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ENG439: English Stylistics
Arts, English
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Unit 4: Types of Stylistics II
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1.0 Introduction

2.0 Objectives

3.0 Main Content

3.1 Reader-Response Stylistics

3.2 Affective Stylistics

3.3 Pragmatic Stylistics

3.4 Pedagogical Stylistics

3.5 Forensic Stylistics

4.0 Conclusion

5.0 Summary

6.0 Tutor-Marked Assignment

7.0 References/Further Reading


Stylistics has become so vibrant a field of study that it has drawn insights from a number of disciplines or fields. Each of these disciplines has its own approach to the study of style in texts. A situation such as this has brought about various types of stylistics. Thus, it becomes possible for a stylistician to do a thorough stylistic examination of a text by adopting any of the various approaches at his or her disposal.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

(i) identify four other types of stylistics apart from linguistic and literary stylistics;

(ii) explain the types of stylistics identified in (i); and

(iii) describe the method(s) of each type of stylistics identified in (i).


3.1 Reader-Response Stylistics

This type of stylistics stemmed from the strand of modern ‘subjective’ criticism called reader-response criticism, otherwise known, in the German school of criticism as reception aesthetics. Very notable figures among the proponents of modern criticism, I.A. Richards and William Empson, steered the critics of texts towards appreciating the words, which are contained on the pages of a text, rather than considering the author of such a text. This development in literary criticism is a radical departure from the Romantic conception of the author as being totally responsible for whatever meaning that one, as a reader, may encounter on the pages of a text. Inspired by Roland Barthes’ view, the new critics, as the proponents of modern criticism are called, believed that the meaning of a text can, solely, be determined through the interaction between the reader and the words one the pages of the text. This is what the reader-response criticism concerns itself with. Thus, the reader-response stylistics examines the reader’s response to a text as a response to a horizon of expectations. By a horizon of expectations, is meant that there is multiplicity of meanings or interpretations in a text and these can be accessed by the reader according to his or her level of what Jonathan Culler (1981: 25) describes as “literary competence”. A reader’s literary competence is highly informed by the social world in which a text is produced as it usually has a shaping effect on his or her interpretation of such a text. In the reader-response stylistics, there is an interaction between the structure of the text and the reader’s response. Thus, the reader becomes an active part of the text. The readerresponse stylistics evokes a situation where individual readers give meaning to the text. This is because each reader will interact with the text differently, as the text may have more than one vivid interpretation.

The theorists of this type of stylistics share two beliefs:

(a) the role of the reader cannot be ignored;

(b) readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by a literary text. Instead, readers actively make the meaning they find in literature. This is to say that literature exists and signifies when it is read and its force is an affective one. Furthermore, reading is a temporal process, not a spatial one as new critics (formalists) assume when they step back and survey the literary work as if it were an object spread out before them. In The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction. From Bunyan to Beckett (1974) and The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (1976) (both cited in Murfin and Ray, 1998), the German critic Wolfgang Iser comments that texts contain gaps that powerfully affect the reader, who must explain them, connect what they separate, and create in his or her mind aspects of a work that are not in the text but are implied by the text. The reader ceases to be a mere passive recipient of the ideas planted in a text by an author, but an active contributor/maker of meanings.

Reader-response stylistics/criticism has evolved into a variety of new forms. Subjectivists

like David Bleich, Norman Holland, and Robert Crossman have viewed the reader’s response not as one “guided” by the text, but rather as one motivated by deep-seated, personal, psychological needs.

3.2 Affective Stylistics

Attracted to the fascinating insights proffered by the reader-response criticism on the process of criticizing a text, an American critic cum stylistician, Stanley Fish, appropriated it (the reader-response criticism) as affective stylistics. Affective stylistics came around to be identified as one of the two varieties of a major branch of stylistics, namely, literary stylistics and expressive stylistics. Whereas expressive stylistics is writer/speaker - oriented, that is, focuses on style as purely the representation of the personality of the author, affective stylistics is reader/ hearer – oriented i.e. its focus is on the consumers.

Like its close partner (the reader - response stylistics), affective stylistics ferrets out the emotional responses that a reader or hearer makes in the course of his or her interacting with, that is, reading or listening to a text. However, it goes further to examine the psychological operations that are usually involved in the reader’s process of reading or the hearer’s process of listening; hence, it is, otherwise, known as “process stylistics”.

According to Fish (1970), in affective stylistics, the stylistician relies primarily upon his or her affective responses to stylistics, elements in the text. Here, the literary text is not formally self-sufficient; it comes alive through the interpretative strategy that the reader deploys. Hence the need to analyse the developing responses of the reader in relation to the words as they succeed one another in the text. The work and its result are one and the same thing; what a text is and what it does.

Affective stylistics could equally be seen as the impact of a text’s structure on the reader as the work unfolds. During the process of affective stylistics, viewers continue to take in new information that must be incorporated into their current understanding of the work. With each new bit of information, the reader may form new expectations of where the work is going, perhaps, rejecting old interpretations, opinions and assumptions and making new ones. The affective domain includes the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasm, motivations and attitudes.

3.3 Pragmatic Stylistics

Pragmatic stylistics is part of the manifestation of linguistic stylistics. This variety of stylistics shows the meeting point between pragmatics and stylistics, that is, how pragmatic resources, such as performative and speech acts can be employed to achieve stylistic effects. Scholars have demonstrated that the objective of pragmatics is to show how users of any language can use the sentences obtainable in such a language to convey messages which are not directly or explicitly shown in the propositional content of the sentences. Pragmatics came round to fill the gap created by the truth-condition semantics. The latter is a semantic theory which holds the view that the truthfulness or the falsity of a sentence or an utterance is subject to the degree to which the propositional content of such a sentence or an utterance is verifiable from the world. Stylistics, as has been shown in the previous units, is traditionally concerned with the study of style in language. Verdonk (2002:4) defines it as the analysis of a distinctive expression and description of its purpose and effect. The partnership between both pragmatics and stylistics appears quite possible given the qualities that they share. Both are, for instance, interested in such features as are beyond the sentence boundary. The application of pragmatic and stylistic theories to text analysis indicates a clear departure from how texts were analysed when modern linguistics began to develop. In this respect, Dressier et al (1993:16) inform us that the tradition at the inception of the evolution of modern linguistics was for analysts to confine the analysis of a text to the domain of sentence which was, then, regarded as the largest unit with an inherent structure. The pragmatic meaning of a text can be recovered through the context that produces the text. It is the realization that context is necessary in the exploration of the pragmatic meaning that guides a language user or text producer into employing appropriate linguistic resources in the text in order to achieve the stylistic meaning through what Ayodabo

(1997:136) regards as “...the degree of effectiveness of an utterance (herein referred to as text) in relation to the learners (or readers) at the perlocutionary level”. But for the perlocutionary level to be achieved, we are informed by the speech act theory (the proponents of which include Austin 1962 and Searle 1969) that the illocutionary acts must have satisfied certain felicity conditions. This is not our concern in the present study. It is therefore, obvious that the frequency of a speech act is highly significant in understanding the extent to which it has been stylistically exploited by text producers to exert some perlocutionary effect(s) on the reader(s) of such a text. In this arrangement, we have the yoking of pragmatics and stylistics. Pragmatic stylistics is, thus, viewed as a two-in-one theory of text analysis, which focuses on the effects of contexts on the text.

3.4 Pedagogical Stylistics

This type of stylistics shows the instructional use into which stylistics is put. Wales (1997: 438) explains that stylistics has been, unarguably, considered a teacher’s ready tool of teaching language and literature to both native and foreign speakers of English. In order to achieve his goal of teaching with ease, a teacher is guided by certain strategies or objectives. Often times, a teacher cannot but be flexible in his or her course of achieving his or her teaching objectives. In this wise, a close ally to pedagogical stylistics is classroom discourse analysis.

For long, pedagogical stylistics has been intrinsically linked with the teaching of the linguistic features of written texts as a means of enhancing students’ understanding of literature and language. It is based on the premise that stylisticians who are involved with teaching should be aware of the pedagogical orientation and reading paradigms which inform their practice. It is also a theoretical dimension to research undertaken into practice in the stylistics classroom. Pedagogical stylistics emphasizes that the process of improving students’ linguistic sensibilities must include greater emphasis upon the text as action; that is, upon the mental processing which is such as proactive part of reading and interpretation; and how all of these elements – pragmatic and cognitive as well as linguistic – function within quite specific social and cultural contexts.

The knowledge gained from the study of pedagogical stylistics will help students in understanding how language, grammar and rhetoric function in texts. It will follow these steps: firstly, students will acquire the knowledge that leads them to comprehend the basic grammatical and rhetoric concepts. Secondly, it will boost their practical knowledge, whereby students are able to analyse texts with the tool they have acquired at the first stage. The third stage is when students go into a mode of synthesizing all they have learned, which, in turn, allows them to move on to the production stage. Such a process is valuable, for example, in the contemporary creative writing classroom.

It is important to note that the process described here is not simply literary stylistics, but fundamentally pedagogical stylistics. The fact that a close, stylistic analysis of texts, literary or otherwise, for formative ends is pedagogically valuable is amply demonstrated by pedagogical stylistics.

3.5 Forensic Stylistics

Forensic stylistics is a part of forensic linguistics. In general, forensic stylistics is the application of stylistics to crime detection. Through the stylistic analysis of language use at the different levels of language description, it is possible to determine the author of a text. This may be applied to confessional statements to the police. Issues like voice recognition, identification of regional accents are often studied to arrive at useful conclusions in terms of crime detection (see Bloor, M. and Bloor, T. 2007).


It has been shown in the foregoing that stylistics adopts a multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of texts. We are, thus, made to appreciate the claim that though stylistics is located in linguistics we should not lose sight of the fact that it (stylistics) also draws inspiration from a number of disciplines. It is however the responsibility of an individual stylistician to determine when insights from specific disciplines or sub-disciplines are needed in his or her analysis of a text and how such insights can be effectively utilized.


Stylistics has been proved to be a useful tool in the hands of an analyst who wishes to analyse a text from any stand point. Analysing a text provides one a better way to read a text. Stylistics may be regarded as a window into the world of texts. An analyst may adopt a particular approach in opening the window into the world of texts. The different approaches that may be adopted are embedded in the different strands of stylistics as reader-response stylistics, affective stylistics, pragmatic stylistics, pedagogical stylistics and forensic stylistics.


(1) Identify four other types of stylistics apart from linguistic and literary stylistics.

(2) Explain carefully the type of stylistics identified in (1) above.

(3) How does each type of stylistics identified in (1) work?


Ayodabo, J. (1997). “A Pragma-Stylistic Study of Abiola’s Historic Speech of June 24,

1993.” In Lawal, A. (Ed.). Stylistics in Theory and Practice-Ilorin: Paragon Books


Baldick, C. (1996). Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: Oxford

University Press.

Bloor, M. & Bloor, T. (2007). The Practice of Critical Discourse Analysis: An

Introduction. London: Hodder Education.

Culler, J. (1981). “Literary Competence.” In Freeman, D. (Ed.) Essays in Modern

Stylistics. New York: Methuen.

Enkvist N.E. (1964). “On Defining Style.” In Enkvist, N. E., Spencer, J. (Eds.) &

Gregory, M. Linguistics and Style. London: Oxford University Press. ppl-56.

Fish, S.E. (1970). Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics. Washington DC: John

Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from htt://gateway. Proquest. Com/open

url?url-ver=z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:pao:&rft_dat= xri:paoarticle:b222_1970-

002-01-000009.June 20, 2011.

Fish, S.E. (1980). Is there a text in this class? The Authority of Interpretative

Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Osundare, N. (2003). Cautious Paths through the Bramble. Ibadan: Hope Publications.

Tompkins, J. P. (1980). Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-

Structuralism. Baltmore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Verdonk, P. (2006). Stylistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wales, K. (1989). A Dictionary of Stylistics. London: Longman.

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