According to Katie Wales in A Dictionary of Stylistics, 2nd ed. (Pearson, 2001), "The goal of most stylistics is not simply to describe the formal features of texts for their own sake, but in order to show their functional significance for the interpretation of the text; or in order to relate literary effects to linguistic 'causes' where these are felt to be relevant."
There are various overlapping subdisciplines of stylistics, including literary stylistics, interpretive stylistics, evaluative stylistics, corpus stylistics, discourse stylistics, feminist stylistics, computational stylistics, and cognitive stylistics. See Examples and Observations, below.
For a list of terms that may be encountered in stylistic analysis, see Figures, Tropes, and Other Rhetorical Terms.
- Close Reading
- Discourse Analysis
- Forensic Linguistics
- What Is Linguistics?
Examples and Observations:
- "Stylistics, traditionally known as the study of literary texts using formal linguistic tools, can also be done via sophisticated computer-based applications. Some stylisticians quantitatively analyse large amounts of data and texts, not possible otherwise, and thus can provide answers to questions such as what is Dickens' writing style in his novels or how can one state, solely on the basis of textual evidence, that Milton or Shakespeare's works are historically arranged?"
(Saumya Sharma, “Language Wise.” The Times of India, July 8, 2013)
- "The preferred object of study in stylistics is literature, whether that be institutionally sanctioned "Literature' as high art or more popular 'noncanonical' forms of writing. The traditional connection between stylistics and literature brings with it two important caveats, though. The first is that creativity and innovation in language use should not be seen as the exclusive preserve of literary writing. Many forms of discourse (advertising, journalism, popular music--even casual conversation) often display a high degree of stylistic dexterity, such that it would be wrong to view dexterity in language use as exclusive to canonical literature. The second caveat is that the techniques of stylistic analysis are as much about deriving insights about linguistic structure and function as they are about understanding literary texts."
(Paul Simpson, Stylistics: A Resource Book for Students. Routledge, 2004)
- Rhetoric, Close Reading, and Stylistics
"Stylistics is, in a sense, the modern version of the ancient discipline known as 'rhetoric,' which taught its students how to structure an argument, how to make effective use of figures of speech, and generally how to pattern and vary a speech or a piece of writing so as to produce the maximum impact. . . .
"Stylistic analysis attempts to provide a commentary which is objective and scientific, based on concrete quantifiable data, and applied in a systematic way. . . . The specific differences between conventional close reading and stylistics include the following:
- Close reading emphasizes differences between literary language and that of the general speech community . . .. Stylistics, by contrast, emphasizes connections between literary language and everyday language. . . .
- Stylistics uses specialized technical terms and concepts which derive from the science of linguistics, terms like 'transitivity,' 'under-lexicalisation,' 'collocation,' and 'cohesion' . . ..
- Stylistics makes greater claims to scientific objectivity than does close reading, stressing that its methods and procedures can be learned and applied by all. Hence, its aim is partly the 'demystification' of both literature and criticism."
- Aims of Stylistic Analysis
"Stylistic analysis, unlike more traditional forms of practical criticism, is not interested primarily in coming up with new and startling interpretations of the texts it examines. Rather, its main aim is to explicate how our understanding of a text is achieved, by examining in detail the linguistic organization of the text and how a reader needs to interact with that linguistic organization to make sense of it. Often, such a detailed examination of a text does reveal new aspects of interpretation or help us to see more clearly how a text achieves what it does. But the main purpose of stylistics is to show how interpretation is achieved, and hence provide support for a particular view of the work under discussion. . . . [T]he 'news' comes from knowing explicitly something that you had only understood intuitively, and from understanding in detail how the author has constructed the text so that it works on us in the way that it does."
(Mick Short, "Understanding Conversational Undercurrents in 'The Ebony Tower' by John Fowles." Twentieth-Century Fiction: From Text to Context, edited by Peter Verdonk and Jean Jacques Weber. Routledge, 1995)
- Cognitive Stylistics
"Cognitive stylistics combines the kind of explicit, rigorous and detailed linguistic analysis of literary texts that is typical of the stylistics tradition with a systematic and theoretically informed consideration of the cognitive structures and processes that underlie the production and reception of language. . . .
"What is new about cognitive stylistics is the way in which linguistic analysis is systematically based on theories that relate linguistic choices to cognitive structures and processes. This provides more systematic and explicit accounts of the relationship between texts on the one hand and responses and interpretations on the other."
(Elena Semino and Jonathan Culpeper, Foreword to Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis. John Benjamins, 2002)