Unit 1
Introduction to Stylistics


How to Study this Module

In order to complete this module successfully, you will need to have the following books.

Verdonk, Peter and Weber, Jean Jacques (eds) (1995) Twentieth-Century Fiction: From Text to Context, London: Routledge
(ISBN: 0-415-10590-0).

Verdonk, Peter (ed.) (1993) Twentieth-Century Poetry: From Text to Context, London: Routledge.
(ISBN: 0-415-05863-5)

Culpeper, Jonathan; Short, Mick and Verdonk, Peter (eds) (1998) Exploring the Language of Drama: From Text to Context. London: Routledge.
(ISBN: 0-415-13795-0)

Together, the three texts contain chapters by many of the foremost practictioners of literary linguistics in the world.

In addition, this module has several archived articles attached for you to read. You will need the Adobe Reader program installed on your computer. If you need to download this now, click on the icon below and follow the instructions. The file is 5.6MB in size.

You will find Activities set out in red font throughout the Units of this module. These offer you tasks that will embed the material in your mind. The Activities are intended to be for your own study and so that you can measure your own progress. If you have any questions or comments that you cannot answer, then email your course tutor for advice.

Exercises must be completed and sent to your tutor for feedback. While Activities are for your own self-diagnosis, Exercises allow your progress to be monitored by your tutor, and are essential preparation for the Assignment.



It might seem strange to begin a module called 'Literary Linguistics' with a first Unit referring to 'Stylistics'. What I am calling literary linguistics has been called stylistics for several decades, and you will find that many of the critical texts you read for this module regard themselves as being part of the discipline of stylistics. First, then, a very sketchy history: stylistics arose out of a structuralist desire to be able to use the newly emerging science of modern linguistics as a descriptive tool for accounting for literature. The discipline took on a distinct identity in the 1950s and '60s, though it could trace its roots and ancestors back to the Russian formalists of the 1920s and further back through the practice of rhetoric into ancient academic study. Gradually, the limiting structuralist approach gave way in the 1970s and '80s to an interest in text-linguistic and discoursal analyses of literature, and then to a concern to be able to use linguistics and psychology and interdisciplines like sociolinguistics and cognitive science as a means of discussing literature.

Clearly, the crucial shift here is from a mainly formalist treatment of the literary text as object, to a position where the central discussions also included the contexts and experiences in which literary texts occur. Prior to this shift, the early questions that taxed stylisticians were issues such as:

'Is there a literary language and what are its features?';
'How does a text convey its meaning?';
'How do texts form patterns of foreground and background, and how can we account for linguistic and textual deviance?';
'How can we define style?'

You will notice that these questions are largely centred in the text itself. That is, issues of context and readerly affect were thought to be complications that it was not the business of stylistics to account for, and all discussions of types of language and meaning could be explained purely descriptively in a positivist scientific manner. The term 'stylistics' itself carries these historical associations, being apparently simply the study of style. However, if you try to define what 'style' is, you will see that the whole issue is fraught with difficulties.

More recent 'stylistic' studies have attempted to include the dimensions of social and cultural context, readerly interpretation and cognition, and the historical grounding of the text as part of the essential area of consideration. In other words, stylistics is today very much less formalist and structuralist than it ever was, and is in a position to be able to address many of the issues that literary criticism has traditionally regarded as its own. At this point, it seems to me, it is more appropriate to talk broadly of a 'literary linguistics', but you should be aware this is my own prejudice and the term 'stylistics' probably has more currency in the world today.

In general, there are two ways of 'coming at' stylistics: text-driven or theory-driven approaches. In Carter's (1997: 192) distinction, these can be seen as being literary stylistics and linguistic stylistics respectively. Literary stylistics tends to start from the literary text, and is mainly interested in discussing issues which would be recognisable to the literary critic: that is, it is interested in the text as a piece of literature, and it will use a dimension or framework from linguistics that is suggested by a reading of the text, as a means of accounting for a literary interpretation. By contrast, linguistic stylistics is more interested in the literary text as a piece of language data, as only one of many different textual phenomena in the world, distinguished only by its social and institutional value. At this point I should admit to my programmatic intentions, as a means of explaining the structure of this module.

I believe the distinction between these approaches within stylistics has become an unfortunate constraint on the field. A focus on linguistic stylistics creates a sense that the practice is somehow more 'scientific' and purely descriptive than any enterprise (like literary criticism) that is dependent on subjectivity and interpretation. The problem with this (aside from the point that the act of interpretation cannot be escaped, in my opinion) is that it allows literary critics to ghettoise stylistics and ignore it. On the other hand, a focus on literary stylistics can often fall into the appearance of being a mechanistic application of a linguistic framework that, for literary critics, destroys the 'feel' of the text as literature. It, too, acts as if the text itself is an object that can be described, rather than seeing literature as an interpretative event. My own view is that stylistics - or 'literary linguistics' - must take both of these approaches into account, in order to achieve an intersubjectivity in analysis. The value of this is that it is theoretically and philosophically aware, as well as being systematic, rigorous and thorough; it accords with a modern view of the scientific method, as well as being able to re-appropriate concerns that have been left for too long in the amateurish hands of literary critics. So this module unapologetically sets out an approach to literary linguistics that aims to do literary criticism properly.


Module Structure

The temptation in assembling a module in literary linguistics is to work up the linguistic rank scale, from phonetics to discourse analysis, in order to illustrate the different dimensions of analysis. This is very much a linguistic stylistics method which treats literature as exemplary data. Instead of this, I have tried to re-appropriate terms commonly used within literary criticism. My intention is to set out a course in literary linguistics that is orientated from the perspective of foregrounded patterns starting from specific literary texts. The Units in this module are arranged in pairs in order to keep a thematic connection and break down the analytical convenience of the view of language as a rank structure. For example: the aesthetic texture in terms of the 'sound effects' of literature is paired with a Unit on the poetic texture of literary works, moving from phonological issues to issues in the semantics of metaphor. Then, the impression of action which is gained from some texts as a consequence of syntactic sequencing patterns is paired with the narratological sequencing which constitutes plot. Following this in Unit 6, a lexical semantic approach is taken to diction and the affective force of literature is examined as a result of its pragmatic features: both areas are concerned with meaningfulness and interpretation. The final three Units are connected: dialogue is discussed through the presentation of characters' speech and thought; character itself is discussed in terms of deictic elements in the construction of literary personae; and viewpoint is explored through the presentation of textual point of view and modality.

This module is the essential starting point for other specialised modules in literary linguistics. In this respect, it is a survey of the field, and I have had to select certain areas within literary linguistics, treat them fairly rapidly, and necessarily exclude many dimensions and frameworks in the area. For other, more comprehensive treatments of stylistics, see the General Further Reading listed below.


General Further Reading:

Bex, T., Burke, M. and Stockwell, P. (eds) (2000) Contextualised Stylistics, Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Birch, D. (1991) The Language of Drama: Critical Theory and Practice, London: Macmillan.

Carter, R. (1997) Investigating English Discourse, London: Routledge.

Carter, R. and Simpson, P. (eds) (1989) Language, Discourse and Literature: An Introductory Reader in Discourse Stylistics, London: Routledge.

Carter, R. and Nash, W. (1990) Seeing Through Language: A Guide to Styles of English Writing, Oxford: Blackwell.

Cook, G. (1994) Discourse and Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fludernik, M. (1993) The Fictions of Language and the Languages of Fiction, London: Routledge.

Green, K. and Le Bihan, J. (1995) Critical Theory and Practice, London: Routledge.

Hodge, R. (1990) Literature as Discourse, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hughes, R. (1996) English in Speech and Writing: Investigating Language and Literature, London: Routledge.

Jeffries, L. (1993) The Language of Twentieth Century Poetry, London: Macmillan.

Mills, S. (1995) Feminist Stylistics, London: Routledge.

Semino, E. (1997) Language and World Creation in Poems and Other Texts, London: Longman.

Short, M. (ed.) (1989) Reading, Analysing and Teaching Literature, London: Longman.

Short, M. (1996) Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose, London: Longman.

Simpson, P. (1992) Language, Ideology and Point of View, London: Routledge.

Simpson, P. (1997) Language Through Literature: An Introduction, London: Routledge.

Toolan, M. (ed.) (1992) Language, Text and Context: Essays in Stylistics, London: Routledge.

Toolan, M. (2001) Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction (2nd edition), London: Routledge.

Wales, K. (2001) A Dictionary of Stylistics (2nd edition), London: Longman.

Weber, J-J. (ed.) (1996) The Stylistics Reader, London: Arnold.

Widdowson, H. (1992) Practical Stylistics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The following journals are also very useful:

Journal of Literary Semantics
Language and Literature
Language and Style
Poetics Today
Social Semiotics

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