Tuesday 01/19/2010 09:54 pm
Lecture 2: The methods of stylistics. Levels of stylistic analysis. Contexts of stylistic analysis. @ Lecture Notes 2   by zelma

Lecture 2


Stylistics: object and methods


Levels of stylistic analysis. Contexts of stylistic analysis.


What is stylistics?

n Stylistics is a branch of linguistics which studies the characteristics of situationally-distinctive uses of language, with particular reference to literary language, and tries to establish principles capable of accounting for particular choices made by individuals and social groups in their use of language.

n The goal of most stylistics is not simply to describe the formal features of the texts for their own sake, but to show their functional significance for the interpretation of the text; or in order to relate literary effects to their linguistic “causes” where these are felt to be relevant … Stylisticians want to avoid vague and impressionistic judgements about the way that formal features are manipulated. (The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 1977, 1988). 

Problems: where they are felt to be relevant… Felt by whom? When? Relevant to what? “Formal features are manipulated” suggests a sort of play, even trickstery whose goal is to delude the addressee.


n How objective is stylistic analysis?

Stylistics draws on the models and terminology provided by whatever aspects of linguistics are felt to be relevant. … Stylistics is only “objective” in the sense of being methodical, systematic, empirical, analytical, coherent, accessible, retrievable, and consensual” (Katie Wales, A Dictionary of Stylistics, 1989, p. 373).

n Some history

(1): Rhetoric

Ø 5th century BC – Sicily: Rhetoric taught as a practical discipline.

Ø ancient Athens: a subject in formal education for the elite.

Ø Plato: a device of no ethical or philosophical value. Rhetoric - not an art but a technique satisfying only bodily and emotional needs but not the desire for truth, which is the subject of philosophy.

Ø Aristotle: different linguistic forms could make a fact or argument a powerful weapon against injustice or untruth.

Ø For classical rhetoric: style added to content or thought, and stylistic decisions are a matter not of personality but of subject and occasion.

Ancient rhetoric already formulates the dichotomy of linguistic form vs. content which has shaped the main trends in modern linguistics and stylistics. Is form independent of content? Rhetoric claimed so

 (2): Charles Bally

Charles Bally: Stylistique (1905)- NORM-BASED

interested in the DESCRIPTION of linguistic-expressive resources.

Ø  expressive resources are part of the langue;

Ø  they form its “expressive system”; 

Ø  the expressive system is a domain which enables language users to convey the affective, emotional, non-conceptual thought;

Ø  no special, privileged status for works of literature

(3): Karl Vossler

Ø based on the psychological approach of Benedetto Croce.

Ø  freedom of individual linguistic expression, based on the author’s psychology.

Ø  “individual SPIRITUAL expression”

Ø  attention to linguistic choice → modern stylistics.

n Vossler’s theory is PSYCHOLOGY-BASED

Bally’s stylistics gave hope that literary criticism could approximate the rigour of a science. Vossler emphasized the creative potential of individual language users.


4) Leo Spitzer: New Stylistics (Stilforschung)

Ø analytic methods: those of linguistics

Ø aim: arriving at a critical appreciation of literary works

Ø strategy: “the philological circle”: identifying stylistic features by intuition and then working through description and analysis to discover patterns that confirm the original intuitions.

Ø Value: aesthetic beauty accessible only to the educated person (expert).


5) “The Prague Circle”


Ø concerned to find the distinctive feature of “literary” language.

Ø the object of study:  literary language

Ø method : formal linguistics. 

Ø means of producing literary language: defamiliarization of the code through foregrounding. foregrounding refers to “specific linguistic devices, i.e., deviation and parallelism, that are used in literary texts in a functional and condensed way. These devices enhance the meaning potential of the text, while also providing the reader with the possibility of aesthetic experience.

In poetic language foregrounding achieves maximum intensity to the extent of pushing communication into the background as the object of expression and of being used for its own sake; it is not used in the services of communication, but in order to place in the foreground the act of expression, the act of speech itself.


enter no

by e. e. cummings


 enter no (silence is the blood whose flesh
is singing) silence: but unsinging. In
spectral such hugest how hush, one

dead leaf stirring makes a crash

– far away (as far as alive) lies
april; and i breathe – move – and – seem some
perpetually roaming whylessness –

autumn has gone: will winter never come?



Jacobson’s 6 functions:

n REFERENTIAL function: oriented toward the CONTEXT (denotation)

n EMOTIVE (expressive) function: oriented toward the ADDRESSER (interjections)

n CONATIVE (action-inducing) function: oriented toward the ADDRESSEE (influencing, persuading, commanding)

n METALINGUAL (language speaking about language) function: oriented toward the CODE

n POETIC function: oriented toward the MESSAGE for its own sake

n PHATIC function: oriented towards the channel of communication (checking the code).

The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection to the axis of combination.

Outside poetry: Joan and Margery, * Margery and Joan

 In poetry choice is determined by all sorts of “equalizations.”

 Equation is the cornerstone of sequence and the measurement of sequences is essential to the poetic.

 The relations between signs in the code which otherwise might have been irrelevant now become meaningful.

 In poetry, any conspicuous similarity in sound is evaluated in respect to similarity and/or dissimilarity in meaning.


Significance of Jacobson’s model:

1) object of stylistic study: the message = the literary work of art as language;

2) places the focus on the possibility of objective examination of that work; the “poetic” properties belong to the text itself and are open to empirical study;

3) solves the problem of “deviation from the norm.” Norm – internal to the work;

4) a more democratic approach


Objections to Jacobson’s model:

1) downplays the importance of the referential function (but elsewhere admits it);

2) fails to provide for criteria that enable the analyst to evaluate works of literature;

What makes the following poem “ the worst poem ever written”?


The Tay Bridge Disaster by William McGonagall (abridged)


Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

‘Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,

And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.” 

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-


“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”


It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.



3) excludes the reader’s expectations

transparent and opaque texts (A. Burgess)

opaque texts: distinctive features:

Ø “ambiguities, puns and centrifugal connotations”

Ø “unparaphrasable”

Ø lend themselves to the monist view

Ø most often observed in poetry or in prose that strongly deviates from the code


6) Stylistics of decoding and reader-response: Michael Riffaterre


Ø Literary style - the product of the author’s engagement with providing verbal strategies to enable the reader to move beyond what he calls “minimal decoding.”

Ø the author “encodes” the effects of surprise;

Ø stylistic context: a pattern broken by an unpredictable element; 

Ø convergence: the accumulation of SDs at a given point, each SD adding its expressivity to that of the others.


Example: And heaved and heaved, still unresistingly heaved the black sea, as if its vast tides were a conscience. (Melville, Moby Dick)

Problem with Riffaterre’s theory: 

Ø the insoluble relation between SDs and the reader’s perception.

Ø  imaginary figure of the “arch-reader” who responds behaviouristically,

Ø  stylistic value  turns out to inhere in the stylistic device which is “put” there by the author, and given a value that the reader must share.


7) Affective stylistics: Stanley Fish (“What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?”)


Ø attacks both formalist and functionalist approaches;

Ø claims that stylistic analysis is from the very first an interpretive act and cannot therefore be objective and scientific;

Ø suggests his own reader-centered strategy

Ø absolute relativity in critical interpretation can be avoided through the notion of “interpretive communities” which govern readers’ responses. 


8) Pedagogical stylistics: H. G. Widdowson and R. Carter

Ø stylistic analysis as a way of reading

Ø not too technical

Ø oriented towards moments of convergence

Ø or to more transparent texts with fewer stylistic devices

Ø can alert students to the way language works and

Ø stimulate them to exercise and develop their own creativity, to “deautomatize” their own language and turn it into style, and thus become more persuasive in their writing and speaking



Contextualizing stylistics

Ø Context: systematically organized linguistic and non-linguistic influences on the form of communication

Ø Style - “an effect produced in, by and through an interaction between text and reader” (Jean-Jacques Weber).

Ø But this interaction involves and takes place in a number of contexts.

Ø Stylistic value is determined by these contexts.


Wellek and Warren, Theory of Literature, Contexts of stylistic analysis:

1. language, as normal usage, esp. at the time when the literary work was produced;

2. the system of linguistic features, including the foregrounded and deviant ones, within the work under examination;

3.  the typical linguistic and stylistic features of a single author’s work;

4.  the style of the genre to which the work belongs (the Gothic Novel, Elizabethan drama, etc.);

5.  the style of a literary movement within a period (Symbolist, Expressionist, etc.)

6. the style of a period.


G. Leech and M. Short on stylistic value

Linguistic features become a system, and are definable as a style, when they are pervasive, when they are used with a great degree of

  • frequency
  • consistency.

2. Style is measurable but only to some degree.

3. Frequency becomes significant only when it is motivated, that is, when it forms a relationship with other stylistic features to take on an aesthetic – poetic – function and causes the repeated elements to become foregrounded.


The function of context in assigning stylistic value (Leech and Short): A context provides some kind of relative norm against which the prominence, which can be quantitative or qualitative becomes identifiable as deviance.

n Primary norm: our set of expectations about how language works.

n Secondary norm: derived from the text itself as the context within which we detect a norm.



Ø when features of the work’s language depart from the secondary norm.

Ø Internal deviation can be detected from within the smallest compositional whole that sets up the norm

Ø in poetry: the line, then the stanza, then the whole poem.

Ø In prose it may be the paragraph or several paragraphs, then depending on the novel’s structure, it may vary from chapters to portions in the book – whole parts, or, in the case of several narrators, their own “texts”.

Example: Opening of Pride and Prejudice:


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (this sentence sets up the secondary norm)

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”

Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”

Mr. Bennet made no answer.

“Do not you want to know who has taken it?”cried his wife impatiently.

You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”

This was invitation enough.



9. Critical linguistics: R. Fowler, P. Simpson

Ø focuses on the way particular selections and combinations in grammatical and semantic structure construct ideologically-based representation of reality;

Ø treats language as social discourse and produces resistant readings;

Ø examines the language and style of texts in order to unmask ideologies and denaturalize assumptions.


Roger Fowler, “Studying literature as language”:

“Criticism is an intersubjective practice. The significances which an individual critic assigns are the product of social constitution; cultural meanings coded in the discourses in which the critic is competent. .. Linguistic description, allowing clear description of structures and a theory of social semiotic, is of fundamental importance in ensuring a clear grasp of the objective and subjective elements under discussion.”
















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