Sara Mills’ Feminist Stylistics, she describes the phrase feminist stylistics as one which best sums up her concern “first and foremost with an analysis which identifies itself as feminist and which uses linguistic or language analysis to examine texts” (1). So the concern of feminist stylistics, according to Mills, is beyond only describing sexism in texts but is broadened to “analyse the way that point of view, agency, metaphor or transitivity are inexpectedly related to matters of gender, to discover whether women’s writing practices can be described and so on” (1). Bradford sees feminist stylistics as having a view of “discourse as something which transmits social and institutionalized prejudices and ideologies, specifically the respective roles, the mental and behavioural characteristics of men and women” (86). It is apparent from the two view points that feminist stylistics cannot be divorced from sexism and gender-oriented issues. 12.

Computational Stylistics:

This is a subdiscipline of computational linguistics. It evolved in the 1960s and involves the use of statistics and other data that are readily generated by the computer to treat different problems of style. In the area of “stylometry,” the computer is used to generate data on the types, number and length of words and sentences which aid the stylistician in his study of texts, ensuring the objectivity required. Such data from different texts may even be used for comparative purposes as well as for the authentification of authorship. For example, stylometric data may be used to determine which author a piece of disputed writing belongs to according to whether the stylometric data in it conform to stylometric data already associated with the author. The risk here are that it forecloses the possibility of an author changing his style from text to text and the possibility of two authors writing alike. 13.

Expressive Stylistics:

This approach is often considered “old-fashioned” (Wales 166) in seemingly upholding the view “Stylus virum arguit” (“The style proclaims the man,” that is the author). This approach emphasizes an identification of how the style, the linguistic elements, reveal the personality or “soul” of the author. It pursues the belief that the artists employ language to express their inner selves. Thus, there is the concept of style as idiolect, that each language user has some linguistic traits that not only mark him/her out but also expresses his/her personality.


The obvious weakness of this approach is the probability that writers change their personality and language over time and text and that a change in one does not necessarily accompany a change in the other. 14.

Pedagogical Stylistics:

This refers to the employment of stylistic analysis for teaching and learning purposes. Literary texts may sometimes be difficult for learners to appreciate. Hence, a teacher may analyse the linguistic patterns in the text, breaking down complex linguistic units to smaller ones, converting excerpts in verse form prosaic form, hyperbaton (syntactic inversion) to regular forms in the belief that such will help the learner to grasp the message therein. Wales remarks on this as follows: Because of its eclecticism, stylistics has increasingly come to be used as a teaching tool in language and literature studies for both native and foreign speakers of English; what can be termed pedagogical stylistics. (438) Carter and McRae claim that stylistics in its pedagogical application “has been accused of tending towards the simplistic” (xxxi). However, since the aim of teaching and learning is to make things clearer or simpler than they seem, pedagogical stylistics would be considered a positive development. 15.

Radical Stylistics:

This is a term introduced by D. Burton in 1982 to designate a stylistic approach which tends to go beyond the identification of the artistic effects of language use to analyse how language is used to express different ideologies of world views. The radical stylistician is interested in the choice of linguistic patterns to reflect such ideological slants as communism, socialism, capitalism, welfarism, etc. Thus, the stylistician attempts to discover in the text certain jargons associated with such ideologies. This is allied to sociological criticism. The label suggests that such an analyst would have a passion for the reflection or rejection of an ideological bias. 16.

New Stylistics:

This is a rather vague term used to denote some fresh models of stylistic analysis. Such models cease to be “new” as soon as “newer” models evolve. For example, Leo Spitzer’s ideas about stylistics as one of its originators in Western Europe were considered “new.” However, the term is often applied more consistently to the studies in the West from the 1970s which employed the latest principles of


structuralism, poetics and reader-response criticism in the analysis of literary texts. Conclusion From the foregoing, it is obvious that while there are different approaches or types of stylistic analysis, there are several overlaps between many and the dividing line between some is rather thin. Accordingly, it may not be satisfactory or convenient for a stylistician to be rigid on a particular type to employ. Indeed, stylistics being a multidisciplinary discipline often adopts an eclectic orientation. Thus, in the analysis of a particular text, a stylistician may employ more than one tool or approach depending on the data that is evident in the text, the analyst’s resourcefulness in his or her range of reference for the identification of evidence and interpretation of such evidence. WORKS CITED Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. International ed. Forthworth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993. Bradford, Richard. Stylistics. London: Routledge, 1997. Carter, Roland, and John McRae. Introduction. Language, Literature and the Learner. Ed. Roland Carter and John McRae. London: Longman, 1996. xixxxviii. Carter, Roland. “Look both Ways before Crossing: Developments in the Language and Literature Classroom.” Carter and McRae Language, Literature 1-15. Crystal, David and Derek Davy. Investigating English Style. New York: Longman, 1992. Enkvist, Nils Erik. Linguistic Stylistics. Hague: Mouton, 1913. Hartman, R.R. and F.C. Stork. Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. Essex: Applied Science, 1972. Leech, Geoffrey. A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. New York: Longman, 1969. Leech, Geoffrey and Michael Short. Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose. London: Longman, 1981. 567

Mills, Sara. Feminist Stylistics. London: Routledge. 1995. Short, Mick. Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose. London: Longman, 1996. Taylor, T. J., and M. Toolan. “Recent Trends in Stylistics.” Journal of Literary Semantics 13 (1984): 57-19. Wales, Katie. A Dictionary of Stylistics. London: Longman, 1990. Widdowson, H.G. Longman,1975.









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