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Pragmatics and stylistics, by Vicent Salvador


In particular, consideration of style as a symbol raises the question of semantic relations between equivalents or synonyms. Thus, according to a restrictive view of semantics as the study, exclusively, of the logical-referential component, synonyms involve identity of basic or denotative meaning, as observable across putatively synonymous pairs of words or expressions. From this point of view, the values of elements in synonymous pairs can be relegated to the fringe area of connotative meaning, of subjectivity and context of use. And the latter can be understood as nebulous and nameless, or at least not removed from the epistemological framework of general linguistics.

Stylistics, seen form this standpoint, would seem to be about impressionistic labelling of nuanced distinctions of secondary importance. The arrival of pragmalinguistics on the scene, however, has made it possible to increase systematisation of contextual factors. Furthermore, the development of a wider range (a more pragmatic range, if you will) of semantic issues, such as Language Argumentation Theory (LAT) proposed initially by Ducrot, facilitates consideration of many such values (distinctions and nuances) that were originally considered residual. These latter form a part of language as elements which have come to be conventionalised in the structures of the language. Many synonymous pairs thus cease to be such, as linguistic research makes it possible to establish explicitly the semantico-pragmatic differences between apparent synonyms (or, more euphemistically, "almost synonyms"). These become linguistic units differentiated via the inclusion of pragmatic specifications (for example, in relation to requirements of indirect speech acts or politeness), or alternatively through the emergence of connotative meaning in terms of structural factors (for example, the suffusing of lexical units with associated axiological points of view).

At other times, progress in differentiating synonymous lexical units stems from the rigorous study of contexts of use and of correlation existing between linguistic variation and social variation. As we have seen, variation sociolinguistics, on the one hand, and studies of systemic functionalism exploring the notion of register, on the other, clearly underpin the functionalisation of stylistics -and the associated narrowing of the concept of synonymy. There is no need to repeat here the well-known anecdote reported years ago by Martin Joos: as soon as there is more than one clock at the same train station, the forces of specialisation begin to operate. Indeed, if the clocks were to show exactly the same time, why have more than one?

Viewed in this way, stylistics that emphasise the symbolic can be seen to push back the barrier of (socio)linguistic entropy. It reclaims certain areas assigned traditionally to free variation, converting them into territory governed by patterns of variation and susceptible to systematic description. In the next section, we shall be looking at some of the most promising stylistics issues from this perspective.

5. Some objects for the application of stylistics

Let us go on to consider, by way of illustration, the stylistics of some structures of the language: phraseological combinations, the infusing of socio cognitive bias in the lexis, and the mechanisms of semantic nominalisations.

As regards the first, note that phraseology is today an attractive area for linguists, especially in application to contrastive lexicography and translation (Corpas 1998). After a stage when it was de rigeur to evaluate linguistic creativity and free or open choice, emphasis came to be placed more on the way speakers used "prefabricated" pieces of discourse. The literary use of fashionable phrases and clichés has received attention from scholars of stylistics, often in the context of originality of manipulation (reorganisation) or breaking with tradition as a resource for "de-familiarisation". However, stylistic analysis is not averse to looking at routines and "routinisation" which facilitate production and interpretation of discourse, in accordance with the patterns of each register or each genre.

There is a phraseology that is characteristic of legal discourse, of administrative documents, of scientific articles, literary criticism, news reports, electioneering, tele evangelism, radio talk shows and even Internet chats. Such phraseological practice (which often involves mere word collocations that occur habitually and which today corpus linguistics can help us to study on a more empirical basis) foment a degree of productive and interpretative automatism and facilitate the immediate identification of registers and genres. Its power as a mechanism for reproduction of ideologies is simply remarkable, especially in the way it contributes to "naturalise" discourse, making it more difficult to assume a critical position. There is nothing new in this, the sayer of proverbs has functioned in this way for centuries (often a proverb or saying is simply an ideologeme that adopts the seductive form of the trope). The decreased visibility suffered today by such routinised forms actually increases their ideological effectiveness in the discourse of contemporary mass media.

Another instance is the analysis of sociocognitive biases of the lexicon -axiological points of view, as we have said, that have become conventionalised over time within a cultural and linguistic community, which have finally crystallised in the very structures of the language. From the perspective of language argumentation theory, subsequently developed into topoi theory, what is relevant is the fact that many lexical units so to speak impose a point of view on speakers, be it euphoric or otherwise (non-euphoric) (Raccah 2000). Thus, to speak of "xafagor" (burning shame, embarrassment) and even more so the Spanish equivalent "bochorno" (ditto) which have a literal meteorological meaning (sultry, hot and close), and a metaphorical projection, "balafiar" (squander, waste), "emigrant" (emigrant) or "terrorisme" (terrorism), implies an inseparable axiological content, inherent in these linguistic units. In the same way, "warm", "investment", "tourism" or "struggle for independence" inevitably convey more or less euphoric points of view. Similarly, on a scale of values, "danger" clearly rates as "non-euphoric"), while the near-synonym "risk" is clearly less so, and even in certain contexts (in some Christian theology, for example) may become euphoric. Commercial advertising and political propaganda have taken careful note of all this, obviously enough. What should be underlined here is that the built-in bias is inevitable once the speaker / writer has selected the item in question as a consequence of a stylistic option. It should not be forgotten that this choice is conditioned by socio-discursive inertia, by an acquired habitus. And, reciprocally, the receiver (listener, reader) has to counteract this inertia if he or she wishes to be free to carry out an interpretative criticism of the discourse.

The last illustration that we propose is that of nominal-heavy or nominalised style (Salvador 2000). Here the alternatives set up are between the expression of processes (and qualities) by means of sentence-level constructions which contain verbs (and, often, adjectives) or alternatively by means of nominals where the information is reduced and made compact. As such, the latter makes it possible to perceive processes or qualities as entities or wholes. Thus, speaking of "illegal adoptions", "masculine beauty", "a catastrophic seismic movement" or "health and illness", constitutes alternative stylistic options selected in the place of other (roughly) similar ways of referring to the same content by means of whole sentences. Such sentences are normally very exact, with particular shades of meaning: "children that one adopts/ one has adopted/one will adopt, thus breaking the law"; "The/some/these/ men are/have been/will become/seem beautiful"; and so forth. It should be noted, in any case, that a variety of different sentential expressions can be found to correspond to nominalised expressions.

Quite clearly, the nominals options are more "economical" and facilitate the creation of taxonomies associated with specialist discourse, or at least a formal register with a certain degree of opaqueness, by means of processes of "terminologisation" that are very relevant to sociocognitive approaches. In the same way, opting for this synthetic expression makes for more rapid or smooth advance in the thematic progression of a text, thanks to the anaphoric function: "Yesterday a Panam aircraft fell into the ocean.... The accident had...").

Now of course, side by side with these advantages in economic expression, nominalisation clearly plays its part in reducing information: information on the weather, place or the participants, as well as factors of modalisation, which, once concisely packed into a nominal expression are not easily recoverable. Also observable is the effect of presenting concrete processes as abstract entities. The ideological importance is considerable, in the manipulation of processed information, particularly noticeable in the case of certain types of anaphor which give a strong interpretative bias to the discourse ("The demonstrators noisily crossed the quadrangle... Their bursting on the scene/invasion / intrusion brought about...").

6. Conclusions

In closing this overview of work on stylistics and its function in the ambit of language sciences, we can briefly and succinctly point out certain trends and orientations within the discipline, while not in any way claiming to be exhaustive: a) it goes beyond literature, without ignoring such institutionalised discourse patterns; b) it is situated in the language framework, where structures allow variation which becomes functionalised and filled out with individual/social meaning; c) consequently, the amount of observable free variation is reduced, with the increased systematisation of determining factors, in terms of registers and genres on the one hand and stylistics on the other; d) contributions from pragmalinguistics and discourse analysis are crucial to defining the diversity of expressive styles and the sociolinguistic and ideological relevance of stylistic options.

7. Bibliography

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BIBER, D. et al. Corpus linguistics. Investigating language structure and use. Cambridge: C.U.P., 1998.

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PAYRATÓ, L.; ALTURO, N. (eds.) Corpus oral de conversa col·loquial. Materials de treball. Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona, 2002.

RACCAH, P. Y. "Un top, sinon rien". In: SALVADOR, V.; PIQUER, A. (eds.) El discurs prefabricat. Estudis de fraseologia teòrica i aplicada. Castelló: UJI, 2000, p. 409-421.

SALVADOR, V. "L’estil nominalitzat", Caplletra 29, 2000, p. 69-82.

SALVADOR, V. Els arxius del discurs. Barcelona: P.A.M, 2000.

VAN DIJK, T. A. "Critical Discourse Analysis as a method for the research in social sciences". A: WODAK, R.; MEYER, M. (eds.). Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Sager, 2001, chap. 6.

VAN DIJK, T. A. Ideology. A multidisciplinary approach. London: Sage, 1998.

Vicent Salvador
Universitat Jaume I

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