Language and Linguistics


What is stylistics and what is style?

What is stylistics and what is style?

stylistics is the science that studies the style of linguistic expression, in simpler words it is the science that studies literary language, from this we can deduce that there can be style without stylistics but stylistics cannot live without and ah
the style, since the latter is its object of study.

Historical background

Among the first to express a stylistic interest in the field of rhetoric, is the Athenian speaker Isócrates (436-338 BC) who for many years exercised the profession of logograph (responsible for composing legal speeches), before reaching found a famous public speaking school. Always in ancient Greece, the Athenian philosopher Aristotle , in the Poetics (335-323a.C.) Of which we have only the part related to the tragedy and then in III book of the Retorica,it defines the three types of rhetorical discourse for which it is always necessary to choose the appropriate style so that the discourse is more effective and according to the answer; from there the concept is elaborated that will have validity in the course of the centuries and especially in the Middle Ages, of the 3 types of styles:

  • the low or humble represented by family language, prose and the most modest poetry;
  • the medium like the novel and narrative poetry;
  • the high or sublime like the oratory, the lyric, the epic and the tragedy.

Any literary expression will have to respect the parameters of the genre in question with few variations of a personal nature: this “ theory of three styles ” ( tria sunt omnino generates dicendi… ), which is more clearly defined, in the IV book of the “ Rhetorica ad Herennium ”of one of the most famous speakers of antiquity, the Roman Marco Tulio Cicerón (106-43 BC), where it is determined that the content, the recipient and the purpose of the text must be taken into account to choose the appropriate style as the grammarian of English origin Juan de Garlande (11th century) will summarize in the mnemonic instrument “ Rota Vergilii”, The wheel of Virgil, the Roman poet of the first century BC who in his three main works, the Bucolic , the Georgic and Aeneid, represented the three human types that correspond to the three styles (the pastor for the low-humble style; the farmer for the medium style and the nobleman for the high-sublime style). From the time of Romanticism , particularly in Germany, where it developed in its beginnings as a philosophical and philological movement, the concept of style assumes a subjective dimension, linked to the author and his time as a result of an individual artistic elaboration.

Guiraud defines the style as “the aspect of the statement that results from a choice of the means of expression determined by the nature and intentions of the subject who speaks or writes.” These means of expression are linked to:
1 ° The limits of the expression. – Style definitions differ depending on whether the expression is considered in the broadest sense of the word or in a limited sense:
  1. The art of the writer, which is the traditional sense, the conscious use of means of expression for aesthetic or literary purposes.
  2. The nature of the writer: it is spontaneity and, almost the impulsive unconsciousness through which the temperament and experience of man is demonstrated.
  3. Finally there is the totality of the work, which includes the attitude of man in the totality of his situation.
2 ° The limits of the means of expression . – Style is the use of “means of expression” and this term can be understood according to the following parameters:
  1. Grammar structures such as sounds, shapes, words, etc.
  2. The composition procedures; Here we find the forms of the verses, the genres and the description.
  3. Thought, including themes, worldviews and philosophical attitudes, among others.
3 ° The nature of the expression. – The linguistic communication will vary according to the effect that you want to produce in the interlocutor:
  1. Conceptual values, refer to a clear, logical and correct style.
  2. Expressive values It is an impulsive and childish style.
  3. Print values. It is the ironic and comic style.
4 ° The sources of the expression . – This is related to the above and in this way the following classifications are established.
  1. Psychophysiology of expression. Styles according to temperament, sex and age.
  2. Sociology of expression. The classic style of the various trades, of the provinces.
  3. Expression function It refers to the literary, administrative, oratory style, etc.
5th The aspect of the expression. – The following definitions arise from nature and sources:
  1. The form of the expression.
  2. The substance of the expression, the thought.
  3. The talking subject and his situation.


Bally differentiates three different types of stylistics :

GENERAL STYLISTICS is the one that tries to determine the general laws that govern the expression of thought in language. In “Stylistique et linguistique générale” (in Le Langage et la vie, 1952) Bally states:

«The task of Stylistics is to investigate what are the expressive modalities that, in a given period, serve to manifest the movements of thought and feeling of speaking subjects, and to study the effects produced spontaneously in the subjects who listen for the use of these types ».

Styling is therefore a synchronous description (“in a given period”) of the procedures available to every speaker to express their affections; The linguist must make a typology of «expressive modalities», which will be described both from the point of view of the source («the speaking subjects») and by the nature of the effects induced in the interlocutor after receiving the message.

Until all the languages ​​of the past and the present are studied, GENERAL STYLISTICS is considered as an impossible discipline, so that only IDIOMATIC STYLISTICS and INDIVIDUAL STYLISTICS can be addressed.


Each speaker has a unique use of their language. We have already seen that the expression of the speaker’s feelings can be of a social or individual type, and we can talk about individual feelings and social feelings, so that this social dimension implies belonging to a group, in which the subject who expresses himself puts himself in relation to the other members:

«It is possible to ask how and to what extent the language of an individual differs from the language of the whole group when it is in the same general conditions as the other members of the group. Each individual has their own way of using their mother tongue; […] These particularities are, in general, not very apparent, but they are not completely unimportant […] it is in this sense, and in this sense only, that one can speak of an individual stylistic » (1951)

While idealistic linguistics maintains that the aesthetic or creative intention accompanies all individual speech, that everyone who speaks is an artist , (with which there is no separation between individual stylistics and literary style), Bally, on the other hand, separates clearly both aspects, because the artist ” makes the language a voluntary and conscious use”,  so it seems convenient to leave this, and the literature as a whole, outside the stylistic.

Although Bally distinguishes between “style” and “stylistic,” he acknowledges that Individual Styling, within the framework of the common language, and Style, within the framework of literary language, rely on similar linguistic properties.

In “Stylistique et linguistique générale” (1952) states:

… literary expression, if abstraction is made of the aesthetic values ​​that belong to it, rests entirely on the expression of facts of sensitivity and on the impressions produced by language. (…) This penetration of language and sensitivity is not typical of literary expression only, is the mark of all spontaneous language; the writer is content to transfer the topics he finds in the language of the whole world to his use and to make them serve his purposes, which are aesthetic and individual, while everyone’s language is active and social. The task of Stylistics (…) is precisely, limited to the common language, to expose the germs of style, to show that the springs that actuate it are hidden in the most banal forms of the language.


Bally distinguishes, in the affective characters from the facts of expression, the natural effects and the effects by evocation.

– the natural effects would consist of a natural adaptation of the expression to the thought (for example, the onomatopoeia).

–Evocation effects occur when a linguistic form reflects the situations in which it is updated, and comes from the social group that uses it. It is all the differences in tone (family) or period, social environment, class …

Bally conceives stylistics as a study of affective, natural or evocative content, in the language of a social group.

Modern stylistics: descriptive, genetic and functional

The expressive capacities of the system that constitutes a language are the center of interest of that of the descriptive stylistic that originates from the structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure . His student and successor in the chair of comparative grammar at the University of Geneva, Charles Bally , in the last century, based on the thinking of his teacher, which is the dichotomy between the language ( langue : the system of conventional signs accepted by the collective) and speech, not so much interested in the system of signs, as in the expressive means of language that are the instruments that the speaker has to express feelings and emotions and thus defining three possible types of Stylistic : the general , the individual and the collective without but delving into the theme of literary style. Your general stylistic concept it is the study of the expressive modalities that in a given period, serve to manifest the movements of the thought and the feeling of the speaker and its effects on the listeners, but he himself considers this study impossible until he has a complete knowledge of all the languages ​​of the past and present; also the study of individual stylistics presents problems due to the subjectivity of the subject and Bally was dedicated, then to the study of collective stylistics or language, being particularly interested in the use of the common and non-literary language, with its connections between the form of expression and thought, a psychological and sociological study, where the speaker chooses the resources that the language offers him as the variation of intensity in the speech (interrogation-exclamation, etc.) or value judgments (admiring-derogatory) that manifest your emotions.

The descriptive stylistics as a school of French-Swiss thought, approach to literary analysis with the disciples of Bally , as Jules Marouzeau which advises the study of a single stylistic aspect that is manifested in a particular school or epoch without focusing on specific authors or Charles Bruneau that makes a distinction between pure stylistics of exclusive linguistic domain and applied stylistics where if the bases of the individual literary style are studied, ending with Marcel Cressot who does admit the study of literary work in this discipline, because literary expression represents a choice also linguistic

The genetic stylistic or generative term proposed by the French linguist Pierre Guiraud , to define a generally contrary to the theories of inhomogeneous group of critics, Bally , since they were devoted to the study of literary work. It is considered as an extension of German idealism (philosophical school that developed between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), in it, the thought of the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) predominates and can be divided into two large schools that are

the German philological school

of which the most important representatives are the German Karl Vossler (1872-1949), who thinks that language is always a creation of the individual expression to which, successively, social acceptance and rules such as grammar are added , which is a subordinate discipline regarding literature and stylistics ;

and the Austrian Leo Spitzer (1887-1960) who is dedicated to meticulous studies of authors’ texts in search of deviations from the norm, which are what constitute the style of an author: for him, literary language is the most creative and representative of the spirit of an era and its study allows us to approach the global culture of a nation. Its relevance in the field of literary criticism consists in having linked linguistics and the history of literature and thanks to its unusual scholarship, it was able to analyze different literatures with particular attention to the Spanish of the golden age .

the Spanish philological school with

Dámaso Alonso (1898-1990). As in the case of Spitzer , it is necessary to point out his erudite formation with a deep knowledge of literary works. His thinking develops along the lines of German idealism and Croce’s thinking (perception, intuition and expression on the same level), also accepting certain dichotomy extracted from Saussure and Bally . Dámaso Alonso identify three types of knowledge of the literary work, which are: the reader’s knowledge, based on a pure intuition, very close to that of the author; the critic’s knowledge, based on an aesthetic intuition and a poetic impression that the critic transmits to future readers and stylistic knowledge, which is the one that most closely matches scientific knowledge. For Dámaso Alonso, stylistics is the science of style and style is the peculiar, the differential of speech: its differences, with respect to Bally, are that stylistics takes into account all aspects of language (affective-conceptual-imaginative) and that ordinary and literary speech are only degrees of the same thing.

and Amado Alonso who synthesizes Bally’s language school with that of the German school’s speech in a stylistic style he calls ” Science of Styles ” that focuses on the product created that is the literary work and the creative force of the Author.

The functional or structural stylistics born from the 60s; It is difficult to define because it does not present the uniformity of a school. In its foundations it is presented as a link between Russian formalism and the structuralism of Russian linguist Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) where the literary text is analyzed in its functional structure, in the connection of all the parts in the set: the stylistic description of a text is the description of all its verbal properties at various levels (phonic, graphic, morphological, syntactic, lexical), stylistics is proposed as a global investigation of the text. His best known theory is a general model for linguistic communication that proposes the division of language functions into six parts:

  • Appellate or conative function : it is the function of the mandate and / or question; It is linked to the receptor that participates with its reaction and occurs when the recipient is intended to do something or not. Ex. Leave it ! – Call me tomorrow .-Butalso expressions like: I’m hungry ;
  • Referential , representative or informative function : it is related to the referent (object) and context and is clearly verifiable, it is objective information, used, for example, in scientific texts, to disseminate information, concepts. Ex. It’s raining – The bus leaves at six ;
  • Emotional or expressive function : it is used by the issuer to express their feelings, moods etc. Eg I feel happy – I like to wake up late ;
  • Aesthetic or poetic function: it focuses on the message using rhetorical figures in poetry and verbal language, focuses on the phonetics of words, the search for appropriate words and the construction of sentences citing as examples any repetitive advertising slogan . Jakobson’s examples is, in English: ” I like Ike “, motto of a US presidential campaign of the 50s (Dwight Eisenhower, called Ike);
  • Phatic or contact function : it is used to verify the operation of the contact channel between the receiving transmitter. Social contact is used to start, maintain and end a conversation like the phone ” Hello ” or thank – you understood – listen etc .;
  • Metalinguistic function : It focuses on the common code between sender and receiver in the conversation as: did you understand? – What are you talking about? – Donkey is written with B – the verb go is irregular -etc.

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