Applied Linguistics

Stylistics definition and examples/approaches/examples


Stylistics is a branch of applied linguistics that studies the style in texts, especially in literary works. It focuses on figures, tropes, and other rhetorical strategies that produce a particularly expressive or literary style. In itself, this discipline is responsible for the description and analysis of the variability of linguistic forms in the use of language. Stylistics definition and examples

The distinctive use of these forms provides variety and a unique voice to written and oral speech. Now, the concepts of style and stylistic variation in language are based on the general assumption that, within the language system, the same content can be encoded in more than one linguistic form.

On the other hand, a stylistic professional operates at all linguistic levels: lexicology, syntax, and linguistics of the text, among others. The style of specific texts is analyzed, in addition to the stylistic variation across the texts.

Also, there are several sub-disciplines overlapping with this linguistic branch. These include literary stylistics, interpretive stylistics, evaluative stylistics, corpus stylistics, discourse stylistics, and others.

What does stylistics study?

Stylistics is the study of style. However, just as style can be viewed in various ways, there are different stylistic approaches. This variety is due to the influence of the different branches of linguistics and literary criticism.

In many ways, stylistics is an interdisciplinary study of textual interpretations, using an understanding of language and an understanding of social dynamics.

On the other hand, the most common type of material studied is literary, and the focus is especially on the text. The goal of most stylistic studies is to show how a text “works.”

However, it is not only a question of describing its formal characteristics but of showing its functional meaning for the interpretation of the text or to relate the effects or literary themes with the linguistic mechanisms. Stylistics definition and examples

Stylistics works on the assumption that each linguistic feature in a text has potential importance.

Different approaches to style

1-Choice of language media

Some consider style as an option. In this sense, there is a multitude of stylistic factors that lead the language used to prefer certain linguistic forms over others.

These factors can be grouped into two categories: factors related to the user and factors that refer to the situation in which the language is used.

Factors linked to the user include the age of the speaker or writer, their gender, idiosyncratic preferences, regional and social background, among others.

The stylistic factors linked to the circumstance depend on the communication situation: medium (spoken or written), participation (monologue or dialogue), level of formality, the field of discourse (technical or non-technical), and others. Stylistics its approaches and examples

2-Deviation from the norm Stylistics definition and examples

Style as a deviation from the norm is a concept traditionally used in literary stylistics. From this discipline, it is considered that literary language deviates more from the norm than non-literary language. Stylistics definition and examples

Now, this refers not only to formal structures — such as meter and rhyme in poems — but to unusual linguistic preferences in general that an author’s poetic license allows.

On the other hand, what really constitutes the “norm” is not always explicit in literary stylistics. Doing this would involve analyzing a large collection of non-literary texts.

3-Recurrence of linguistic forms

The concept of style as a recurrence of linguistic forms is closely related to a probabilistic and statistical understanding of style. In turn, this relates to the perspective of deviation from the norm.

By focusing on the actual use of language, one cannot help but describe only characteristic trends that are based on implicit norms and undefined statistical data on given situations and genres.

Ultimately, stylistic characteristics remain flexible and do not follow rigid rules, as style is not a matter of grammaticality but of appropriateness.

What is appropriate in a given context can be inferred from the frequency of the linguistic mechanisms used in that specific context.

4-Comparison Stylistics definition and examples

Style as a comparison puts into perspective a central aspect of the previous approaches: stylistic analysis always requires an implicit or explicit comparison. Stylistics its approaches and examples

Thus, it is necessary to compare the linguistic characteristics of several specific texts, or to contrast a collection of texts and a given norm.

In this way, stylistically relevant features, such as style markers, can convey a local stylistic effect. An example of this may be the use of an isolated technical term in everyday communication.

Also, in the case of recurrence or concurrence, a global stylistic pattern is transmitted. This is the case, for example, of specialized vocabulary and the use of the impersonal form in scientific texts.

Background and history Stylistics definition and examples

1-Classical antiquity

The origins of stylistics can be traced back to the poetics (especially rhetoric) of the ancient classical world. What is known today as the style was called lexis by the Greeks and elocutio by the Romans.

Until the Renaissance, the idea prevailed that style mechanisms could be classified. So a writer or speaker only had to use model sentences and literary tropes appropriate for their type of speech.

2-Russian formalism

At the beginning of the 20th century, the modern concept of stylistics emerged. The Russian Formalists contributed decisively to the source of this development.

These scholars wanted the literary scholarship to be more scientific. They also wanted to discover what gave their essence to poetic texts. To achieve this, they presented their structuralist ideas.

Some topics studied were the poetic function of language, the parts that make up the stories and the repetitive or universal elements within those stories, and how literature and art deviate from the norm.

3-Prague school and functionalism

Russian formalism disappeared in the early 1930s but continued in Prague under the title of structuralism. The Prague School slowly moved away from formalism towards functionalism.

Thus, the context was included in the creation of textual meaning. This paved the way for much of the styling that occurs today. The text, the context, and the reader are the center of stylistic scholarship.


Today, modern stylistics uses the tools of formal linguistic analysis, along with the methods of literary criticism.

Its aim is to try to isolate the characteristic uses and functions of language and rhetoric, rather than offering normative or prescriptive rules and patterns. Stylistics definition and examples

Examples of linguistic stylistics Stylistics definition and examples

Below is a list of work done on stylistics in different areas:

  • From Text to Context: How English Stylistics Works in Japanese (2010), by M. Teranishi.
  • Stylistics (linguistics) in the novels of William Golding (2010), by A. Mehraby.
  • A stylistic study of cohesive features in prose-fiction in English with some pedagogical implications for non-native contexts (1996), by B. Behnam. Stylistics its approaches and examples
  • The stylistics of fiction: a literary-linguistic approach (1991), by M. Toolan.
  • Structure and stylistics in the short works of Shiga Naoya (Japan) (1989), by S. Orbaugh.

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