THE CONCEPT OF STYLE IN LITERARY DISCUSS

    THE CONCEPT OF STYLE

    Style has been an object of study from ancient times. Aristotle, Cicero, Demetrius and Quintilian treated style as the proper adornment of thought. In this view, which prevailed throughout the Renaissance period, devices of style can be catalogued. The essayist or orator is expected to frame his ideas with the help of model sentences and prescribed kinds of ‘figures’ suitable to his mode of discourse. Modern stylistics uses the tools of formal linguistic analysis coupled with the methods of literary criticism, its goal is to try to isolate characteristic uses and functions of language and rhetoric rather than advance normative or prescriptive rules and patterns.

    The traditional idea of style as something properly added to thoughts contrast with the ideas that derive from Charles Bally (1865-1947), the Swiss philologist and Leo Spitzer (1887-1947), the Austrian literary critic. According to followers of these thinkers, style in language arises from the possibility of choice among alternative forms of expression, as for example, between ‘children’, ‘kids’ ‘youngsters’ and youths, each of which has a different evocative value. This theory emphasizes the relation between style and linguistics, as does the theory of Edward Sapir, who talked about literature that is formed-based and literature that is content based and the near untranslatability of the former.

    The term ‘style’ is used in linguistics to describe the choices which language makes available to a user, beyond the choices necessary for the simple expression of a meaning. Style has been defined or approached from many perspective by different scholars and has various meanings based on what a writer wants to use it to achieve. Style and languages are interwoven, they cannot be studied in isolation; they are related and can best be described as two sides of a coin that cannot be separated. A writer differs from another writer either through the unique personal characteristics or language use register expression of thoughts and emotions as well as tone. For instance, the writer Ifeoma Okoye is known as easily recognized through her expression of thought and calm tone of relating the ills in the society.

    Style can be viewed as the linguistic habits of a particular writer. It can also be applied to the way language is used in a particular genre, period and school of writing. Style is the choice of language used by the writer in his/her own unique way in which he or she employs or demonstrates his/her linguistic repertoire to convey his/her intended message across to his/her readers. Murray posits that “personal idiosyncrasy of expression by which we recognize a writer” (4). The scholar agrees with the concept of style as an individual being identified through a writer’s unique features in his expressions. Dobree states that ‘style is the knowledge of what one wants to say and saying it in the most fitting words.’ (28) This implies that a writer’s choice of words must be appropriate. Robinson commenting on the concept of style states that:

    A full study of style and varieties of style must take into account the length and schemes of sentences, use of figurative language and imagery, the rhythm of words and syntax; the quality of words (171).

    This scholar suggests that a good style should be in agreement with the rules of concord in grammar, which includes the sentence pattern, appropriate arrangement of words or syntax and good use of imagery. However, Brooks and Warren gave their opinion of style as ‘a result determined by the working together of sentence structure, vocabulary, figures of speech, rhythm and many other elements’ (312).

    Leech and Short have described style as referring to ‘the way in which language is used in a given context, by a given person, for a given purpose (30). This implies that, language can be used to achieve a specific purpose within a specific context to which it is being used by a writer or individual.


    Azuike in the course “An Introduction to style” defines style as “a choice of alternative ways of expressing the same idea”. There are different ways in which an idea can be expressed. No two words mean exactly. For instance; ‘regular’, ‘frequently’ ‘always’, ‘often’ etc. A writer must make deliberate choices of linguistic patterns while writing.

    Fowler originally gives the following definition of style: ‘style- a  property of all texts, not just literary-may be said to reside in the manipulation of variables in the structure of a language or in the selection of optional or ‘latent’ ‘features’(15). In his later evaluation, Fowler rejects the term style as a working term, arguing that it lacks precision. He claims that the word has an inevitably blurring effect, because the kinds of regularities referred to are so diverse in their nature. However, style has been redefined by him as “a recognizable and characteristic way of doing something” (185).

    Style can also be defined as choice from linguistic possibilities. It is also viewed as a particular choice of language made by an author in a sense, embodies that author’s achievement, and way of experiencing and interpreting the world” (Leech et al 1982. 158).Style differ according to features which influence the speaker’s/writer’s choice of means of expression. Halliday (1978) has introduced three concepts which are crucial in the interpretation of messages, namely field, tenor and mode. These concepts have been used as reliable indicators of stylistic differences. Field, tenor and mode are factors influencing the choice of language means and posing limitations on the repertoire of phonological grammatical and lexical devices.

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