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  In common with discourse analysis, stylistics is an area of language study which goes beyond the study of sentences to consider more global, textual phenomena. The fundamental concern in stylistics is with the aesthetic uses of language. By analysing the language forms employed by an author, the stylistician tries to explain the aesthetic responses of the reader to certain texts. Stylistic analysis is not restricted only to those texts which have been designed to exploit the aesthetic potential of language. In addition to novels, poems, letters and the like, one could also conduct a stylistic analysis of more routine texts such as instruction manuals or business letters. Furthermore, stylistics is not restricted to written texts; spoken texts, such as radio announcements, speeches and even ordinary conversations can be subjected to stylistic examination.

It is commonplace for certain stylistic effects to be associated with a particular author. In this way, the Dickensian style of writing contrasts with the Joycean style. It is the task of the stylistician to propose a framework of analysis which will allow these kinds of intuitions to be confirmed on the basis of a careful study of the way linguistic forms are manipulated, organized and exploited by the author. A tightly constrained framework for analysis will also allow hypotheses about certain stylistic effects to be properly formulated and tested. In general, it has been argued that an aesthetic response is evoked when linguistic forms are used in a novel way. Our surprise at the unique and unexpected patterning of language forms leads us to focus on some aspect of the language per se rather than on simply the message being conveyed.

Several aspects of linguistic form can contribute to the stylistic effects in a text, from the physical qualities of the speech sounds to the configuration of the syntactic forms deployed. For example, the phonetic qualities of the words chosen, and the patterns created thereby, can be important in conveying a particular aesthetic effect. It has even been suggested that the physical aspects of speech sounds possess intrinsic symbolic qualities quite separate from their arbitrary occurrence in words. Thus, Otto Jespersen, a pre-eminent linguist of his day, argued in 1922 that so-called back vowels symbolize dislike, scorn or disgust in English. Hence the frequent occurrence of back vowels in words such as ‘blunder’, ‘clumsy’, ‘dull’ and ‘slum’. Although it is not difficult to find counter-examples (for example, ‘snug’, ‘cuddle’ and ‘hug’), the belief in sound symbolism has persisted in various forms and is not as easy to dismiss as might first appear. In some cases acoustic properties can be cited which correlate with the symbolic qualities commonly ascribed to them. For example, the common description of sounds like t, k, p as hard or sharp can be traced, at least in part, to the timing of vocal cord vibrations and the particular configuration of muscular tension in the vocal apparatus which feature in the production of these sounds. The study of sound symbolism is but one branch of stylistics, demonstrating the value of a methodical approach to the influence of language use on the aesthetic qualities of a text. MS

Further reading G. Turner, Stylistics.



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