By Kamil Wiśniewski Aug 7th, 2007

Stylistics can be by and large described as the study of style of language usage in different contexts, either linguistic, or situational. Yet, it seems that due to the complex history and variety of investigated issues of this study it is difficult to state precisely what stylistics is, and to mark clear boundaries between it and other branches of linguistics which deal with text analysis.

What has been the primary interest of stylistics for years is the analysis of the type, fluctuation, or the reason for choosing a given style as in any language a single thought can be expressed in a number of ways depending on connotations, or desired result that the message is to produce. Therefore, stylistics is concerned with the examination of grammar, lexis, semantics, as well as phonological properties and discursive devices. It might seem that the same issues are investigated by sociolinguistics, and indeed that is the case, however sociolinguistics analyses the above mentioned issues seen as dependant on the social class, gender, age, etc, while stylistics is more interested in the significance of function that the style fulfills.

Moreover, stylistics examines oral and written texts in order to determine crucial characteristic linguistic properties, structures and patterns influencing perception of the texts. Thus, it can be said that this branch of linguistics is related to discourse analysis, in particular critical discourse analysis, and pragmatics. Owing to the fact that at the beginning of the development of this study the major part of the stylistic investigation was concerned with the analysis of literary texts it is sometimes called literary linguistics, or literary stylistics. Nowadays, however, linguists study various kinds of texts, such as manuals, recipes, as well as novels and advertisements. It is vital to add here that none of the text types is discriminated and thought to be more important than others. In addition to that, in the recent years so called ‘media-discourses’ such as films, news reports, song lyrics and political speeches have all been within the scope of interest of stylistics.

Each text scrutinized by stylistics can be viewed from different angles and as fulfilling at least a few functions. Thus, it is said that texts have interpersonal function, ideational function and textual function. When describing a function several issues are taken into consideration. Therefore, interpersonal function is all about the relationship that the text is establishing with its recipients, the use of either personal or impersonal pronouns is analyzed, as well as the use of speech acts, together with the tone and mood of the statement. When describing the ideational function linguists are concerned with the means of representing the reality by the text, the way the participants are represented, as well as the arrangement of information in clauses and sentences. The textual function is the reference of sentences forwards and backwards which makes the text cohesive and coherent, but also other discursive devices such as ellipsis, repetition, anaphora are studied. In addition to that the effectiveness of chosen stylistic properties of the texts are analyzed in order to determine their suitability to the perceived function, or contribution to overall interpretation.

Linguists dealing with a sub-branch of stylistics called pedagogical stylistics support the view that this field of study helps learners to develop better foreign language competence. What is more, it is thought that being acquainted with stylistics makes student more aware of certain features of language and to implement the knowledge in their language production on all levels: phonological, grammatical, lexical and discursive. Also empirical findings support the view that stylistics helps students improve their reading and writing skills.

Finch G. 1998. How to study linguistics. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brown K. (Editor) 2005. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.

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