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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.