Focus on stylistics

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Stylistics is generally the study of style as used in written and spoken language, with style referring to the particular ways in which language is used in a given text. In written work, the writer chooses specific ways of presenting their work and the specific ways become style.

Stylistics is about the distinct styles that are in a particular written text or utterance. Mills (1995) defines stylistics as the analysis of the language in literary texts, usually taking its theoretical modes from linguistics. In other words stylistics is a method of interpreting text by identifying patterns of language usage in writing and in speech.

Method in this instance is referring to style. Lucas (1955) defines style as, “The effective use of language, especially in prose, whether to make statements or to rouse emotions. It involves first of all the power to put fact with clarity and brevity.”

Therefore, style becomes the way in which a text is written, and the various choices of linguistic features that help the writer or the speaker communicate with their target audiences.

It is of paramount importance that we study stylistics due to a number of positive rationales. Below are some of the reasons why studying stylistics is very important. Firstly, stylistics helps us to explore language and enriches our way of thinking about language. Simpson (2003) says “to do stylistics is to explore language, and, more specifically to explore creativity in language use.”

Thus stylistics helps us see language with an investigative eye which makes us deepen and improve our ways of thinking about language. For example, the use of deviation in text, which is the moving away from the norms of writing, creates a new world in the mind of the reader. The reader gets to see the ordinary in a different perspective.

This can for instance be effectively done by trans-positioning words without breaking the grammatical rules e.g.
[You are still the one that I dream of (norm)]
[The one that I dream of, you still are (deviated)]

This makes it novel, the norm is rejuvenated to a new life with deviation adding flavour hence an improved taste. Deviation thus breathes life into the ordinary such that it is perceived from unusual perspective.
Secondly, studying stylistics increases the reader or student’s awareness of different features of language and the way in which they are employed in various types of texts with different effects. Each text is written in a unique way as different styles are employed differently. Stylistics then helps one to be able to differentiate the differences in texts and at the same time noting the effects brought about by the employment of language features differently.

For instance, the use of stylistics devices such as imagery, metaphors, personification et cetera, helps in grouping and categorising works of literature for easy access and analysis. Works of literature can then be grouped by genres e.g. satire as portrayed by the play, ‘The show isn’t over until’ by Vickson Tablah Hangula and novels such as Animal Farm by George Orwell, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Candide by Voltaire.

Thirdly, stylistics improves one’s analytical skills at both linguistic and literary levels. Analysing any text becomes very easy as one becomes aware of how and why certain language features have been employed. This will improve one’s general linguistics performance. This also helps in the appreciation of texts and increases one’s enjoyment.

Doing stylistics enriches our ways of thinking about language and, as observed, exploring language offers a substantial purchase on our understanding of (literary) texts (Simpson, 2004). Stylistics enables one to enjoy literary text through developing an understanding of how literary texts work.

One can distinguish a sonnet from other poems because of its distinct fourteen lines unlike other poems that have a number of stanzas with a certain number of lines in each stanza. One can never know that a sonnet is a poem with fourteen distinct lines in one stanza unless they get exposed to stylistics.

Fourthly, exposure to stylistics means exposure to different ways of using language. Thus stylistics increases capabilities in creative writing. By studying stylistics one gets the ideas of how language can be used differently and effectively in texts.  One gets to know how, why and when to use a language feature. This betters the appropriateness of language usage in creative writing. In creative writing, it is all about creativity, but the creativity must be the one that conforms to specific standards or expected levels of creativity.

For instance if one is writing their autobiography, it has to take the first person narrative as the basic style, that is, the constant use of “I”  as noted in the autobiographical texts Incidents in the life of a slave girl  by Harriet Jacobs and Taming my elephant by Tshiwa Trudie Amulungu.

Lastly, stylistics enables one to interact meaningfully well with a text. It opens one’s mind to a variety of dimensions to a particular literary text. Stylistics in other words becomes the umbilical cord that links the text to the reader and vice versa.

The reader is able to temporarily migrate into the text’s setting and become one of the characters though not taking part but just being an observer as the story unfolds.

In a text like Mama Namibia by Mari Serebrov, the reader can easily join the OvaHerero people and become a spectating member of the happenings in that setting. Thus a link is established between the reader and the text and its characters.

Coletta Kandemiri is a Master of Arts in English Studies student in the Department of Languages and Literature Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia. colettakandemiri173@gmail.com

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