How the study of stylistics can help improve one’s English Language

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 17 August 2016

How the study of stylistics can help improve one’s English Language

Write an essay that discusses how the study of stylistics/language in literature can help improve one’s English language. (1500-2000 words)

To answer the question of how stylistics improves one’s English language is to understand the question itself. The word ‘improves’ in the question entails that the person or student already has at least a basic knowledge and understanding of the English Language and he/she wants to make that knowledge better. There are many disciplines that learners of the English language can venture into to help them improve their literacy competence. One of those aforementioned disciplines is in fact: The study of language in literature or Stylistics. Hence, this is where stylistics as a branch of study from the main trunk of the English Language and Literature tree plays an alternative role in enhancing one’s English Language capabilities. This paper will attempt to explain the logics of how stylistics can help in improving students’ English with an analogy.

Studying stylistics is just like the process of language learning and the subsequent discipline that comes with it. Language learning is particularly challenging for most people especially to those who are trying to acquire it at a later age. Just like any other language, the English Language requires the learner to read English books extensively, try their level best to understand the language with the help of teachers and dictionaries, and practice speaking the language as much as he/she can. In regards to this essay, there are several ways how the study of stylistics can help improve students’ English language. Firstly, stylistics enriches students’ ways of thinking about language. Secondly, it improves their skills of English and finally, stylistics propels students’ to act as a linguist and literary critic at the same time which in turn make them competent users of the language.

Before diving into the content, one needs to comprehend the definition of stylistics first. Stylistics is understood as that part of linguistics, as Turner describes in Stylistics (1975), which concentrates on variation in the most conscious and complex uses of language in literature. According to A.J. Jassim, it is possible to say that stylistics means the study of literary discourse from a linguistic orientation which offers an area of contact between literary criticism and linguistics. Therefore one can define operationally that, the word “stylistics” is basically made up of the components of “style” and “–istics” and that “style” refers to literary criticism and “–istics” refers the general make-up for the linguistic component of the study (2006). Now, moving onto the discussions, firstly, stylistics enriches students’ ways of thinking about language. It is universally acknowledged that language serves many functions and one of it is to communicate meaningful expressions.

In written text, language is seen, as Eifring and Theil asserts, a communicative system based upon words and the combination of words into sentences and this is known as linguistic communication (2005). One way how stylistics specifically plays a role in enriching students’ ways of thinking about language is for example, when poets write poetry, they are not writing it without their active consciousness of language. Sometimes, they deliberately incorporate deviations and parallelism in their works to serve a specific function. Through this ‘unconventional’ use of language, they are attempting to convey a deeper meaning within the text and most “Stylisticians” argue that only through stylistics, these literary devices can be observed, analysed and understood. Where some advocate extensive or authentic reading almost for its own sake, Hall explains (2007), as a result of which the language will be absorbed, the advocate of stylistics as a means to develop language proficiency is committed to the value of conscious attention to details of linguistic features ‘foregrounded’ in a text, whether through ‘deviance’ of some kind, or simply as the consequence of repetitions, parallelism or other such salient patternings seen to contribute significantly to meaning.

Students in turn become more sensitive in utilizing English especially when attempting to read and comprehend literature better. Secondly, stylistics improves students’ skills of the English Language. This is because in order to apply stylistic analysis or criticism on a literary text, students need to first master the language from the onset. This entails that students need to, as mentioned earlier, read extensively which in turn heightens their vocabulary and mental lexicon. They also need to understand the language very well; especially in regards to grammar and tenses. For all the arguments that are presented, it is rightfully so that students need to be competent users of the English Language so that they can apply their knowledge of grammar and lexicon in interpreting literary texts.

This is because according to Katie Wales in A Dictionary of Stylistics (1990), the goal of most stylistics is not simply to describe the formal features of texts for their own sake, but in order to show their functional significance for the interpretation of the text; or in order to relate literary effects to linguistic ’causes’ where these are felt to be relevant. This means the knowledge of grammar and tenses are very important elements for the student to get a strong grasp on because in some poetry, poets intentionally use deviations to foreground important features in their works. Researchers such as Van Peer (1986) have found that readers [or students] do indeed pick up on the smallest details of a text and use them to construct meaningful interpretations.

A good example can be seen in the stylistic analysis of ‘(listen)’ taken from E. E. Cummings’ 1964 collection 73 Poems, of which it is number 63. The poem ‘(listen)’ is typical of Cummings’ style and contains striking irregularities of form in comparison to ‘traditional’ poetry. There is a high probability to those reading this poem, whom are not partial towards stylistics, will consider it as a complete mess and an overall ‘bad’ piece of poetry because of the strange use of punctuation and the seemingly odd structure of particular phrases. An excerpt of the poem is displayed below:

this a dog barks and
how crazily houses
eyes people smiles
faces streets
steeples are eagerly

ing through wonder
ful sunlight
– look –
o-p-e-n-i-n-g(line 1-12)

One of the reasons for Cummings’ use of deviation is not simply for shock value, as Shaikh debates, and the linguistic choices he makes are by no means arbitrary (2012). In the past, some critics have even disregarded his eccentric use of language, claiming that it is of no interpretative significance. What these critics overlooked and not aware of is that one will be able to explore and experience the beauty and depth of the poem hidden within the ‘mess’ once they apply stylistic criticism unto it. ‘(listen)’ is not a, for the most part, difficult poem to analyse in terms of the complexity of the subject matter. It is the process of making sense of the grammatical ‘mess’ in the text that is the sole source of ‘headache’. What is most challenging is to relate the various atypical stylistic features that Cummings’ has chosen to use to one’s overall interpretation of the text. Finally, stylistics propels students to act as both linguists and literary critics at the same time.

In fact, the purpose of stylistics is to be the bridge of linking the two disciplines: linguistics and literary criticism. Nevertheless, it is rather unfortunate as McIntyre (2012) states that since the emergence in the 1960s of English Language as a university subject in its own right, the relationship between the study of literature and the study of language has often been one of bitter rivalry (p. 1). Experts in the literary field criticize against the ‘cold’, ‘scientific’ approach that is adopted by linguistic scholars in their analysis of literary texts. At the same time, similar critical judgements are imposed by linguistic scholars towards literary experts because they are too subjective and vague in the analyses they produce. Despite the feud between the clashes of these two spheres of language studies, there lies exquisiteness when one can merge the two fields and use their respective theories and means of analyses to understand a literary text well.

Since stylistics is neither pure linguistics nor sheer literary criticism, a stylistician is, thus, intended to act possibly as a linguist and as a literary critic as well. To link both, the job of the linguist and that of the literary critic, stylistics emerges as a connective means to demonstrate how the linguistic elements act significantly in a text to produce a communicable message. The function of stylistics is to help the reader stimulate, the significance of a literary text by analysing the interrelations between its linguistic items. This approach is essentially selective. It aims to identify the stylistically significant, or stylistically distinctive, features in a literary text and to study their function in the text as a whole. Stylistics occupies the middle ground between linguistics and literary criticism and its function is to mediate between the two. In this role, its concerns necessarily overlap with those of the two disciplines.

It is for this reason that stylistic analysis shades indiscernibly into literary appreciation. Therefore, literary analysis seeks the assistance of stylistic analysis which is of a complementary nature to it. Stylistic analysis usually seeks to identify what stimulates and guides the reader or listener in the literary work. But there is no specific and restricted technique to follow (Fairly, 1979). Despite it all, this act of propelling one to act as both linguist and literary critic stretches his or her potential to the maximum towards being a very competent user of English language hence whether they like it or not, it will improve their English. One needs practice a great deal so that they get the stylistic analysis

On the grounds of how learning language is similar to how learning stylistics help can improve one’s Englis, as reiterated throughout this paper, both disciplines require the students to read extensively, understand and practice the skill in order to improve their language competency. In conclusion, with all the arguments which is presented in the above discussions, stylistics does help in improving one’s or students’ English language. Firstly, stylistics enriches students’ ways of thinking about language. Secondly, it improves their basic skills of the language and finally, stylistics propels students’ to act as a linguist and literary critic at the same time which in turn make them competent users of the English language. Students especially can use stylistics to sustain and defend an interpretation of a poem, or any literary texts for instance, and they can also use stylistics to highlight elements of a poem that we might otherwise fail to notice.


Abdul Jalil Jassim Hejal (2006) Stylistics : A contact between Linguistics and Literary Criticism. J. of Col. of Basic Education. Pdf. Web. Retrieved from: Eifring, Halvor & Theil, Rolf (2005). Linguistics for Students of Asian and African Languages.
Pdf. Web. Retrieved from : Fairly, Irene R. (1979). “Experimental Approaches to Language in Literature: Reader Responses to Poems” in Style. Vol. 13 , no . 4 . Hall, Geoff. (2007) Stylistics in Second Language Contexts: A Critical Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, New York Wales, Katie. A Dictionary of Stylistics. London: Longman, 1990. McIntyre, D. (2012). Linguistics and literature: stylistics as a tool for the literary critic (Vol. 1, pp. 1-11). SRC Working Papers. Naushad Umarsharif Shaikh. (2011) Role of Stylistics in Learning English as a Second Language. Pdf. Web. Retrieved from: Turner , G.W. (1975). Stylistics. Benguin Books. London.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 17 August 2016

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