Stylistics and its Types

Stylistics also looks at how language is used in social contexts, and sociologists may be regarded as statisticians of a sort, but this is more of a loose parallel. Stylistics is a branch of applied linguistics concerned with the study of style in texts, especially, but not exclusively, in literary works.

Stylistics covers a wide range of approaches to the study of style. In the early days, there was a lot of interest in what came to be called “authorial stylistics” or “close reading,” an approach that tries to get inside the author’s psyche by examining his or her individual turns of phrase and idiosyncratic word use. But this approach was limited by the fact that there were only a few texts available for study — although we now have more texts than we know what to do with.

A second approach, more concerned with linguistic features rather than the author’s intentions and psychology, is “new stylistics” which emerged as a research program in the 1960s and has since generated “much of the most important work on style. It is not new, but it has become new. It is essentially linguistic, but it uses statistical methods to analyze text data, and thus it is quantitative.” (Hyland 1998:1). It was initiated by the cognitive linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, who argued that personal style arises from the interaction of writer and language. Writers use language to express their sense of self. The sentence “I am smart” is intrinsically different from “She is smart” even though the words are the same. It is the context in which they are used that makes a difference.

Many stylistics texts make a distinction between “close readings” and “comparative stylistics,” the latter being concerned with profiles of stylistic features in multiple texts. The comparative approach has been termed “formal stylistics” by its founder, Ken Burke, who argued that it was not primarily concerned with what writers said but how they said it.

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