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The notions of encoding and decoding. Stylistics of the author and of the reader.


General problems of stylistics

1. General Notes on Styles and Stylistics

2. Major Scholars and Landmarks of Stylistics Development as a Science.

3. Decoding and encoding stylistics.

4. Different branches of stylistics: literary and linguostylistics, stylistics of language and speech

5. Expressive Means (EM) and Stylistic Devices (SD)

General Notes on Styles and Stylistics

To define the limits of stylistics it is necessary to state what we mean under its main term – style. This word is of Latin origin derived from the word stiluswhich meant a short sharp stick used by the Romans for writing on wax tablets. Stylistics comes from French “Stylistique” -instrument for writing.

Now the word style is used in many senses that is why it has become a permanent source of ambiguity. It may denote:

- The correspondence between thought and expression ;

- An individual manner of making use of language ;

- The set of rules how to write a composition – sometimes style is associated with very simple notions like “style is the man himself (Buffon 18thc.)


The subject of stylistics has so far not been definitely outlined. This is due to a number of reasons. First of all there is confusion between the terms style and stylistics. The first concept is so broad that it is hardly possible to regard it as a term. We speak of style in architecture, literature, behavior, linguistics, dress and other fields of human activity.

Major Scholars and Landmarks of Stylistics Development as a Science.

Some scholars claim that stylistics is a comparatively new branch of linguistics, which has only a few decades of intense linguistic interest behind it. The term stylistics really came into existence not too long ago.

The problem that makes the definition of stylistics a curious one deals both with the object and material of studies. Another problem has to do with a whole set of special linguistic means that create what we call ‘style’. Style may be belles–letters or scientific or neutral or low colloquial or archaic or pompous, or a combination of those. Style may also be typical of a certain writer – Shakespearean style, Dickensian style, etc. There is the style of the press, the style of official documents, the style of social etiquette and even an individual style of a speaker or writer – his idiolect.

Some linguists consider that the word “style” and the subject of linguistic stylistics are confined to the study of the effects of the message, its impact on the reader. Stylistics in this case is regarded as a language science which deals with the results of the act of communication.

Stylistics deals with styles. Different scholars have defined style differently at different times. Out of this variety we shall quote the most representative ones.

In 1971 Prof. I.R. Galperin offered his definition of style ‘as a system of interrelated language means which serves a definite aim in communication.’

According to Prof. Y.M. Skrebnev, whose book on stylistics was published in 1994, ‘style is what differentiates a group of homogeneous texts (an individual text) from all groups (other texts) … Style can be roughly defined as the peculiarity, the set of specific features of a text type or of a specific text.’

All these definitions point out the systematic and functionally determined character of the notion of style.

The authors of handbooks on German, English and Russian stylistics published in our country over the recent decades propose more or less analogous system of styles based on a broad subdivision of all styles into two classes: literary and colloquial and their varieties. These generally include from three to five functional styles.

Stylistics– is a branch of general linguistics. It deals with 2 interdependent objectives

 Investigation of special language media which secure the desirable effect of the utterance – they are called stylistic devices(SD) and expressive means(EM). Stylistics studies the nature, functions and structure of SDs and EMs

 The second field of investigation is concerned with certain types of texts which due to the choice and arrangement of language means are distinguished by the pragmatic aspect of communication. These types are called functional styles of language.

In dealing with the objectives of stylistics one should mention its close interrelations with other sciences and disciplines such as theory of information, literature criticism, psychology, logic and even to some extent statistics.

Thus , stylistics - is a science, a branch of linguistics, investigating principles and the results of selection and use of lexical, grammatical, phonetic and other language means for the transfer of thoughts and emotions under different circumstances of communication.

Therefore, stylisticsis concerned with such issues as :

1) aesthetic function of language (inherent in poetry and prose);

2) expressive means in language (with the purpose of effecting the reader: poetry, fiction, oratory, rarely in technical texts);

3) synonymous ways of rendering one and the same idea;

4) emotional colouring in language (with the aim to make a text a highly lyrical or satirical piece of description);

5) a system of special devices called stylistic devices;

6) splitting of the literary language into separate systems called style (also with sub–standard speech as slang, barbarisms, vulgarisms, taboo, etc.);

7) interrelation between language and thought (this is the subject of decoding stylistics);

8) individual manner of an author in making use of the language (a unique combination of language units, expressive means and stylistic devices peculiar to a given writer, which makes the writer’s works or even utterances easily recognizable).


Riffatere (1964): stylistics - a linguistics of the effects of the message of the output of the act of communication, namely of its attention-compelling function.

Since the aim of communication is transmitting certain information, stylistics may be said to border on the theory of information. The latter can be of 2 kinds:

Denotative – concerned with the essence of the utterance

Connotative – dealing with or reflecting the attitude of the interlocutors to what is being said and to the conditions of communication. This information refers to emotive, expressive, evaluative and functional components of human speech.

Stylistics description and analysis aim at investigation of interdependence and interrelation between these 2 types of information contained in the text. Michael Riffatere enlarges upon his definition of stylistics in terms of the theory of information: “Stylistics is a science studying those aspects of the utterance, which transfer to the Receptor decoding the text the mode of thinking peculiar to the Source”. Thus the term decoding stylisticshas appeared. Its main theoretician in this country was I.V.Arnold from St.Petersburg University.


The notions of encoding and decoding. Stylistics of the author and of the reader.

Decoding stylistics is the most recent trend in stylistic research that employs theoretical findings in such areas of science as information theory, psychology, statistical studies in combination with linguistics, literary theory, history of art, literary criticism, etc.

Decoding stylistics helps the reader in his or her understanding of a literary work by explaining or decoding the information that may be hidden from immediate view in specific allusions, cultural or political parallels, peculiar use of irony or euphemism, etc.
The term ‘decoding stylistics’ came from the application of the theory of information to linguistics by such authors as M. Riffatrre, R. Jacobson, P. Guiraud, F. Danes, Y. Lotman, I. V. Arnold and others.

In a rather simplified version this theory presents a creative process in the following mode. The writer receives diverse information from the outside world. Some of it becomes a source for his creative work. He processes this information and recreates it in his own esthetic images that become a vehicle to pass his vision to the addressee, his readers. The process of internalizing of the outside information and translating it into his imagery is called ‘encoding’.

The reader is supposed to decode the information contained in the text of a literary work.
However to encode the information does not mean to have it delivered or passed intact to the recipient. There are more obstacles here than meet the eye. In contrast to the writer who is always concrete the reader who is addressed is in fact an abstract notion, he is any of the thousands of people who may read this book. This abstract reader may not be prepared or willing to decode the message or even take it. The reasons are numerous and various.

In M. Tsvetaeva’s essay «Poets on Critics» in which she maintains that reading is co-creative work on the part of the reader if he wants to understand and enjoy a work of art. Reading is not so much a hobby done at leisure as solving a kind of puzzle. What is reading but divining, interpreting, unraveling the mystery, wrapped in between the lines, beyond the words, she writes. So if the reader has no imagination no book stands a chance.

From the reader’s point of view the important thing is not what the author wanted to say but what he managed to convey in the text of his work. That’s why decoding stylistics deals with the notions of stylistics of the author and stylistics of the reader. Essential concepts of decoding stylistic analysis and types of foregrounding

Decoding stylistics investigates the levels phonetic, graphical, lexical, and grammatical. It studies expressive means provided by each level not as isolated devices that demonstrate some stylistic function but as a part of the general pattern on the background of relatively lengthy segments of the text, from a paragraph to the level of the whole work. The underlying idea implies that stylistic analysis can only be valid when it takes into account the overall concept and aesthetic system of the author reflected in his writing.

Ideas, events, characters, emotions and an author’s attitudes are all encoded in the text through language. The reader is expected to perceive and decipher these things by reading and interpreting the text. Decoding stylistics is actually the reader’s stylistics that is engaged in recreating the author’s vision of the world with the help of concrete text elements and their interaction throughout the text.

One of the fundamental concepts of decoding stylistics is foregrounding. The essence of this concept consists in the following. Foregrounding means a specific role that some language items play in a certain context when the reader’s attention cannot but be drawn to item. In a literary text such items become stylistically marked features that build up its stylistic function.
There are certain modes of language use and arrangement to achieve the effect of foregrounding. It may be based on various types of deviation or redundancy or unexpected combination of language units, etc.

However decoding stylistics laid down a few principal methods that ensure the effect of foregrounding in a literary text. Among them we can name convergence of expressive means, irradiation, defeated expectancy, coupling, semantic fields, semi-marked structures.

6. Different branches of stylistics: literary and linguostylistics, stylistics of language and speech

a) Literary and linguistic stylistics, comparative stylistics, decoding stylistics and functional stylistics.

I. According to the type of stylistic research we can distinguish literary stylistics and lingua-stylistics(linguistic stylistics). Both have common objects of research. Both study the common ground of:

1) the literary language from the point of view of its variability;

2) the idiolect of a writer;

3) poetic speech that has its own specific laws.


But they differ in points of analysis. Lingua–stylistics studies

  • functional styles ;
  • the linguistic nature of the expressive means of the language, their systematic character and their functions.

The subjects of Literary Stylistics are:

· composition of a work of art

· various literary genres

· writer’s outlook.


So, linguostylistics investigates expressive means of a language and literary stylistics studies the ways these expressive means are employed by a definite author, literary trend or genre.


II. Comparative stylisticsdeals with the contrastive study of more than one language. It analyses the stylistic resources not inherent in a separate language but at the crossroads of two languages, or two literatures and is linked to the theory of translation.

III. Decoding stylistics

A comparatively new branch of stylistics is the decoding stylistics, which can be traced back to the works of L.V. Shcherba, B.A. Larin, M. Riffaterre, R. Jackobson and other scholars of the Prague linguistic circle. A serious contribution into this branch of stylistic study was also made by Prof. I.V.Arnold.

Each act of speech has the performer, or sender of speech and the recipient. The former does the act of encoding and the latter the act of decoding the information.

If we analyze the text from the author’s (encoding) point of view we should consider the epoch, the historical situation, and personal, political, social and aesthetic views of the author.

But if we try to treat the same text from the reader’s angle of view, we shall have to disregard this background knowledge and get the maximum information from the text itself (its vocabulary, composition, sentence arrangement, etc.). The first approach manifests the prevalence of the literary analysis. The second is based almost exclusively on the linguistic analysis. Decoding stylistics is an attempt to harmoniously combine the two methods of stylistic research and enable the scholar to interpret a work of art with a minimum loss of its purport and message.


IV. Functional stylistics


Functional stylistics is a branch of lingua–stylistics that investigates functional styles, that is special sublanguages or varieties of the national language such as scientific, colloquial, business, publicist and so on.

However many types of stylistics may exist or spring into existence they will all consider the same source material for stylistic analysis – sounds, words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and texts. That’s why any kind of stylistic research will be based on the level–forming branches that include:

  • Stylistic lexicology

Stylistic Lexicology studies the semantic structure of the word and the interrelation (or interplay) of the connotative and denotative meanings of the word, as well as the interrelation of the stylistic connotations of the word and the context. Lexical stylistics – studies functions of direct and figurative meanings, also the way contextual meaning of a word is realized in the text. Lexical stylistics deals with various types of connotations – expressive, evaluative, emotive; neologisms, dialectal words and their behavior in the text. Lexicological stylistics studies the principles of the usage of words and word combinations performing their expressive functions.

· Stylistic phonetics (or phonostylistics) is engaged in the study of style–forming phonetic features of the text. Phonostylistics – phonetical organization of prose and poetic texts. Here are included rhythm, rhythmical structure, rhyme, alliteration, assonance and correlation of the sound form and meaning. Also studies deviation in normative pronunciation. Phonostylistics shows how separate sounds, sound combinations, stress, rhythm, intonation, etc. can serve as expressive means. It describes the features of prose and poetry and variants of pronunciation in different types of speech (colloquial or oratory or recital).


· Stylistic grammar is subdivided into morphological and syntactical

· Stylistic morphologyis interested in the stylistic potentials of specific grammatical forms and categories, such as the number of the noun, or the peculiar use of tense forms of the verb, etc.

· Stylistic syntaxis one of the oldest branches of stylistic studies that grew out of classical rhetoric.. Syntactical stylistics studies syntactic, expressive means, word order and word combinations, different types of sentences and types of syntactic connections. Also deals with origin of the text, its division on the paragraphs, dialogs, direct and indirect speech, the connection of the sentences, types of sentences. Syntactical stylistics – the expressive values of the sentences, their structure as well as texts and speech flow. Stylistic syntax has to do with the expressive order of words, types of syntactic links (asyndeton – the omission of conjunctions, polysyndeton – the use of a number of conjunctions in close succession), figures of speech (antithesis – opposition or contrast of ideas, notions, qualities in the parts of one sentence or in different sentences; chiasmus – inversion of the second of two parallel phrases or clauses, etc.).

b) Stylistics of language and stylistics of speech

Their difference lies in the material studied. The stylistics of language analyses permanent or inherent stylistic properties of language elements while the stylistics of speech studies stylistic properties, which appear in a context, and they are called adherent. Russian words like толмач, штудировать, соизволять or English words prevaricate, comprehend, lass are bookish or archaic and these are their inherent properties. The unexpected use of any of these words in a modern context will be an adherent stylistic property. So stylistics of language describes and classifies the inherent stylistic colouring of language units.

Stylistics of speech studies the composition of the utterance – the arrangement, selection and distribution of different words, and their adherent qualities (Т.A. Znamenskaya)


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