Linguistics: An Overview of Stylistics Analysis and Approaches to Style


Stylistics can be quite complicated when you are new to it. Many only people understand ‘literary’ analysis because it covers a broad topic that can be easily broken down into sub-topics. Stylistic analysis, on the other hand, involves, in purity, looking at a text stylistically, and in detail, come up with objectivity to make sense out of the text. Such a level of detail requires more focus on the object rooted in the researcher’s understanding of linguistics. Analyzing of style aims to create an understanding of words a text; what feeling does the text create, and how is the reader supposed to respond to them? So how do you carry out such a complex activity?

Stylistics can be referred to as the scientific study of style in literature. Stylistic analysis is, therefore, the process of identifying how different patterns are used in speech and written work. There are, for instance, some forms of stylistic analysis where judgment of the nature and quality of literary work is based on how much a specific stylistic feature recurs. Whatever approach one takes in analyzing styles, one of the most critical steps in foregrounding. According to Leech and Short (1981), foregrounding is a deviation that is motivated by style. Mukarovsky, on the other hand, considers foregrounding as “ a range of stylistic effects that happen throughout literature.” It is the opposite of automaticity in a text; that can be either at a phonetic level, grammatical level, or the semantic level, which, in, many cases violates the flow of textual content.

Reading text from a stylistic perspective

Reading the text with the aim of understanding style follows a specific guideline. First, the reader needs to understand the overall picture of the text, which is the central theme that features in the text. It is only then that one can dissect the text, digging out peculiar and exciting features. In that case, here are a few points to focus on.

Ask yourself whether:

- There are some exciting irregularities of form. Compare traditional texts and those within the genre.

- There are grammatical or graphological elements that deviate.

- There is order in the text despite the deviant characteristics

- The text has some peculiar phonological qualities, e.g., repeated sounds and missing sounds.

- There is any unusual use of words. Check for slang, jargon, standard language, and community languages in the texts.

- You can place the words in different semantic fields; check for the effect of verbs and what tense they represent.

Consider the following stanza from “Contentment” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Little I ask; my wants are few;

I only wish a hut of stone,

(a very plain brown stone will do,)

That I may call my own;-

And close at hand is such a one,

In yonder street that fronts the sun

We can start by analyzing the use of words in the stanza; see how the poet uses the word ‘wants.’ Usually, we use this term as an adverb, yet hear is presents a noun. So the persona only has a few needs in his life. He goes ahead to describe his few want, specifically quoting a ‘hut of stone.’ According to him, his ‘few wants’ will be satisfied once he gets the ‘hut of stone.’ The next line brings in a twist he adds something to the description of the stone saying ‘plain brownstone’. Semantically we can agree his ‘wants are few,’ but considering the details he adds, his ‘wants’ are not few anymore. There is more irony graphologically as the parenthetical information discloses his specific needs. He wants not just a hut, a stone, or a brownstone, but a plain brownstone. Therefore, we can establish that the persona is looking for so much more. In this case, stylistic analysis has helped us get deeper into the poem to excavate the hidden meaning.

Approaches to style

When trying to understand the text, one needs to establish a clear starting point. Approaches are ways the analyst can use to achieve their goals, and there are several ways to do this. Consider the following:

The pragmatic approach: In this case, the stylistic analyst looks for clues in everyday conversions to understand discourse in literary works; they focus on communicative behavior. Reeh (1983) describes it as a way of using the interactive point of view, to establish textual meaning.

Radical approach: Burton (1982) considers this approach in terms of searching for the ideological imprint of the text. The process looks beyond the text to find meaning through the social and historical forces that may influence the text.

Empirical approach: This approach derives its framework from the constructivist theory of cognition.

Stylistic analysis in process

A stylistic analysis follows different levels; based on the approaches mentioned above, the levels may be together to construct textual meaning. Here is a basic outline for proper text analysis used in poetry.

- Grammatical level: Here, the style analyst looks at morphology and syntax. The level seeks to break down grammar, parts of speech, clauses, and phrases used in writing. It also distinguishes time, place, and reason for events, the analysis that determines the author’s intentions, and what might happen next.

- Lexical level: Thus, the level looks at individual words and idioms as used in different contexts. One needs to understand semantics, word formation, and morphology.

- Semantics: Semantics is the study of meaning in linguistics. It brings out hidden meanings as the reader looks at the environment set by the poet in a poem.

- Pragmatics. This is a branch of semantics that discusses how invisible meanings are established in a text.

- Discourse analysis: Language and conversations are studied in detail here. It is a level that brings out a sophisticated understanding of simple discourse and straightforward interpretation. The aim is breaking down complex language, making it easy for the reader.


What are literary texts? They are combined words, put together for specific purposes. When we start reading them by paying close attention to every detail using our knowledge of grammar and linguisticsStylistics, it becomes stylistic analysis; one that fosters a more in-depth understanding of the text. Stylistics is vital because it helps us uncover the hidden yet essential aspect of a literary work.


1033 Words


Jan 20, 2020


3 Pages

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