chapter  38
Stylistics
ByElena Semino
Pages 14

In its broadest sense, stylistics is concerned with the description and interpretation of distinctive linguistic choices and patterns in texts. ‘Style’ in language is generally defined as the result of patterns of choice at different linguistic levels that may be characteristic of a text, the oeuvre of an author, a genre, etc. The notion of style is thus fundamentally comparative: different styles in language arise from the possibility of speaking or writing in different ways, and the style of any text or group of texts can only be described in contrast with that of a different text or group of texts, or in contrast with dominant patterns in the relevant language as a whole. This view of style in language as depending on both choice and difference raises two issues.

The first issue is whether only some types of linguistic choices are relevant to style, or whether all choices result in stylistic differences. The former view relies on a distinction between ‘form’ on the one hand and ‘meaning’ or ‘content’ on the other, so that it is possible to express the same meaning via different formal choices. Within this view, selecting the noun ‘steed’ as opposed to ‘horse’ in a narrative is a stylistic choice, as both nouns can refer to the same equine participant in a story. In contrast, selecting ‘zebra’ as opposed to ‘horse’ is not a stylistic choice, as the nouns evoke different animals, and involve differences in the content of the story rather than its style. In contrast, the opposing view emphasises that any variation in form has implications for meaning (e.g. ‘steed’ and ‘horse’ have different connotations and may evoke different equine images), so that no distinction can be made between choices of content and choice of form. Hence, all linguistic choices have implications for both style and meaning. These different views of the relationship between choice and style are sometimes referred to as, respectively, ‘dualism’ and ‘monism’ (see Wales 2001). Leech and Short (1981: 10-40) attempt to resolve this opposition by distinguishing between two notions of style, namely: a broader notion of style as ‘linguistic choice in general’, and a more restricted notion of style within which ‘[s]tylistic choice is limited to those aspects of linguistic choice which concern alternative ways of rendering the same subject matter’ (Leech and Short 1981: 31, italics in original). Even within this more restricted definition, however, stylistic choices are meaningful in that they contribute to the reader’s or listener’s interpretation of the text.