Pragmatic Stylistics

Pragmatic Stylistics

Pragmatic Stylistics

Pragmatic Stylistics

Synopsis

Elizabeth Black Looks at the usefulness of pragmatic theories in the interpretation of literary texts and analyzing narrative.

Excerpt

This book tries to show that Applied Linguistics can make a contribution to the study of literature. When I was an undergraduate, I was impressed – and very puzzled – by colleagues who declared that something was ‘symbolic’. This was generally approved by the lecturer, but no one said why or how. When I began to teach, I encountered the same problem. My students were avid in the recognition of symbols. Sometimes I saw why, at other times I was baffled. This book is an attempt to debaffle me, and, I hope, others. I believe that there is a linguistic explanation for many tropes in literature, and I hope to show how they work. The ways in which we interpret ordinary language use are relevant to the ways in which we interpret literary discourse – which is only the language of the time, written by people who are more adept at manipulating its nuances than most of us. But I shall try to show that we follow roughly the same procedures whether we are listening to a friend, reading a newspaper, or reading a literary work.

I begin with an account of traditional approaches to literary discourse. This is because pragmatics is the study of language in context, and the ways in which novelists create character and situation are relevant to our interpretation of the discourse. I then move on to introduce the theories of Austin and Grice, who offer basic groundwork in pragmatics. Then I consider the kinds of ‘signposting’ that help us through our reading. The theories considered here are pragmatic in the sense that they contribute to the contextualisation of the text, and offer hints as to its interpretation – the equivalent of intonation in spoken language. More technically, I move on to consider the complexities of prose fiction in the variety of ‘voices’ offered the reader, and, in the following chapter, the ways in which direct and indirect discourse are manipulated. The argument then becomes more technical, as I consider the role of politeness theory and relevance theory, and then consider how these theories show us something about how we interpret the books we read. In particular, I show how these theories can explain how we interpret metaphor and symbolism in a coherent manner. It is not an arbitrary decision, but one grounded in an (implicit) understanding of how language works. I have attempted to avoid excessive use of technical terms throughout, which may offend the purists, but I offer no apology.

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