Stylistics in Linguistics
What is Stylistics?
Stylistics is a relatively modern branch of linguistics, often grouped under applied linguistics, which is devoted to the study of “style” or the linguistic choices made by speakers and writers, especially, but not exclusively, in literary texts as well as in other non-literary contexts such as advertisements, film and media, political speeches, casual conversations, etc.
In A Dictionary of Stylistics, Katie Wales writes “The goal of most stylistics is not simply to describe the formal features of texts for their own sake, but in order to show their functional significance for the interpretation of the text; or in order to relate literary effects to linguistic ’causes’ where these are felt to be relevant.”
A literary or non-literary work differs from any other such work not only in terms of content, but also in terms of how the content is expressed, presented, and arranged. Stylistics makes use of linguistic tools in order to attempt to characterize the linguistic features and devices present in a piece of work, which could be spoken or written, though the emphasis is usually on the written form.
Stylistic analysis involves examination of grammar, lexis, semantics, syntax, phonological properties and discursive devices in a given work. In this way, Stylistics encompasses discourse analyses. Since a major part of Stylistics has always been focused on studying literary texts, it is also known as literary linguistics or literary Stylistics.
Stylistics, or the scientific study of style, examines language variation, but of a particular type, which is different from linguistic variations associated with dialects and registers of a language. Style differences or linguistic choices made by language users can arise because a context or a particular situation, nature of participants and their relationship with each other, time and place of conversation, medium or mode of conversation, etc.
Linguistic stylistics has various overlapping sub-disciplines, which include, but are not limited to- literary stylistics, interpretive stylistics, evaluative stylistics, corpus stylistics, discourse stylistics, feminist stylistics, computational stylistics, literary pragmatics, literary semantics, stylometrics, critical linguistics, schema poetics, cognitive stylistics, etc.
Scope of Stylistics:
The question of the nature of stylistics, its position among the various disciplines, its scope and limits has aroused considerable discussion ever since the inception of the field.
Stylistic analysis of a text can help understand and explain the impact of a literary or non-literary piece of work on a reader. Stylistic study encompasses linguistic analysis as well as psychological processes involved during reading and understanding of a given work. And in this way, Stylistics acts as a middle ground and connective means between linguistics and literary criticism to demonstrate how the linguistic elements act significantly in a text to convey the author’s message.
Quirk (1969) has remarked that a man’s style is as specific as his fingerprints. Stylistic analysis can, in fact, settle many knotty problems in literature because a writer’s use of language can reveal his aesthetic personality, his deep-laid philosophy and worldview, perhaps far more accurately than any study of his background and the literary movement he subscribes to.
Stylistic tools can help validate intuitions of literary critics to evaluate a piece of work and generate objectivity around the conclusions due to the consistent and precise nature of the linguistic arguments.
Forensic Stylistics has emerged as an interesting field in the recent past where the knowledge of stylistic tools is applied in the context of law and crime investigation. This involves understanding of the language of the written law and in judicial purposes, and most importantly, the use of style as linguistic evidence. Both written and spoken materials can be scientifically analyzed and investigated with linguistic or stylistic tools for determination of content, meaning, speaker identification and authorship.
Stylistic analysis of the language of the suspect has become an important part of crime investigation. Linguistic data, spoken or written, can reveal the suspect’s age, race, gender, educational levels, religious and spiritual beliefs, socio-economic and geographical background, culture, and ethnicity. Forensic stylistics makes use of the knowledge of psycholinguistics and extends it to legal venues.
Forensic Stylistics can also be used in the assessment of spoken or written threats, examination of suicide notes, deeper analysis of confessions and statements of criminals, revelation of false allegations, and understanding criminal behavior on a broader level through the word choices of criminals. Stylistic analysis can also be utilized in cases of disputed authorship since literary style varies from author to author.