Podcast. Научное сочинение на английском языке
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On literary style

 

In the last chapter it was argued that in order to be fully adequate a theory of style must be capable of application to both literary and non-literary uses of language. It was further maintained that this distinction between uses, even though in no sense an absolute distinction, is not a factitious one; and evidence was adduced to show that it is both real, and, moreover, essential to the study of stylistic theory and method.

At this point, it becomes necessary as a preliminary exercise to review some of the more influential ways in which the term "style" has been used in the past. This review must be undertaken for two reasons: first, to ensure that the definition of style which it is hoped to arrive at in this book may be seen in a proper relation to other relevant definitions put forward in the past; and second, so that a number of theoretical confusions implicit in some of those definitions may be identified and cleared from the path of argument.

Style has often been seen as some kind of additive by which a basic content of thought may be modified. Stated in a somewhat different way this view of style sees it as the variable means by which a fixed message may be communicated in a more effective — or, possibly, less effective — manner. The danger of too uncritical an assumption of these and similar notions of style is that they accept as axiomatic the possibility of distinguishing between a thought in some prelinguistic form and the same thought as it issues in words.

That individual writers or speakers may in certain circumstances be identified through specimens of their discourse has given rise to another highly influential notion of style — as a set of individual characteristics. Taken to extremes, this view ends up by equating an individual with his style: the style is said to be the man. More moderately, and more usefully, the notion has been applied to some sub-set of the total linguistic characteristics rather than to the whole observable range. But even when so restricted, there remains a danger here: many striking stylistic features may not be the property of one individual at all. They may belong to and identify a group of people. A notion that concentrates exclusively on the individual may wrongly identify as the property of a single writer stylistic traits which should rightly be used to relate him to other writers.

Style as a group-identifying phenomenon is of course an idea which in its turn has had wide currency. And as the corrective for an over-simple conception of individual style it is extremely valuable. It is valuable too in the study of non-literary uses of language, where the linguistic habits characteristic of groups that are also definable by non-linguistic criteria — such as scientists, lawyers, lecturers, and those on intimate terms with each other — are very often of the greatest interest to the stylistician.

Moreover, this concept of style has received wide application in literary studies, as the basis of attempts to define the salient linguistic features of literary genres. But it is in literary studies that its chief deficiency shows up most sharply — a deficiency which is the obverse of that found in the definition of style as a set of individual characteristics: to see style as a function of group activity may dissipate efforts to discover which features of a writer's language can really be said to mark him as unique. The identification of the unique is, after all, at the centre of literary studies.