The notion of functional style. Style and context
One and the same thought may be worded in more than one way. This diversity is predetermined by coexistence of separate language subsystems, elements of which stand in relations of interstyle synonymy. Compare: I am afraid lest John should have lost his way in the forest (bookish) = I fear John's got lost in the wood (conversational). Such language subsystems are called "functional styles". Functional style units are capable of transmitting some additional information about the speaker and the objective reality in which communication takes place, namely the cultural and educational level of the speaker, his inner state of mind, intentions, emotions and feelings, etc. The most traditionally accepted functional styles are the style of official and business communication, the style of scientific prose, the newspaper style, the publicistic style, the belletristic style, the conversational style.
The style a writer or speaker adopts depends partly on his own personality but very largely on what he has to say and what his purposes are. It follows that style and subject matter should match each other appropriately. For example, a scientific report will obviously be much more formal and objective in style than a poem which is trying to convey an intensely personal and moving experience. Just how important it is to choose an appropriate style can be seen by examining the following three sentences, which all say the same thing but in different ways:
John's dear parent is going to his heavenly home (bookish).
John's father is dying (literary colloquial).
John's old fella's on his way out (informal colloquial).
Though these sentences say the same thing, the style is very different in each. The first sentence is unduly sentimental and rather pompous. It has a falsely religious ring to it because, in striving to be dignified, it is overstated. The second one is plain and simple because it is formed of simple neutral words and does not try to disguise the unpleasant fact of death by using a gentler expression like passing away. Its simplicity gives it a sincerity and a dignity which are lacking in the first sentence, and, according to how it was said, it would be capable of conveying immeasurable grief in a way which is not possible with the other two. The third sentence is ludicrously insensitive, the use of slang suggesting the speaker's lack of respect or concern for John's father.
• One very important feature of good style is that it must be entirely appropriate for the task it is performing.
• This means that the author must take into account [even if unconsciously] audience, form, and function.
• Style might be good, yet hardly noticeable - because it is concentrated on effective communication. This is sometimes known as 'transparent' good style.
• The following extract is from The Highway Code.
When approaching a roundabout, watch out for traffic already on it. Take special care to look out for cyclists or motorcyclists ahead or to the side. Give way to traffic on your right unless road markings indicate otherwise; but keep moving if the way is clear.
• This is writing which makes its points as simply and as clearly as possible. The vocabulary is that of everyday life, and in manner it is speaking to a general reader without trying to make an impression or draw attention to itself in any way.
• This writing is entirely free of literary effects or decoration.
• In most writing however, 'good style' is normally associated with verbal inventiveness and clever manipulation of the elements of literary language.
• The extract from Vladirtiir Nabokov's famous novel Lolitaillustrates
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Та.
• This is writing which is deliberately setting out to be impressive. It relies very heavily on decoration and ornament.
• In this extract Nabokov uses lots of alliteration - the repetition of the l and t sounds, metaphor- 'light' and 'fire' - and onomatopoeia - 'trip', 'tap' - as well as such fancy wordplay as the orthographic and semantic parallels between 'life' and 'fire'.
• Good style in speech and writing - like that in clothes or other matters involving taste - can go in and out of fashion.
• Style in context.Style, in any kind of speech or writing, is extremely important to the overall function of communication. In most cases, a consistency of features produces what we understand as a pleasing style. That is, the style is appropriate to the context in which it occurs.
• A discordant style is produced by the inclusion of some feature which does not fit with the stylistic context of the piece. In other words, the feature is out of place.
• An example of this might be found in a personal letter which is signed 'Yours faithfully' or an aristocratic character in a novel speaking street slang for no good stylistic reason.
The notion of norm. Norm may be defined as a set of language rules which are considered to be most standard and correct in a certain epoch and in a certain society. It is next to impossible to work out universal language norms because each functional style has its own regularities. The sentence "I ain't got no news from nobody" should be treated as non-grammatical from the point of view of literary grammar though it is in full accordance with special colloquial English grammar rules.
The notion of form. Form is a term which refers to the recognizable shape of a text or a speech act. This shape may be either physical or abstract. It is physical in writing and abstract in spoken communication. Written forms are novels, stories, articles, poems, letters, posters, menus, etc. Spoken forms are conversations, TV and radio commentaries, announcements, sermons, jokes and anecdotes, etc. The term "form" is used in linguistics and in literary criticism as a technical term. It is used when considering the shape, the construction, or the type of speech or writing. An awareness of form can help to produce more efficient communication.
The notion of text Text literally means "a piece of writing". Charles Dickens' novel "Bleak House" is a text. A letter from a friend is a text. A caption to a picture is a text. A painting by Picasso can also be conditionally called a text. The term "text" is most used in linguistics and literary studies, where it was originally used as a synonym for "book", but it could just as easily be a poem, a letter, or a diary. This term is now in general use in other branches of the humanities such as cultural studies and film studies, where its meaning becomes "the thing being studied". In these other fields it could also be a video film, an advertisement, a painting, or a music score. Even a bus ticket may be called "a text". The term "text" is used so as to concentrate attention on the object being studied, rather than its author.
The notion of context. Types of context. A linguistic context is the encirclement of a language unit by other language units in speech. Such encirclement makes the meaning of the unit clear and unambiguous. It is especially important in case with polysemantic words. Microcontext is the context of a single utterance (sentence). Macrocontext is the context of a paragraph in a text. Megacontext is the context of a book chapter, a story or the whole book.
An extralingual (situational) context is formed by extralingual conditions in which communication takes place. Besides making the meaning of words well-defined, a situational context allows the speaker to economize on speech efforts and to avoid situationally redundant language signs. The commands of a surgeon in an operating room, such as "scalpel", "pincers" or "tampon", are understood by his assistants correctly and without any additional explanations about what kind of tampon is needed.
Extralingual context can be physical or abstract and can significantly affect the communication. A conversation between lovers can be affected by surroundings in terms of music, location, and the presence of others. Such surroundings form a physical context. A dialogue between colleagues can be affected by the nature of their relationship. That is, one may be of higher status than the other. Such nature forms an abstract context. Historical accounts are more easily understood when evoked in the context of their own time. Such context is called temporal or chronological. There would be a psychologically advantageous context within which to tell one's spouse about that dented bumper on the new car. Such context may be called psychological.
No linguistic unit exists in a vacuum and this is why dictionaries have only a limited function in conveying meaning devoid of context. Words do not have an absolute meaning. Shades of meaning emerge with variation in context. For example, if we say that "Peter the First was a great monarch", we are using great as an adjective to imply stately qualities and a large-scale impression of a historical figure. On the other hand, if we say "We had a great time at the party last night", the word great takes on a different meaning. The implication is that we enjoyed ourselves, and we wish to convey this in a rather exaggerated way. We are confident that our listener will understand. If we express our feelings to a sexual partner using the word love, that word means something quite different to the love we express to a two-year-old child. The context is different, and it affects the meaning of the word love.
In a detailed linguistic sense, a unit of meaning which we refer to as a morpheme can only be seen as such in context. For example, within the context of the word elephant, the fragment ant cannot be classed as a morpheme. This is because it is an integral part of that larger morpheme, elephant. However, considered on its own as a word, ant (the insect) is a morpheme. Here it is in a different context: Ants are industrious. Similarly, used as a prefix in a word such as antacid, it is a bound morpheme meaning against or opposite.
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