DISCOURSE, STYLISTICS AND PRAGMATIC: A STUDY OF CONVERGENCE
Discourse, stylistics and pragmatics are sub-fields of linguistics that have attained independent statuses in the arts. With the seeming differences between these fields, there exist a lot of relationships that connect the three areas of study together. This study is an attempt to examine the similarities in relationships between discourse, pragmatics and stylistics in their interpretation of language in communication. The methodology adopted is a descriptive/library research. Findings from the study reveal that discourse, pragmatics and stylistics are different but inter-related fields that share a lot of relationships in language analysis even though their goals and methods of analyzing language are different.
The concern of linguists before the advent of Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics and Stylistics, was basically to study the structural pattern and form of language without much regard for the context and other features that shape meaning.According to Olateju (7), much later, however,‘the attention of language scholars was shiftedfrom language form to language function. Consequently, many scholars in humanities and social sciences became keenly interested in the study of Discourse, Pragmatics and Stylistics’ (italics mine).
Discourse, Pragmatics and Stylistics are different but closely related linguistic disciplines that are inseparable. There is as much relationship between them as there are differences in their linguistic approach to interpreting meaning. It is,sometimes, not easy to draw a line of demarcation between Discourse, Pragmatics and Stylistics asthere is hardly any exercise on Discourse without a bit of Pragmatic or Stylistic input. However, Discourse is much broader in its analysis than the other two disciplines.While Discourse is essentially communication; Stylistics is concerned with the study of the pattern and style of what is communicated; while Pragmatics examineswhat is being communicated from the speaker-intended meaning. This study is an attemptto discuss the intricate relationship between Discourse, Pragmatics and Stylistics in order to examine the differentways they each approach linguistic meaning.
2.0. An Overview of Discourse
Discourse is a discipline that has no stable definition. This is because a lot of scholars have
given varied definitions to it based on their views of the subject matter. The common definition is given by Stubbs. He describes Discourse as ‘language above the sentence or above the clause’ (1). According to Johnstone, it is ‘actual instances ofcommunication in the medium of language’ (2). Discourse is meaning communicated far above what is said. The study of Discourse is indeed the “study of many aspects of language use (Fasold 65). Discourse is essentially the study of language in use.
The word ‘discourse’ is from the Latin ‘discursus‘ which denotes ‘conversation, speech’ (Taiwo 14).The term Discourse was first used by Zellig Harris in a paper he presented in 1952.As a structural linguist, he did not use Discourse in the sense that it is commonly used today. He used it only as a sequence of utterances. It was in the late 1960s that scholars began to use the term as an approach to the study of social interaction. (Taiwo 16). Discourse was fully developed in the 1970s as a critique of cognitive process in communication. It is based on the notion that language needs a context to function properly. Thus, ‘it becomes very impossible to understand the linguistic items used in discourse without a context’ (Ahmad 1).
There is a relationship between Discourse, Discourse Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis as they could be described as a three- in-one discipline mostly used interchangeably and sometimes, erroneously especially by non-linguists. Discourse is not the same as Discourse Analysis. While Discourse is communication, Discourse Analysis is a way of analysing communication (Aziz n.pag). When the analysis of a particular discourse aims at exposing the covert ideology embedded in such a discourse, it can then be said to be at the domain of Critical Discourse Analysis. To put it very simple, when Discourse Analysis becomes more critical (when the hearer or reader uses all linguistic features available to generate meaning of the unsaid in a manner that exposes power and abuse of power, dominance, inequality and invested ideologies), it becomes Critical Discourse Analysis.Generally speaking, ‘every discourse is structured by dominance and the dominant structures are legitimated by the ideologies of powerful groups’ (Wodak and Meyer 3).
Discourse Analysis basically ‘studies and examines how an addresser structures his linguistic messages for the addressee and how the addressee in turn uses some linguistic cues to interpret the messages’ (Brown and Yule in Taiwo 15).Social context plays a vital role in generating meaning in a discourse. In fact, it determines the meaning that is to be communicated. Similarly, certain contextual features equally shape the language people use. These are: the interlocutors themselves, their discourse roles and the physical environment of the discourse, the worldview and cultural practices in the domain of the discourse. Discourse Analysis considers language,used together with the aforementioned features, to determine meaning. Discourse Analysis thus generates data for analysis based on the observation and the intuition of the language users. This is why Taiwo believes that a discourse analyst can analyze virtually every conversation, like ‘(casual, telephone, gossip, etc), speeches (campaigns, formal speeches delivered by political figures, etc), written discourse (novels, plays, news, written speeches, editorials, etc)’ (15). This observation by Taiwo above makes discourse analysis to relate with other linguistic branches like Stylistics and Pragmatics which examine meaning in these communication media. To understand this relationship between discourse and these linguistic branches, it is imperative to understand what stylistics and pragmatics are concerned about.
2.1 The Nature of Pragmatics
Adrian Akmajian conceives of pragmatics as a term that ‘covers the study of language use, and in particular the study of linguistic communication, in relation to language structure and context of utterance.’ (361)When Charles Morris proposed his famous trichotomy of syntax, semantics and pragmatics, he defined the last as ‘the study of the relation of signs to interpreters’ (6). But he soon generalized this to ‘the relation of signs to their users’ (29). What this implies is that pragmatics interprets meaning from the angle of the speaker (i.e. speaker-intended meaning).
Norrick (4) conceives of pragmatics as the study of the context-dependent aspects of meaning which are systematically abstracted away from in the construction of logical form. In the semiotic trichotomy developed by Morris, Carnap, and Peirce in the 1930’s, syntax addresses the formal relations of signs to one another, semantics the relation of signs to what they denote, and pragmatics the relation of signs to their users and interpreters.
According to Wolfram and Norrick (2), even though its roots can be traced back to early classical traditions of rhetoric and stylistics, to Immanuel Kant’s conception of pragmatics as empirical and purposive and to William James, who pointed out its practical nature, modern pragmatics is a fairly recent discipline. Its inauguration as an independent field of study within semiotics took place early in the 20th Century by C. Morris, R. Carnap and ultimately C.S. Peirce. The classic division between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics goes back to Morris, who distinguished three separate “dimensions of semiosis” within his science of signs.
There were and are differences of opinions on where exactly to draw the line between semantics and pragmatics. Some thirty years elapsed before pragmatics finally made its way into modern linguistics in the late 1960s, when linguists began to explore the performance phenomena. To this end, they adopted ideas developed and advanced by L. Wittgenstein, G. Ryle, P. Strawson, J.L. Austin and other eminent (ordinary or natural) language philosophers. It seems safe to claim that the ensuing ‘pragmaticturn’was most notably induced by J.L. Austin, J.R. Searle and H.P. Grice, who were interested in utterancemeaningrather than sentence or word meaning, i.e. in studying unique historical events created by actual speakers to perform linguistic acts in actual situational contexts in order to accomplish specific goals.
Other scientific movements that nourished pragmatics include anthropology (B. Malinowski, P. Wegener, A. Gardiner), contextualism (J.R. Firth), functionalism (K. Buhler, R. Jakobson, D. Hymes), ethnomethodology (H. Garfinkel, E. Goffman, H. Sacks) and European sociology (J. Habermas). Since the pragmatic turn, pragmatics has developed more rapidly and diversely as a linguistic discipline. Since the 1970s, the early Anglo-American framework of pragmatic-linguistic study has been immensely expanded and enhanced by research in Continental Europe and elsewhere. With historiographic hindsight, it can be seen that the broadening, i.e. the interdisciplinary expansion, of the field of pragmatics has been a cumulative process; the broader conception of pragmatics chronologically (and causally) followed the narrower one.
Despite its scientific acclaim, the notion of pragmaticsremains somewhat enigmatic and is still difficult to define. This holds for its readings in everyday discourse as well as in scholarly contexts. Nonetheless, when people refer to attitudes and modes of behaviour as pragmatic, they mean that they have a factual kind of orientation in common. People who act pragmatically or take a pragmatic perspective generally have a preference for a practical, matter of fact and realistic rather than a theoretical, speculative and idealistic way of approaching imminent problems and handling everyday affairs. To put it differently, they share a concrete, situation-dependent approach geared to action and usage rather than an abstract, situation-independent and system-related point of view. To assume a pragmatic stance in everyday social encounters as well as in political, historical and related kinds of discourse, means to handle the related affairs in a goal-directed and object-directed, common-sense and down to earth kind of way. Such an understanding of pragmaticsas an attitude in non-scientific discourse has obviously left its traces on the scientific definitions of the term. By and large, one can say that in semiotics and philosophy, ‘pragmaticscharacterizes those theoretical and methodological approaches that are oriented toward use and context rather than toward some system, and that they regard use and context as creating a high degree of analytical surplus’ (Wolfram and Norrick 2).
While essentially the same is true for linguistics in general, there is no commonly accepted definition of pragmaticsin linguistics which would refer to a single, unified and homogeneous field of study. In contemporary linguistics, scholars can identify a narrow and a broad way of delineating pragmatics (of which the former is sometimes allocated to an “Anglo-American” and the latter to a “Continental [European] ” tradition of pragmatics, (Huang xi). According to the narrow view, Wolfram and Norrick (2) observe that pragmatics is understood as ‘the systematic investigation of what and how people mean when they use language as a vehicle of action in a particular context and with a particular goal in mind.’ Thus, the context-dependency of utterance meaning is the central component of more narrowly defined accounts of pragmatics, which focus on a few key issues that can be juxtaposed with related issues in other modules of language theory such as grammar and semantics. Those issues include ‘indexicality/deixis (versus anaphora), presuppositions, implicatures (versus entailments) and speech acts (versus types of sentences), to name only the most conspicuous topics’ (Wolfram and Norrick 4).
Many considerations come to mind when trying to examine the scope of pragmatics. First is the definition of pragmatics by Yule which has a four dimensional approach. He sees pragmatics as ‘the study of speaker meaning, contextual meaning, how more gets communicated than is said, and the study of the expression of relative distance.’(3) By this definition, he has accounted in a way for the scope of this discipline. According to Osisanwo (26), the second definition has to do with our own views of the scope of pragmatics which include:
– The message being communicated
– The participants involved in the message
– The knowledge of the world which they share
– The deductions to be made from the text on the basis of the context
– The implications of what is said or what is left unsaid
– The impact of the non-verbal aspect of interaction on meaning.
Osisanwo went ahead to state that the goals of pragmatics can be understood if we frame the following questions bearing in mind that pragmatics has been said to be the study of language in use in a particular context or situation.
– How do utterances convey meaning?
– What are the roles of context in encoding and decoding messages in an utterance?
– How do interlocutors respond to messages and meaning?
– What are the causes of wrong message encoding?
– What are the causes of wrong message decoding?
From the above points, if there are the goals of pragmatics, then the goals should be to explain how utterances convey meaning in context, how meaning is decoded from utterances in context and in particular situation, how context contributes to the encoding and decoding of meaning, how speakers and hearers of utterance perceive them, how speakers say one thing and mean something else, and how deductions are made in context with respect to what meaning has been encoded in particular utterance. The next section will examine stylistics as a branch of linguistics.
2.2 What is Stylistics?
Scholars have attempted to define stylistics from their own perspectives. Crystal (34) opines that ‘stylistics is the study of aesthetic use of language in all the scopes of linguistics.’ Contrary to this definition by Crystal of stylistics to be of ‘all linguistic domains’ is Short, who asserts that ‘Stylistics is an approach to the analysis of (literary) texts using linguistic descriptions’ (1). Short views stylistics as the scrutiny of fictitious texts in accordance with linguistic guidelines; he therefore limits the scope of stylistics to literary text neglecting the non-literary aspect of it. To Freeman, ‘stylistics is a sub-discipline which started in the second half of the 20th Century. It can be seen as a logical extension of moves within literary criticism early in the 20th century to concentrate on study texts, rather than authors’ (1). Leech and Short say ‘stylistics is simply defined as the (linguistic) study of style; it is rarely undertaken for its own sake, simply as an exercise in describing what use is made of language’. (13) They believe style is studied basically to explain something and in general, literary stylistics has, or implicitly or explicitly, the goal of explaining the relation between language and artistic function.
Short and Candlin are of the view that ‘stylistics is a linguistic approach to the study of the literary texts. It thus, embodies one essential part of the general course – Philosophy; that of combining language and literary study’ (183). Widdowson defines stylistics ‘as the study of literary discourse from a linguistic orientation.’ (3) He takes the view that what distinguishes stylistics from literary criticism on the one hand is that it is a means of linking the two. He also proposes that stylistics occupies the middle-ground between linguistics and literary criticism and its function is to mediate between the two. In this role, its concern necessarily overlaps with those in terms of expediency and effect.
Bally (54) emphasizes that language is a set of means of expression which are simultaneous with thought. He distinguishes between internal stylistics, which studies the balance and the contrast of effective versus intellectual element within the same language, and external or comparative stylistics which compares such features of language with those of another. He stresses that style is a definite emotional effect achieved by linguistic means in a text. Style, therefore, stretches without breaking.
Enkvist (10) distinguishes among three points of view in defining style. According to him, style can be defined from the point of view of the writer where he/she attempts to penetrate and reveal the inner form of his/her subjects. Secondly, there are definitions which deal with the characteristics of the text itself, attempting the analysis of style entirely in terms of objective investigation of textual features. Thirdly, he gives a definition based on impressions of the readers. Enkvist further asserts that a thorough definition of style must take into consideration stylistic analyses that are operationally concrete and based on linguistic features.
With this in mind, Enkvist (12) defines the style of a text to be the ‘aggregate of the textual probability of its linguistic item.’ This definition, however, looks at “contextual probability” as being central to every text and such includes an autonomous reference to a relevant norm conditioned by past experience. Thus, Enkvist’s view holds the idea that phonological, grammatical and lexical items constitute contextual probabilities that are integral to the study of style. He, however, fails to recognize pragmatics which is more of a “contextual probability” while the former set constitutes probability that all have to do with the total option available in language use.
According to Wales, ‘style refers to the perceived manner of expression in writing or speaking’ (373). In this case, the style of writing can be radical, tragic, comic, etc., depending on the ultimate intentions of the writer. In the above definition, style enables the writer to express his/her feelings to the outer world; because literature is not written in a vacuum, there must be a message a writer has in mind to pass across, the way the writer uses language to convey his/her message to the world is referred to as the style of the writer. To buttress this definition, Malie as cited in Lawal says ‘the style of an author has a consistency due to the habitual nature of the writing process and this consistency can be determined, measured and used to determine consanguinity between an unknown and a set of authenticated text.’ (134)
Stylistics is a term that is mostly associated with the literary genre but modern linguistic exercises have clearly shown that there is much of stylistic analysis to be done on non-literary texts as is done on literary texts. A literary genre can be seen as style characteristics that is collectively recognized and agreed upon. Some of the aspects of literary stylistics include the use of dialogue, the description of scenes, the use of active and passive voice and the distribution of sentence length (Ahmad 2).
Stylistics primarily attempts to explain the principles that informed the choices made by communicators which clearly manifests in their use of language. This is skillfully unraveled by the reader or writer by studying the style of the initiator of the communication (writer or speaker). Style on its own is aptly described by Lucas as ‘the effective use of language, especially in prose, whether to make statements or to rouse emotions. It involves first of all the power to put fact with clarity and brevity’ (9).
One major concern of stylistics is the investigation into the continuous and consistent appearance of certain structures, items and elements in a speech utterance or in a given text. Thus, when a text is replete with some certain recurring predominant words or expressions, a stylistician becomes more interested in his investigation. Stylistics is particularly important because it enhances and maximizes our enjoyment of a text.
Stylistics, like Discourse, is multidisciplinary in nature, even though it has its own focus. It draws insights from disciplines such as Literature, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and so on. As earlier explained, Stylistics, majorly, is the study of the style of a text. It looks at style
in so many dimensions. They include:
Style as Choice: This considers style as a choice the speaker or writer makes in a text that ultimately makes his utterance or text to stand out. It becomes the responsibility of the stylistician to identify such a style in his (stylistician) analysis.
Style as Situation: A style could be adopted by a speaker or writer based on the situation in question. A text comes to life through the context or situation. This could be physical, socio-cultural or pragmatic.
Style as Deviation:
What does not conform to a certain standard could be a style to a writer or speaker. This is mostly noticed in poetry where the poet has the poetic license to deviate from an acceptable norm to use language in a way that pleases him.
Style as Time/ Era: This has to do with time relevance of a style. It deals with whether a particular style is in vogue or obsolete; whether it is ancient or modern. It is the task of the stylistician to point this out.
Style as the Individual: There are specific features that are associated with a particular speaker or writer due to his choice of style. That becomes his ideolets. A speaker or writer stands recognized basically due to his style.
3.1 Discourse, Pragmatics and Stylistics: What Relationship?
Even though discourse, stylistics and pragmatics have attained the statuses of independent disciplines, there are relationships between the three areas of studies. These relationships are examined below:
1. For one thing, they are all a sub-branch or sub-field of linguistics which comes under the level of meaning (semantics, pragmatics, stylistics and discourse analysis). Other levels of linguistics are those of sound (phonetics and phonology) and form (morphology and syntax)
2. Also, they are all inter-disciplinary areas of study. Stylistics, like Discourse and Pragmatics, is multidisciplinary in nature, even though it has its own focus. It draws insights from disciplines such as Literature, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and so on. In the same vein, the scientific movements that nourished pragmatics include anthropology (B. Malinowski, P. Wegener, A. Gardiner), contextualism (J.R. Firth), functionalism (K. Buhler, R. Jakobson, D. Hymes), ethnomethodology (H. Garfinkel, E. Goffman, H. Sacks) and European sociology (J. Habermas). As a matter of fact, it is the relationship between pragmatics and sociology that gave birth to the sub-field of socio-pragmatics. Discourse, similarly, is a relative social phenomenon that depends solely on a wide range of disciplines, such as Psychology, Anthropology, Philosophy, Anthropological Linguistics, Sociology, Cognitive and Social Psychology.
3. It is difficult to give a universally accepted definition of these disciplines. Despite its scientific acclaim, the notion of pragmaticsremains somewhat enigmatic and is still difficult to define. This holds for its readings in everyday discourse as well as in scholarly contexts. Pragmatics may be defined from a purely linguistic or non-linguistic angle which makes it complex to pin-point the exact meaning of the term. The sentences below explain this idea:
(i). Pragmatics is a linguistic discipline. (ii). This study is a pragmatic analysis of Adichie’s text. (iii). Nigerian leaders need to be pragmatic rather than leave things to chance.
Discourse and Stylistics as linguistic disciplines have also eluded scholars as it is complex to give a universally acceptable definition of the two fields.
4. They all focus on the interpretation of meaning in communication. This means that they share similarities in their focus. Discourse analysis picks up from where stylistics stops. The tasking questions discourse often asks are: What makes the speaker or writer use language the way he or she does? How does the hearer or reader interpret what the speaker or writer says or writes? Of course, this is where discourse shares a common boundary with Pragmatics. Indeed, ‘the speaker or writer has total control of the choice of words to use but he or she certainly does not have control of the meaning the listener or speaker would derive from what is said or written’ (Aziz n.pag).
Osisanwo notes that ‘since both of them (discourse and pragmatics) deal with human interactions through language, they should be seen as cousins or linguistic relations’ (5). According to Brown and Yule (26), ‘in discourse analysis as in pragmatics we are concerned with what people using language are doing, and accounting for the linguistic features in the discourse as the means employed in what they are doing.’
Discourse and Stylistics are two linguistic disciplines that are analyzed using different methods and tools. The text is the object of analysis for both the discourse analyst and the stylistician. One noticeable difference however is the manner in which they approach their analysis. ‘In discourse, there is the concern for language in use in social contexts, and in particular with interaction or dialogue between speakers. In essence, the discourse analyst is concerned with what language is used for and not the formal properties of a language.’ (Osisonwo 8)
5. Context is key to the interpretation of meaning in discourse, stylistics and pragmatics. The three subfields of linguistics take into considerations the role of context in interpreting discourse or communication in language. This includes all the kinds of context available in linguistics such as physical, psychological, socio-cultural and linguistic.
6. There are certain linguistic terms that are synonymous to, or cut across for the discourse analyst, the stylistician and the pragmatist. Some of these include:
Text: In Discourse, text simply means any instance of language in use. This comprises not only written language but also spoken language. A text could be as small as a word or sentence and could also be as large as a paragraph (Aziz n. pag). A text could equally be a whole chapter, a news item or a conversation. For a piece to be qualified as a text, Halliday and Hassan believe, it must form a ‘unified whole’ (1). When that happens, it can then be regarded as a semantic unit.
A text is meant to have a texture. Texture, as used here, is the parameter that distinguishes a text from something that is not a text. Information in a text flows within and among sentences through the interplay of coherence and cohesion.
Cohesion and Coherence: Coherence concerns with sense in a text. That is to say that when a text makes sense to a reader or a hearer, it is said to be coherent (Osisanwoin Ogunsiji 48). Cohesion on the other hand is a Latin word for “striking together” (Stern in Ogunsiji 48). It is a term in Discourse that relates to how texts are held together lexically and grammatically as a whole. A text without cohesion is only a disjointed speech which may not generate any meaning.There is an obvious presence of coherence in the following conversation between two interlocutors:
Speaker A: Honey the phone is ringing
Speaker B: I’min the bathroom
Speaker A: ok
The discourse above can be interpreted vis- a- vis the social conventions of interaction which include:
Speaker A requests speaker B to perform an action.
Speaker B gives the reason why he cannot comply.
Speaker A understands and (inexplicitly) proceeds to perform the action.
It is discovered that there are no cohesive ties in the above discourse but the needed cues to identify coherence are conventional structures of interaction, and this is a shared understanding by the interlocutors.That is the crux of coherence in discourse.
Context: Context is a set of facts that surrounds a particular situation. Viewed from the angle of linguistics, context means everything that surrounds the production and reception of a piece of communication.According to van Dijk,“context is subjective mental model of communicative situation” (npn).Communication is better understood in context. Taiwo corroborates this fact in his explanation of context and its features which include:
the physical situation in which the communication takes place, the interactants or interlocutors, the knowledge of the communicators of their cultural norms and expected behaviour, and the expressions that precede and follow a particular expression. All these features of context help language speakers to interpret meaning appropriately(19).
Discourse dwells so much on the context of language use in social setting.It should be noted that discourse, pragmatics and stylistics belong to functional linguistics. According to Osisonwo (5), ‘a number of features are common to discourse analysis and pragmatics. These include speech acts, context, inference, presupposition and implicature, but with slightly different goals and levels of emphasis.’
7. Similarly, since discourse is broader than stylistics and pragmatics, the two sub-fields thus, become an approach or tool of analysis in discourse. As such, they become intertwined, sharing concepts and boundaries in linguistic analysis. However, where stylistics and pragmatics cannot thread, discourse has traversed. This makes it possible to find such aspects of analysis in all the fields like:
Graphological Features whichis concerned with the physical appearance of a text. The primary focus here is foregrounding. That is an act of bringing to fore, certain words to give them prominence. This can be identified by looking at words in italics, capital letters, bold letters, words that are underlined, and so on. The use of punctuation marks can equally create stylistic effects. It is the task of the stylistician to explore and give description of these graphological features in a text.
Syntactic Features:The focus here is on sentence types and the effect they create in a text. A text may contain a combination of simple, complex, compound and compound complex sentences or just simple sentences. Aspects of ellipsis, parataxis, hypotaxis, right and left- branching sentences are equally considered significant here (Ogunsiji 11).For example, a dislocation in syntax of a text could mean the dislocation in human thoughts. James Joyce’s novels are replete with this style.
Lexico- Semantic Features:
Here, attention is specially given to words. This is because words may be used by the speaker or writer to produce connotative, denotative, associative, collocative, affective, thematic, idiomatic and even stylistic meanings. The discourse analysts, pragmatists and stylisticians watch out for the various meanings conveyed by the use of such words.
8. Lastly, the text is the subject of analysis for the discourse, stylistic and pragmatic analysts. However, the text must be interpreted as communicative utterances for the pragmatists.
Discourse, Pragmatics and Stylistics are linguistic disciplines that analyze text in an attempt to establish meaning in communication.Although, it is a complexendeavour in trying to draw a demarcating line between these disciplines, it is still possible to speculate the limit to which the scope of one field can cover over another due to their concerns or goals. These sub-branch of linguistics share similarities even though they approach the analysis of language use with different,but similar, methods.One thing that is common Discourse, Pragmatics and Stylistics is that theyhave the text as the object of analysis.
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