Key questions about stylistics. A beginner's perspective

Term Paper, 2017

13 Pages, Grade: 100


Table of Content

1. What is Stylistics?

2. A brief history of stylistics

3. The purpose of stylistics

4. Some of the key terms and devices used in stylistic analysis

5. Conclusion

6. References


This paper deals with the question, what is stylistics?, from a beginner's perspective that asks questions about stylistics and tries to find answers. The paper discusses the two main types of stylistics and how each type deals with the literary text. It also displays the history of stylistics, how this method came into existence and its purpose and aims. At the end, it explains some of the key terms and devices used in stylistic analysis briefly providing the definition for each device and term.

1. What is Stylistics?

We may start this paper with a question, what is stylistics? Stylistics, as Bradford said, “is an elusive and slippery topic” [Bradford 1997. xi] and its definition in general linguistic book is often mistaken. According to Verdonk and his book Stylistics, stylistics is defined as “The analysis of distinctive expression in language and the description of its purpose and effect.” [Verdonk 2002. 4]

Stylistics in general is divided to two major categories, either linguistic stylistics (general stylistics) or non-linguistic stylistics (literary stylistics). [Cummings 2010. 459]

Non-linguistic or literary stylistics is concerned with the evaluation of the esthetic aspect and the prescriptive harmony of writing or speaking language. Esthetic perception of style mirrors the impression made by the reader, while prescriptive perceptions mirrors how well the writer (or the speaker) follows the recommended social and stated rules for good writing. [McMenamin 2002. 115] Non-Linguistic stylistics (literary stylistics) is often linked with the criticism and appreciation of literary works. [Hickey 2014. 7]

Linguistic stylistics, on the other hand, investigates the ways in which the meaning is made through literary language and in other kinds of texts. It regards the linguistic models and theories as its tools of analysis to describe the conditions that make the text works. The stylistic analysis commonly concentrates on the traits of texts phonologically, lexically, grammatically, semantically, pragmatically, or discoursally. It also concentrates on the cognitive facets that help in the process of those traits. Stylistic methods study the style of a particular author, the text, or the role played by the readers in constructing meaning. Thus, stylistics is considered a linguistic method that deals with literature. The majority of the stylistic analysis concentrates on the literary works. However, in recent years, stylisticians began to concentrate on non-fictional works such as advertising, news reports, speeches, and academic writings. They also concentrate on non-printed works, such as movies, and multi-modal publications. [Norgaard, Busse and Montoro 2010.1]

2. A brief history of stylistics.

One may ask, how did stylistics come into existence? And what is the relation between stylistics and linguistics?

Stylistics, as an academic field, is an invention of the twentieth-century. However, its origins are traced back to the era where the concentration was made on the oral expressions, the era of Aristotle's Rhetoric. [Norgaard, Busse, and Montoro 2010. 2] In the twentieth-century, Stylistics began in 1966 when Roger Fowler published a book he edited, called Essays on Style and Language. Stylistics, at that time, was viewed as a logical stretching of New Criticism focusing on the text, but it was against the New Criticism school in that it desires precise and efficient treatment of language in texts. However, Stylistics was also influenced by the Russian Formalism and Czech Structuralism. They fulfilled magnificent works in the linguistic analysis of poetry. So, it was guided by these two movements and their works.

The stylistic work, at that time, was mostly dedicated to poetry, and stylisticians focused on the phonetic and grammatical structures. The results of the works made by the stylisticians at that time was applied to poetry easily. Stylistics was formalistically orientated and still depends on the linguistic work.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's there was a desire to establish stylistic techniques that are to be applied to novels. The desire was synchronized with the growing of linguists' interest in textuality in opposite to sentential structures. Novel and drama stylistic analyses are now well-established. The interest in drama was due to the evolution in stylistics through the last years. The linguistic techniques conquered the analysis of conversational interaction and the two main field of interest are discourse analysis and pragmatics.[Coyle et al 1990, 1085]

3. The purpose of stylistics.

We have seen that Stylistics uses linguistic techniques to describe and analyze literary works, but why? What is the purpose of stylistics?

Stylistics examines the creativity in the use of language. It enhances the way we think about language and its uses. Thus the stylistic process, examining the creativity of language use, develops our understanding of literature. [Simpson 2004.3] The purpose of stylistics is to connect linguistic analysis with literary criticism. This can be done by expanding the literary intuitiveness of linguists and by expanding the linguistic observation and knowledge of critics. Thus, the linguists' attention will be focused on how the literary text represents the language system. The critics will also consider the underlying significance of the text. [Widdowson 2013. 6] To sum up, stylistics uses linguistic techniques to examine and analyze literary works for making connections between linguistic analysis and literary criticism. The efforts of stylisticians to make such connections help develop our understanding of literature and of the underlying significance of texts.

4. Some of the key terms and devices used in stylistic analysis.

Stylistics uses many key terms and devices in its analysis of texts. However, we will be dealing with the most important ones used in the stylistic analysis. They are:

1. Alliteration.

Alliteration means the repetition of the same consonant sounds in close words. The consonant sounds must be in the initial position of words in order to be examples of alliteration. Alliteration possesses a cohesive effect due to the fact that similar sounds connect words together if they are in proximity. Alliteration is widely used in poetry, newspaper headlines, advertising, etc. [Norgaard, Busse, and Montoro 2010. 49]

2. Arbitrariness.

Arbitrariness is one of the features of human language. It means that there is no recognizable connections between the sound signal and the message conveyed by human beings. So, the word elephant, for instance, has no connections with the animal it symbolizes. [Aitchison 1999. 12] Onomatopoeic words are regarded as an exception to the arbitrary rule. They are, in this sense, similar to what they symbolize because of a certain facets of iconicity. [Norgaard, Busse, and Montoro 2010. 50]

3. Assonance.

Is the opposite of Alliteration. It means the repetition of the same vowel sound in close words. Just like alliteration, assonance possesses a cohesive effect due to the fact that similar sounds connect words together if they are in proximity. Assonance is widely used in poetry, newspaper headlines, advertising, etc.

4. Conceptual blending theory.

Conceptual blending theory is derived from cognitive linguistic traditions, conceptual metaphor theory and mental spaces theory. It proposes that the construction of meaning doesn't rely only on pre-exsiting knowledge scope but also on temporary knowledge structure. [Jeffries and Maclntyre 2010 144] Conceptual blending theory is different from conceptual metaphor theory and mental spaces theory in the method of describing the cognitive process of creating meaning through the existence of emergent blends. [Norgaard, Busse, and Montoro 2010. 50]


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Key questions about stylistics. A beginner's perspective
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Stylistics, Style, Linguistic analysis, Literary text, Literature, Key Questions, Literary criticism
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Ahmed M. Hashim (Author), 2017, Key questions about stylistics. A beginner's perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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