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John D. Niles

The human capacity for oral communication is superbly well developed. While other animals produce meaningful sounds, most linguists agree that only human beings are possessed of true language, with its complex grammar. Moreover, only humans have the ability to tell stories, with their contrary-to-fact capabilities. This fact has momentous implications for the complexity of the oral communications that humans can produce, not just in conversation but also in a wide array of artistic genres. It is likewise true that only human beings enjoy the benefits of literacy; that is, only humans have developed technologies that enable the sounds of speech to be made visible and construed through one or another type of graphemic representation. Although orality is as innate to the human condition as is breathing or walking, competence in literacy requires training, and it has traditionally been the accomplishment of an educated elite. Correspondingly, the transmutation of oral art forms into writing—that is, the production of what can be called “oral literature”—is a relatively rare and special phenomenon compared with the ease with which people cultivate those art forms themselves. All the same, a large amount of the world’s recorded literature appears to be closely related to oral art forms, deriving directly from them in some instances. Literature of this kind is an oral/literary hybrid. It can fittingly be called “literature of the third domain,” for while it differs in character from literature produced in writing by well-educated people, the fact that it exists in writing distinguishes it from oral communication, even though it may closely resemble oral art forms in its stylized patterning. Understanding the nature of that hybridity requires an engagement not just with the dynamics of oral tradition but also with the processes by which written records of oral art forms are produced. In former days, this was through the cooperative efforts of speakers, scribes, and editors. Since the early 20th century, innovative technologies have opened up new possibilities of representation, not just through print but also through video and audio recordings that preserve a facsimile of the voice. Nevertheless, problems relating to the representation of oral art forms via other media are endemic to the category of oral literature and practically define it as such.


Andrea Macrae

“Discourse” is language in use, and discourse analysis is the study of language in use. Language occurs, reflects, and is interpreted within social and ideological contexts. In turn, language constructs social realities, relationships, and power structures. Discourse analysis explores those functions, operations, and powers of discourse, in texts and other forms of communication events, investigating the ways in which discourse becomes meaningful. It focuses on how implicatures arise in relation to the contexts in which discourse functions. Discourse analysis is particularly interested in the interpersonal dimensions of discourse and in the social relationships and positions constructed through discourse. Discourse analysis has chiefly been informed by text linguistics and pragmatics, though its applications span many disciplines, from geography to psychology, and from literature to politics. This is partly because discourse is a universal and transdisciplinary phenomenon, and partly because many disciplines are asking similar research questions of the discourses and discursive constructs with which they engage. While traditional discourse analysis can be loosely divided into text-focused and speech-focused domains, many discourse phenomena occur across modes, and many discourse analytic approaches are likewise relevant across modes. Discourse is also being recognized as inherently (and in some areas increasingly) multimodal, opening up new avenues of study. Discourse analysis is essentially a critically reflexive field. It is motivated by an interest in social structures and ideologies underscoring discourses and discourse practices and also in social structures and ideologies embedded within discourse analytical stances. This criticality makes it a crucially important tool for the 21st-century era of instant global sharing of discourse, of easily digitally manipulable multimedia discourse, and of “post-truth” Western discourses of political power.


Michael Toolan

Literary stylistics is a practice of analyzing the language of literature using linguistic concepts and categories, with the goal of explaining how literary meanings are created by specific language choices and patterning, the linguistic foregrounding, in the text. While stylistics has periodically claimed to be objective, replicable, inspectable, falsifiable and rigorous, and thus quasi-scientific, subjective interpretation is an ineradicable element of such textual analysis. Nevertheless, the best stylistic analyses, which productively demonstrate direct relations between prominent linguistic forms and patterns in a text and the meanings or effects readers experience, are explicit in their procedures and argumentation, systematic, and testable by independent researchers. Stylistics is an interdiscipline situated between literary studies and linguistics, and from time to time has been shunned by both, who for decades predicted its decline if not disappearance. The opposite has happened; stylistics is flourishing, and some of its proponents argue that it offers more authentic and relevant literary studies than much of what goes on in university literature departments. Equally, some stylisticians see their work as a more coherent linguistics, adapted to a particular purpose, than much of the abstract linguistics pursued by academic linguists. In recent years, stylistics has been reanimated by adoption and adaptation of ideas sourced in cognitive linguistics and by the increasingly easy creation of huge corpora of languages in digital, machine-searchable form; these two developments have given rise to various forms of cognitive stylistics and corpus stylistics. In the early decades of the 21st century, one of the most exciting strands of work in stylistics is exploring kinds of iconicity in literary texts: passages of language that can be seen to enact or perform the effects or meanings the text is intent on conveying.


Julie Thompson Klein

The relationship of interdisciplinarity and literary theory is marked by the boundary work of competing practices deemed inside and outside of the discipline, conflicting claims of specialization and generality, and shifting representations of the concept of interdisciplinarity. The line between text and context has been a recurring point of debate, amplified by tensions between traditional practices and new approaches. The earliest warrants for interdisciplinarity included a synoptic view of knowledge and the social and moral purpose of literary education. Even after institutionalization of the modern system of disciplinarity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, advocates upheld related claims. Other interests, though, were also apparent, including the practice of borrowing from social sciences, the synchronic paradigm of periodization, interart criticism, and the work of polymaths who posited a broad view of culture. Guides to practice published by the Modern Language Association from the late 1960s through the early 1980s reinforced the power of intrinsic criticism. Yet, as new interests beyond formalist criticism took root, representation of interdisciplinarity changed. The 1992 guide was marked by a heterogeneity of movements that broadened the scope of literary study while shifting theorization of interdisciplinarity in literary studies from earlier warrants to critique and historical, political, and sociological turns in scholarship. Transdisciplinary and transnational redrawings of boundaries are extending the scope of both interdisciplinarity and literary theory. Counter to popular characterization of movements rising and falling, hybrid methodologies combine older and newer approaches, such as combining close readings of texts or deconstructionist analysis with questions of gender or power. Relations of literary studies with other disciplines and interdisciplinary fields also exhibit a growing momentum for intersectionality apparent in the 2007 guide to practice.