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Chapter 8: Theory and Style: Next Steps




   Linguistics is the scientific study of language, including its structure, development, and use. It encompasses the study of the sounds (phonetics and phonology), the words (morphology), the sentences (syntax), and the meaning (semantics) of language, as well as the social and cultural contexts in which language is used.

   Literary criticism, on the other hand, is the analysis and interpretation of literary works, including their themes, characters, plot, and style. It seeks to understand and evaluate literature from various perspectives, including historical, cultural, and theoretical frameworks.

   Linguistics and literary criticism intersect (come together) in various ways. Linguistics provides tools and methods for analysing language use in literary works, such as the use of literary devices like metaphor and allusion, and the relationship between language and meaning. Literary criticism, in turn, can contribute to the study of language by examining how literary works use and manipulate language for artistic effect.

   In short, linguistics and literary criticism are two separate fields, but they share a common interest in the study of language and how it is used in different contexts, including literary works.

   The development in theoretical linguistics during the 1950s and 1960s was mirrored by an increasing interest in what linguists could have to say about literary language. It was thought that the systematic and scientific study of literary texts would enable analysts to: 

a)      differentiate between literary’ and non-literary’ forms of language;

b)      engage in objective descriptions of texts rather than in subjective evaluations. 

   Some of the earliest stylistic accounts of literary texts were those of the structuralist linguists in the 1960s. They did not view meaning as something individual and unique to each text, but instead as the product of a system with various parts, which all fit together to make a structural whole. For these critics, the meaning of a word, or a line of a poem could only be interpreted in relation to the other words and lines in the poem, as part of a system of meaning

   Functional linguists like M.A.K. Halliday used detailed linguistic analysis as a powerful tool for explaining the meaning of texts. They related the formal properties of literary texts to the functions of language in a wider, social context. Halliday himself first published the type of analysis 10 which depended on counting the frequency of particular linguistic structures in texts. He later moved on to publish interpretative analyses which aimed to uncover social and ideological meanings in texts. This is the position still taken by many practising statisticians today. 


   Texts are written or spoken materials that convey a particular message or meaning. They can take many different forms, including books, articles, essays, poems, plays, speeches, and more. The purpose of a text can vary widely, ranging from informing or entertaining to persuading or inspiring.

   The reader refers to the individual or group of individuals who engage with the text. Readers play a critical role in the interpretation and meaning-making of a text, as they bring their own experiences, beliefs, and values to the reading process. Readers may also engage with a text in different ways, depending on their motivations for reading, their level of familiarity with the subject matter, and other factors.

   The relationship between texts and readers is complex and dynamic, as readers are not passive consumers of information but actively participate in the creation of meaning from a text. The meaning of a text can also change over time, as different readers engage with it in different contexts or interpret it in new ways.

    American critic Stanley Fish (1980) claims that it is the reader who brings their own analytical processes to bear on what they read and that texts can only have meaning in the context in which they are read.


   Text as discourse refers to the way in which language is used in communication to construct meaning and shape our understanding of the world. It encompasses the larger social and cultural context in which language is used, including the power dynamics, values, and beliefs that influence communication.

   In this sense, a text is not simply a string of words, but rather a complex and multifaceted communicative event. Texts are shaped by a wide range of factors, including the genre, audience, purpose, and context in which they are produced and consumed.

   Discourse analysis is a field of study that examines how language is used in social contexts, with a focus on the ways in which meaning is constructed through linguistic and other semiotic resources. It is concerned with the ways in which language is used to construct and maintain social identities, relationships, and power relations.

   Thus, the concept of text as discourse acknowledges the role of language in shaping our understanding of the world and recognises that texts are not simply neutral or objective representations of reality, but rather are shaped by the social and cultural context in which they are produced and consumed.


   Critical text analysis is an approach to examining texts that focuses on analysing the social, cultural, and historical context in which they were produced and consumed. It involves a critical examination of the language, themes, and underlying assumptions of a text in order to identify power dynamics, social hierarchies, and ideological perspectives.

   The goal of critical text analysis is to uncover the hidden meanings and assumptions that underlie a text, as well as to explore how the text reinforces or challenges dominant social and cultural narratives. It often involves a close reading of the text, as well as a consideration of broader social, political, and historical factors that may be shaping the text's meaning.

   This approach is often used in disciplines such as literary studies, media studies, and cultural studies, and is used to analyse a wide range of texts, including literature, film, advertisements, political speeches, and news media.

   Critical text analysis is a powerful tool for understanding the ways in which language and cultural narratives shape our understanding of the world, and for identifying opportunities for social and cultural change. It can also help us to develop a more nuanced and critical approach to reading and interpreting texts, and to engage more effectively with the broader social and cultural context in which they are produced and consumed.

   The term critical in this context means something rather different from its more general meaning within the context of literary criticism. It was initially associated with the work of linguists such asRoger FowlerGunther KressRobert Hodge and Tony Trew(1979) and Hodge and Kress (1993) who were interested in the relationship between linguistic structures and processes of representation. In other words, they constructed theories about how particular selections in grammatical and semantic structures affected the way in which people, events and processes were talked about and written about, particularly within the context of the news media, but also in other genres of popular texts. These linguists argued that the structures of representation were ideologically based and that particular social and cultural groups, and their associated activities, tended to be represented in ways which reinforced the dominant, common sense ways of viewing those groups. 


   There are many questions which arise from different areas of interest within the study of literature; for example, developments in the study of psychoanalysis, in social and historical theory, and in cultural identity have all had their effect on the kind of questions that get asked about the meaning of texts in general, and literary texts in particular. 

   If you are studying a course which introduces you to literary theory and contains information about historical, social and psychoanalytical perspectives on texts, you may find that asking questions which are linked to issues of language and discourse will play an important part in your understanding of those perspectives.



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