Stylistics

Treatises devoted to the study of style can be found as early as Demetrius’s On Style (C.E. 100). But most pre-twentieth-century discussions appear as secondary components of rhetorical and grammatical analyses or in general studies of literature and literary language. The appearance of stylistics as a semiautonomous discipline is a modern phenomenon, an ongoing development in linguistic description that is closely tied to the similar rise of literary criticism and linguistics as academic subjects and departments. Modern stylistics, in general, draws much of its analytical power from the analytical methods and descriptive intentions of linguistics, while modern literary stylistics, in particular, draws upon that area and adds to it the interpretive goals of modern literary criticism. In both cases, the use of linguistic methodology has allowed stylistics to move beyond earlier normative and prescriptive descriptions of “correct” styles to a fuller analysis of language itself and the purposes to which language regularly is put.

Whatever the limits of previous approaches to style, or the difficulties that have arisen from the practical application of linguistic methods to stylistic analysis, the desire to begin with a set of well-defined terms and procedures lies at the core of the initial formation of stylistics as a discipline. While all versions of literary stylistics have dedicated themselves to the study and interpretation of literary texts, it was the growing importance of European historical linguistics during the mid-nineteenth century that produced the most easily recognized component of early modern stylistics: a deeply rooted concern with formal linguistic description of literary language. The methodological benefits that stylistics gained by uniting literary interpretation and linguistic analysis were matched by institutional gains as well. Historical and general linguistics were well-established academic disciplines at the turn of the twentieth century, and stylistics could expect to benefit from that status. The use of linguistic procedures thus offered stylistics both an affinity with an established discipline and the possibility of founding the description and interpretation of style upon the bedrock of science.

While its air of scientific analysis made linguistics attractive, linguistic science was not itself a monolithic entity. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, linguistic study oscillated between a desire to define language through efficient analytical methods (often requiring a-contextual descriptions) and another, competing desire to define language as a social and cultural phenomenon. The work of the neogrammarians, key figures in the formation of linguistics as a modern scientific discipline, displays the tension well. Although the neogrammarians began their work with the intention of reintroducing behavior into linguistic description, the attractiveness of scientific method dictated the slow elimination of the user as a complex part of the description. The result for some linguists, notably the philologians, was a sacrificing of the real heart of linguistics to a sterile formalism; for many, however, the shift was the logical result of a move into the modern scientific age. It was in terms of these separate views of the proper role of linguistic description that the predominant approaches to modern stylistics developed, and because of the strong Continental influence of Romance Philology on historical linguistics, modern stylistics usually is seen as having begun there.

The roots of modern stylistics can be uncovered in the work of Charles Bally (1865-1947) and Leo Spitzer (1887-1960). Bally’s Précis de stylistique (1905) stresses the description and analysis of a language’s generally available stylistic properties. Literary texts, in Bally’s formulation, are particular examples of language use, and the analysis of their style is not a central part of the general stylistics he emphasizes. Nevertheless, Bally’s work, and its later realization in the work of Jules Marouzeau (Précis de stylistique française, 1946) and Marcel Cressot (Le Style et ses techniques, 1947), strongly influenced the formation of literary stylistics. Such analytical work offered literary critics a relatively precise methodology for describing the components and features of a text. In place of an open-ended and evaluative interpretive process, linguistics both underwrote the need for a more precise analytical attitude toward language study and provided specific categories for characterizing sound, rhythm, and eventually syntax, as well as points of comparison and contrast between registers, forms, and functions within genres and literary periods.

In contrast to the stylistique of Bally and his proponents, Leo Spitzer insisted upon following the more philologically based tradition of textual (and often literarytextual) analysis. Such work, while using the analytical techniques of modern linguistics, strives to unite the analytical description with a critical interpretation that relates the style to a larger conceptual or situational frame (e.g., Linguistics and Literary History 1-39). Style is seen as an expression of a particular psychological, social, or historical sensibility or moment rather than as a general property of a particular language. In undertaking these wider interpretations, critics such as Spitzer did not, however, assume that they were defining their stylistics as separate from, or even as a subset of, linguistic analysis. In both his etymological studies and his more specifically literary-critical interpretations (Stilstudien, 1928, and Romanische Stil- und Literaturstudien, 1931), Spitzer insisted that he was promulgating a general program of linguistic study, offering his stylistics in opposition to what he saw as the more reductionist analyses of general, scientific linguistics. Spitzer himself emphasized the split until the end of his career, regularly referring to his work as Stilforschung (literary, cultural interpretation of style—philology in his eyes) to set it apart from that of Stilistik, or Bally’s stylistique (e.g., “Les Études de style et les différents pays” 23-39). At the same time, he assumed—as did fellow critics of style such as Ernst Robert Curtius, Karl Vossler, and Helmut Hatzfeld—that he was not reducing the scientific aspect of linguistics but only offsetting a false, positivistic tone that was becoming increasingly predominant in the field. The tension in linguistics between general linguistic description and less formal sociocultural interpretation thus was mirrored in this early separation in stylistics between linguistic stylistic description and literary stylistic interpretation. It is a separation, and a tension, that remains at the heart of modern stylistics.

This tension, Spitzer’s and Bally’s position as Continental rather than Anglo-American linguists, and the popularity of Practical Criticism and new Criticism in England and the United States all lay behind the relative lack of an organized, Anglo-American literary stylistics during the first half of the twentieth century. Literary stylistic analyses were occurring in England and in the United States at this time, but they often did not contain the formal linguistic orientation that characterizes the modern discipline of stylistics. Instead, they drew support and procedures from the basic but less analytically structured orientation of New Criticism and practical criticism. And while the influence of Romance language study grew during the mid-twentieth century (due in no small part to the presence in England and in the United States of many expatriated scholars), the established strength of other, more empirical linguistic methodologies reduced possible exchanges between linguistics and literary criticism. The eventual appearance of modern stylistics in Anglo- American work repeated the earlier Continental process, appearing most clearly when united with an interest in linguistic analysis at mid-century and with the related interest in literary Structuralism somewhat later. By the late 1950s, the general critical ambience provided by the rise and fall of New Criticism and practical criticism, in combination with a growing interest in comparative literary studies and a new awareness of the increasing importance of linguistic science, provided the needed impetus for a strong appearance of literary stylistics outside the European continent. The processes behind the formation of American stylistics are exemplified by work done by Michael Riffaterre on Romance languages. Riffaterre’s published dissertation, Le Style des Pléiades de Gobineau (1957), is a self-described attempt to blend Spitzer’s work with that of contemporary structural linguistics, while the later, even more formal stylistic methodology set forth in “Criteria for Style Analysis” (1959) and “Stylistic Context” (i960) shifts away from interpretive description and toward the general linguistic analysis that was beginning to dominate academic study.

Lacan and Roman Jakobson/Pinterest

Such work in stylistics reflected a larger trend occurring within literary criticism as a whole during this period. Riffaterre’s particular interest in a systematic, formal description of literary style mirrored a growing awareness among literary critics in general of the possibilities provided to literary study by trends and theories available from formal linguistic study. The discovery of linguistic work by Ferdinand de Saussure, Roman Jakobson, and structural linguistic theory in general all formed part of the rapid flowering of critical work closely related to, if not directly based upon, particular methods of linguistic analysis. It was not a link between literary stylistics and structural linguistic analysis that marked the real establishment of stylistics as a discipline within the United States, however. It was the transformational-generative grammar of Noam Chomsky (Syntactic Structures, 1957) that signaled the arrival of stylistics as a discipline with independent, self-defined goals, if not yet a real autonomy from either linguistic or literary-critical approaches to language analysis.

The rapidly established importance of Chomsky’s linguistics within his own discipline provided a strong argument for the importance of transformational-generative grammar within literary stylistics as well. But beneath that academic, institutional cause lay particular features of the theory that explain further the explosion of stylistic work using transformational-generative grammar. The grammar’s focus on syntax, its distinction between deep and surface structures, and the resulting dynamism in its descriptive procedures all contributed to a methodology that allowed for a much wider discussion of the possible forms (and by implication styles) available to the user of language. At the same time, the declared mentalism of Chomsky’s grammar was seen by many as providing literary stylistics with a means of uniting a still lingering Romantic sense of creativity with the formal linguistic description needed to provide the analysis with a now-requisite air of scientific study. Many critics found not only an implied linkage between language and mind within Chomsky’s grammar but an actual justification for tying intention to structure. Whichever aspect of Chomsky’s grammar provided the impetus for a particular study, the general influence was huge, and the numerous studies that appeared during the years 1965-75 testify to the boost that Chomsky’s thinking on language gave to the era, one of the most hectic and dramatic in the formation and growth of stylistics.

The founding of the field’s major Anglo-American journals—Style (1967) and Language and Style (1968)— provides one convenient benchmark for the full arrival of stylistics as an academic discipline in Britain and the United States, while a plethora of studies and editions from 1970 and later provides another, more wide-ranging view. Representative texts, which display not only a sense of the myriad volumes available on the two continents but also a sampling of other methods either related or opposed to Chomsky’s work, include Donald Freeman, ed., Linguistics and Literary Style (1970); Pierre Guiraud, Essais de stylistique (1970); Guiraud and Pierre Kuentz, eds., La Stylistique: Lectures (1970); Seymour Chatman, ed., Literary Style: A Symposium (1971); Roger Fowler, ed., Style and Structure in Literature: Essays in the New Stylistics (1975); Helmut Hatzfeld, ed., Romanistische Stilforschung (1975); and Freeman, ed., Essays in Modern Stylistics (1981). The last text in this list, Freeman’s second collection, argued for the gradual cementing of transformational- generative grammar’s position within much of American stylistics, an argument made clear by comparing this collection’s announced focus on transformational-generative grammar with the eclecticism of Freeman’s first text. But the position of transformational-generative grammar had become decidedly less dominating by 1980, as the rest of the collections demonstrate.

The differing models and methodologies found in a text such as Chatman and Samuel R. Levin’s Essays on the Language of Literature (1967), which is not devoted to stylistics alone, serve to demonstrate that other methods were equally popular elsewhere, even before the eager pursuit of Chomsky’s linguistics had faded. In England, interest in describing not only the structure of language but also the properties of discourse and its functions gathered around the work of J. R. Firth, in general, and in the union between linguistics and literary criticism that appears in the work of M. A. K. Halliday, in particular, while the work of Stephen Ullman provided yet another example of stylistic analysis brought to fruition by an expatriated Continental Romance scholar. At the same time, philologically oriented work similar to that of Spitzer continued to be available, especially in Italy, while other work, such as that of Richard W. Bailey and Lubomir DoleZel in statistical analysis, argued for yet another method within What was already a very eclectic field. In fact, while linguistic formalism applied to literary language remained the basis of modern stylistic procedure, the field continued to build upon what was historically a large variety of possible stylistic approaches.

Numerous descriptive categories have been created to provide some order among the resulting variety of approaches to style, but the most common and useful taxonomies are those designed around a communication model such as that of Jakobson (“Linguistics and Poetics,” in Sebeok). Some approaches are essentially concerned with describing style as a habitual form of expression particular to an author or authorial psyche, while other formats begin with style as an affective response generated in the reader. Similar to these alternatively expressive and receptive approaches are definitions that see style as indicative of a larger context: a cultural sensibility, a historical period, or a national feeling. More textually focused approaches define style in terms of a particular genre, or in relation to other linguistic registers, or simply as a web of relations between the elements of the text itself. In all this work, whatever its variety, the main attraction for stylistics remains that of formal descriptive power.

That interest eventually began to come under increasing censure for what was perceived as its sacrificing of interpretive complexity for scientific efficiency. The swinging back of the critical pendulum is most clearly apparent in Stanley Fish‘s pointed attack, “What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?” issued in two parts, in 1973 and 1980. The main thrust of such arguments was not simply that stylistic analyses were misguided or misinterpretive but that the very foundation of scientific analysis on which stylistics based itself was inherently flawed. In essence, the arguments stated that there was no way to link the empirically defined features of the text with the rest of the critical analysis except through the subjective, interpretive framework of the critic. In fact, the arguments declared, even the stylistic features described in the analysis were themselves subject to the interpretive choices of the reader/critic.

In attacking this aspect of stylistic analysis, these discussions were taking aim at one of the specific reasons for the rise of stylistics as an academic discipline during the twentieth century. The depth and cogency of arguments such as those put forth by Fish, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, and others were a clear signal of shifting trends in literary criticism—and in its attitude toward linguistic analysis. By 1980 it was impossible to argue for any stylistic model without addressing these trends, although by then the issue already had been partially settled by an increasing concern with discourse in the field of linguistics. Speech-act theory was providing cogent arguments in favor of a return to the speech situation and the context of production, and those discussions merged nicely in literary circles with an increased interest in historical and contextual analysis. The question for stylistics became one of how to blend this increased desire for social, cultural, and contextual critical analyses with the discipline’s foundation in formal linguistics.

Although the problem came to the forefront of stylistics by 1980, it had been looming on the horizon for a while. The value of efficient description began to fade before a renewed desire for social and contextual analysis in the study of language and of its situation of production and reception, and the basic movement under way in linguistics displayed itself in a variety of ways and works in literary stylistics. Roger Fowler, for example, issued Essays on Style and Language (1966) and Style and Structure in Literature (1975) but shifted to Literature as Social Discourse (1981). Halliday, who also had been working on discourse issues for some time in Great Britain, produced Language as Social Semiotic (1978), while the positive reception given to Mary Louise Pratt’s Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (1977) demonstrated the degree to which such concerns were taking root in critical discussions within the United States. Finally, the growing influence of feminism and psychoanalysis on linguistics and literary criticism, exemplified by Robin Lakoff’s Language and Woman’s Place (1975), Chéris Kramarae’s Women and Men Speaking (1981), Deborah Cameron’s Feminism and Linguistic Theory (1985), and John Forrester’s Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis (1980), reinforced the need to adopt a new stance toward contextually rooted discussions in both stylistics and linguistics. The resulting shift away from strict formalism and toward a greater concern with function and context, together with a rebirth of interest in interpretive as well as descriptive analysis, once again forcefully brought forward the issue of what constituted the proper degree (or non-degree) of methodological rigor in stylistics.

At the turn of the twentieth century, allegiance to linguistic procedures was the primary defining element of stylistics as a discipline, and it remains so in the last quarter of the century. The major question facing stylistics is whether movement away from that defining characteristic, no matter how slight, will result not only in a loss of self-definition but also in a shifting back of the entire field into the related disciplines of literary criticism, linguistics, or more probably rhetoric, which is enjoying a strong rebirth. In addressing that question, stylistics continues to face its status as a discipline operating among all these disciplines, from which it historically has drawn both its goals and its methods. Work being done in the last quarter of the century on historical and contextual readings of literary and nonliterary texts suggests that stylistic models can be expanded sufficiently to allow the discipline to continue to draw upon all related fields adequately for its own purposes while maintaining its own autonomy.

Further Reading
Charles Bally, Précis de stylistique (1905); Deborah Cameron, Feminism and Linguistic Theory (1985); James Catano, Language, History, Style: Leo Spitzer and the Critical Tradition (1988); Seymour Chatman, ed., Literary Style: A Symposium (1971); Seymour Chatman and Samuel R. Levin, eds., Essays on the Language of Literature (1967); Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures (1957); Marcel Cressot, Le Style et ses techniques (1947); Lubomir DoleZel and Richard W. Bailey, eds., Statistics and Style (1969); John Rupert Firth, Selected Papers of J. R. Firth: 1952-59 (1968); Stanley Fish, “What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?” (1973, pt. 2,1980, Is There a Text in This Class? 1980); John Forrester, Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis (1980); Roger Fowler, Essays on Style and Language: Linguistic and Critical Approaches to Literary Style (1966), Literature as Social Discourse: The Practice of Linguistic Criticism (1981); Roger Fowler, ed., Style and Structure in Literature: Essays in the New Stylistics (1975); Donald C. Freeman, ed., Essays in Modem Stylistics (1981), Linguistics and Literary Style (1970); Pierre Guiraud, Essais de stylistique (1970); Pierre Guiraud and Pierre Kuentz, eds., La Stylistique: Lectures (1970); M. A. K. Halliday, Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning (1978); Helmut Hatzfeld, ed., Romanistische Stilforschung (1975); Roman Jakobson, “Linguistics and Poetics” (Sebeok); Chéris Kramarae, Women and Men Speaking (1981); Robin T. Lakoff, Language and Woman’s Place (1975); Language and Style (1968-); Jules Marouzeau, Précis de stylistique française (1946); Mary Louise Pratt, Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (1977); Michael Riffaterre, “Criteria for Style Analysis,” Word 16 (1959), Essais de stylistique structurale (1971), Le Style des Pléiades de Gobineau (i957)/ “Stylistic Context,” Word 16 (i960); Thomas Sebeok, ed., Style in Language (i960); Herbert Seidler, Allgemeine Stilistik (2d ed., 1963); Barbara Herrnstein Smith, On the Margins of Discourse: The Relation of Literature to Language (1978); Leo Spitzer, “Les Études de style et les différents pays,” Langue et littérature: Actes du VIII Congrès de la Fédération Internationale des Langues et Littératures Modernes (1961), Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics (1948), Leo Spitzer on Language and Literature: A Descriptive Bibliography (ed. E. Kristina Baer and Daisy E. Shenholm, 1991), Romanische Stil- und Literaturstudien (2 vols., 1931), Stilstudien (2 vols., 1928); Style (1967-); Stephen Ullman, Meaning and Style: Collected Papers (1973)· Richard W. Bailey and Dolores Μ. Burton, English Stylistics: A Bibliography of Stylistics and Helmut Hatzfeld, A Criistics Applied to the Ron and 1953-1965 (1966).
Source: Groden, Michael, and Martin Kreiswirth. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.



Categories: Linguistics, Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, Russian Formalism, Stylistics

Your feedback helps improve this platform. Leave your comment.

%d bloggers like this: