Stylistics: studying literary and everyday style in English

Dan McIntyre, Hazel Price

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Stylistics refers to the linguistic study of style in language. This chapter is an introduction to stylistics that focuses particularly on how it can be used to study style in both literary and everyday language. Our discussion focuses primarily on foregrounding theory, which emerged out of the work of the Russian Formalist School of literary criticism. Foregrounding Theory predicts that the elements of a text that readers will pay attention to and imbue with particular significance are those elements that deviate from some perceived norm. In summarising the notion of foregrounding, we explain the underpinning concepts of deviation and parallelism before going on to consider experimental support for the theory. We then discuss recent work in cognitive and corpus stylistics, demonstrating how foregrounding is also at the heart of these contemporary approaches to studying style. We then deal with two particularly problematic issues for stylistics: (i) the issue of literariness, and (ii) the concept of objectivity. With regard to (i), we argue that the terms literary and non-literary stylistics are unhelpful as a result of their ambiguity. With regard to (ii), we discuss the importance of objectivity to stylistics and show how the concept has been misconstrued by non-linguistically inclined literary critics. We end with a discussion of possible future directions for stylistics, paying particular attention to the potential for stylistics to be used in the analysis of multimodal texts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of English Languages Studies
EditorsPhilip Seargeant, Ann Hewings, Stephen Pihlaja
ISBN (Print)9781138913455
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Handbooks in English Language Studies

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