Literary Stylistics:
Lecture Notes No. 1

Introductory Notes

Some Key Terms in These Notes

arbitrary binary oppositions cohesion colon unit comma_unit
grapho-metric holistic analysis of the text icon iconic arrangement of fictional events interpretation
line linguistic criticism linguistic stylistics literary stylistics macroscopic analysis of the text
microscopic analysis non-arbitrary relationship onomatopoeia orthographic qualitative
quantitative role of linguistics semiotics semiotic system sentence
signifieds signifiers stanza style sub-stanza
symbol symbolic system system systemic stylistics systemic grammar
unity of the system        

Sections in these notes
Objectives and Basic Texts
    Objectives
    Basic Texts
Basic Requirements
    Some Strategies to Adopt
Some Preliminary Considerations
    Stylistics and Linguistics
    Qualitative Approach
Orthographic and Grapho-Metric Units
Semiotics and Style
    Binary Oppositions
    Signifiers and Signifieds
    Symbol and Icon

Objectives and Basic Texts

Objectives

In the second and third lecture notes, we will look at the significance of the various parts of speech (eg. Nouns, Verbs, adjectives, adverbs). We will be using Randolph Quirk and Sydney Greenbaum's A University Grammar of English (PE 1112 Qui) for this purpose (several copies of this book are available in the RBR, on the open shelves, and in the closed stacks). Please note that this approach to grammar will not be dealt with in some academic years, but even then, going through the notes will be of benefit to you.

Basic Texts

The lectures notes that are freely available on the Internet can be used as basic texts for your courses. The lecture notes following nos. 2 and 3 will go on to give you a grounding in systemic stylistics. If you are using systemic grammar as part of your course, the basic text, apart from our cyber-lecture notes nos. 6 to 16, will be M.A.K. Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar. Most major university libraries have the first, second and third editions. Undergraduate students may not use this grammar intensively, but postgraduate students are expected to have an understanding of at least chapters 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9 of Halliday's book. Other parts of the book may also be useful for stylistic analysis.

Quirk and Greenbaum's A University Grammar of English and Halliday's Introduction does not specifically deal with the linguistic analysis of literary texts. For this reason, these books are recommended: Geoffrey N. Leech's A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry, Geoffrey Leech and Michael Short's Style in Fiction, Michael Cummings & Robert Simmon's The Language of Literature, and Ruqaiya Hasan's Linguistics, Language and Verbal Art.


Basic Requirements

All students of English literary stylistics and the linguistic analysis of literature should have,
  1. a good command of the English language.
  2. a reasonable ability to compose essays.
  3. the ability to appreciate and understand literary works or extracts from literary works.
  4. a reasonable knowledge of linguistics in general.
  5. the ability to use linguistics in the analysis of literary works.


Some Strategies to Adopt in Relation to the Above Requirements

A) 1) and 2) above cannot be remedied in a matter of few months, but you may be able to help yourself by being more conscious and careful about grammar and composition while writing your essays. You may also find it useful to refer to some of the cybertexts on grammar and composition mentioned in the home page, such as the electronic handouts from the Purdue University On-Line Writing Lab (OWL), Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Style and William Strunk Jr's Elements of Style (alternative link).

B) The ability to appreciate and understand literary works (3) is largely a question of aptitude and interest, but it is expected that literature students should have no problems in this. For EL students who are not doing literature, some academic background in literature, whether it be at university or even at O-level may be useful; you can also help yourself by being more careful in your reading of the literary works or extracts given.

C) In relation to 4), level 3000 English Language students doing the Literary Stylistics module should already have a good knowledge of linguistics in general. In taking the Literary Stylistics module as a minor option, English Literature students or students majoring in other subjects should have some background in the linguistics of English. Some linguistic glossaries or dictionaries on the Web that you may find useful are: Mark H. Nodine's Glossary of Grammatical Terms, Lexicon of Linguistics from Utrecht University, and glossaries of linguistic terms by Peter Coxhead and by Eugene Loos and others from the Summer Institute of Linguistics. (Do note however, that some of the terms in the glossaries or dictionaries may be defined differently, but if you are serious about linguistics, and want to further your studies in it, you should be aware of how the terms are defined by various linguists).

D) As for applications of linguistics in the analysis of literature, the four books mentioned above are recommended: i.e. Geoffrey N. Leech's A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry, Geoffrey Leech and Michael Short's Style in Fiction, Michael Cummings & Robert Simmon's The Language of Literature, and Ruqaiya Hasan's Linguistics, Language and Verbal Art.


Some Preliminary Considerations

Stylistics and Linguistics

In these preliminary notes, we will be briefly discussing, amongst other things, the role of linguistics in literary stylistics. Quite contrary to common wisdom, linguistics is not always necessary for the analysis of style in language. Literary stylistics is thus not the same as linguistic criticism. The position of stylistics in relation to linguistics, is best put by Nils Erik Enkvist in his book Linguistic Stylistics (p. 27):
 
We may... regard stylistics as a subdepartment of linguistics, and give it a special subsection dealing with the peculiarities of literary texts. We may choose to make stylistics a subdepartment of literary study which may on occasion draw on linguistic methods. Or we may regard stylistics as an autonomous discipline which draws freely, and eclectically, on methods both from linguistics and literary study.

But as I am sure we will find in analysing literary texts, linguistics is extremely useful for the analysis of style in literature, and hence the emphasis on it in these notes and the courses taught in relation to them.

Qualitative Approach

Another preliminary consideration is that we will generally be taking what has been called the qualitative approach in analysing literary texts. The qualitative approach can be contrasted to the quantitative approach. The quantitative approach is reliant on the counting of data, and numerical figures, usually collated by using a statistical approach, are needed. However, not all data involving language or texts may be appropriately analysed by counting. A single occurrence of a linguistic feature, for example, may be more important than ten occurrences of another feature. This is where the qualitative approach comes into the picture. It largely depends on the interpretation of data. Although interpretation can be quite subjective, and hence may vary from person to person, it cannot be entirely avoided in linguistic analysis, especially when the systematic analysis of numerical data may be unreliable or even misleading. In fact, stylistic analysis, like the analysis of texts in literature, may not only be subjective, but it may actually allow full reign to one's emotive response to a literary text. However, qualitative approaches are not completely independent of quantitative approaches and vice versa. Simple counting of data, for example, may at times be useful in a more generally qualitative approach to style.


Orthographic and Grapho-Metric Units

We will be discussing some of the features of written language which can be found in Table 1(1) of the first edition of Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar (p. 6), in today's lecture. The table is given below. You may find the table quite useful in relation to the stylistic analysis of poetry.

orthographic unit grapho-metric unit
sentencecorresponds to stanza
colon unit" sub-stanza
comma unit" line

It may be clear from my emphasis in today's lecture that the more important terms in the above table are sentence, line, stanza, orthographic unit, and grapho-metric unit. Colon unit, sub-stanza, and comma unit are less important.

Very simply, a sentence, as an orthographic entity, begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop; a colon unit ends with a colon or semi-colon; and the comma unit ends with a comma. The grapho-metric units are best understood visually:

As you can see above, the stanza is a cluster of lines separated by a blank space (see the rest of the four-stanza poem), the sub-stanza is indicated by indentation, and the lines are the string of words from left to right.


Semiotics and Style

Another discipline which may be useful for the study of style in literature is semiotics (although we will not be concentrating too much on it). For a brief introduction to semiotics, you may want to read Terence Hawkes's Structuralism and Semiotics, which is available in the Central Library (P99 Haw). Good guides on semiotics are also available on the WWW such as Semiotics for Beginners by David Chandler from Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom (there is also a U.S. mirror site, and the book is also available in print, under the title, Semiotics: The Basics). You will find that Chandler takes a look at semiotics from the perspective of media studies, but many of the ideas found in his book are applicable to literary analysis. There is also a list of Semiotic Terms available in cyberspace. If you are interested in the relationship of semiotics to narrative analysis, you may want to take a look at chapter 12 of my cyber-book, Narrative Theory, on 'Symbol and Allegory', where some of the terms mentioned below are further defined.

Binary Oppositions

Among the important ideas in semiotics which you may want to think about, is that of the creation of the unity of the system through a series of binary oppositions (see pp. 22-28 of (Hawkes's book, or the section under paradigmatic analysis in Chandler's document). This idea is taken from Saussurean linguistics, but has also been applied to other semiotic systems apart from language. As you may know, literary stylistics involves the movement away from the type of microscopic analysis that one does in linguistics, to the macroscopic or holistic analysis of the text. The unity of the system in terms of a series of oppositions may be one conception through which we can attempt to view the text holistically. But we have to ask ourselves here whether this idea has the same limitation as that of the study of cohesion: i.e., that it is able to tell us about linkages on a one-to-one basis, but is not able to tell us how the text as a whole 'hangs together' (which is an important consideration in literary studies).

Signifiers and Signifieds

Semiotics is also of interest to stylistic analysis due to its interest in the signifiers of language or other semiotic systems, as opposed to their signifieds (for definitions of these terms, see p. 25 of Hawkes's book, or the section under Signs in Chandler's document). In this regard, we can contrast semiotics, with its primary concern with signifiers, to semantics, with its primary concern with the signifieds of language. Grapho-metric and orthographic units, for example, are semiotic features, as they are built up through the agglomeration of the signifiers in a poem into identifiable patterns on the page. These units may be of interest in stylistic analysis, but we are not sure whether we should, strictly speaking, include them within the discipline of linguistics (although Halliday appears to think that they should be included in the first edition of his Introduction).

Symbol and Icon

Finally, if you manage to get hold of Hawkes's book, you may want to look at the definitions he gives of words such as symbol and icon (see pp. 128-130). The relationship between signifier and signified in language is usually arbitrary (see pp. 24-26), and that is why language is sometimes described as a symbolic system. But there are some linguistic signifiers (such as onomatopoeia) which may show, to a certain extent, a non-arbitrary or iconic relationship with their signifieds (this is of course relative, as the onomatopoeic word to denote the bark of a dog in the English language, as you may know from your first-year course in language, is different from that in French). It has also been argued by some stylisticians that the arrangement of events in a fictional work, should it follow the arrangement of these events if they were to occur in reality, can also be described as iconic (see pp. 233-243 of Leech and Short's Style in Fiction for a further discussion of narrative iconicity in stylistic analysis).


Texts to be Analysed

William Strode's 'On Westwall Downes'
Extract from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
One other text will be analysed during the lecture.

There is also a supporting document which explains some of the basic terms in literature.

Click here for the next lecture notes.



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Last revised: 25 December 2010

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