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.