Academic journal article Style

Negation as a Stylistic Feature in Joseph Heller's Catch-22: A Corpus Study (1)

Academic journal article Style

Negation as a Stylistic Feature in Joseph Heller's Catch-22: A Corpus Study (1)

Article excerpt

Although the logical, grammatical, and semantic features of negation have been the object of discussion for decades, little attention has been paid to the pragmatic functions of negation in fictional discourse. Thus, few studies have been carried out on negation as a feature of variation, and virtually none on negation as a stylistic feature in fictional discourse. However, the enormous influence of quantitative studies in discourse analysis and pragmatics as fields of research has also had its effects on studies in stylistics. Thus, studies on variation in English text types standardly include references to fictional discourse (see, for example Biber), and some monographs have been devoted to the quantification of linguistic information in literary texts (see for example Thomas and Short). Unfortunately, quantitative studies on negation in English are not numerous, and among the few that can be pointed to, (1) Gunnel Tottie's Negation in English Speech and Writing clearly stands out; consequently, I will make reference to this study throughout the article. (2)

The present article is a corpus-based study of negation as a stylistic feature of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22. The analysis of negation in this novel is carried out by means of comparing it with the frequency and functions of negation in two other corpora, the sections of general fiction in the LOB corpus of British English and the Brown corpus of American English. (I will henceforward refer to the sections of general fiction in these two corpora as LOB-K and Brown-K respectively.) The motivation for this comparison is, as Michael Stubbs points out, "the need for the stylistic analysis of individual texts to be based on comparisons with other texts" (5). Thus, the analysis of negation in the novel Catch-22 will benefit from the comparison with the frequency and function of negation in electronic corpora of comparable texts, as this comparison will shed light on the idiosyncratic properties of negation in Catch-22

The objective of this article is thus to explore the nature of negation in Catch22 by observing similarities and differences with the frequency and functions of negation types in the two corpora of fiction, in particular with Brown, the corpus of American fiction. At the same time, the adequacy of the categories proposed by Tottie is discussed with regard to their relevance for the analysis of fictional discourse. In section 1 a brief review is offered of the concept of negation as a feature of language variation in speech, writing, and in fictional discourse; the concept of negation as a marked option in discourse is also introduced briefly. In section 2, the method, procedure, and data are described. In section 3, Tottie's categories of negation are presented and discussed with regard to their adequacy for the analysis of fictional discourse, and a subclassification of her category of denials is proposed. In section 4 the results of the analysis of the corpora are presented and discussed, followed by conclusions in section 5.

Catch-22 is a political satire set on an imaginary island off the Italian coast in which the protagonists are members of an American bomber squadron during World War II. "Catch 22" refers to a catch in the military regulations that prevents the bombardiers from ever being grounded and sent home. Catch 22 is characterized by a circular logic that is a metaphor of the trap in which the bombardiers find themselves, since most of them will not be able to leave the island alive. The novel is characterized by black humor that becomes progressively bleaker as the novel progresses. The protagonist is Yossarian, a typical antihero, whose only concern is to get through the war without being killed.

1. Negation as a Feature of Variation in English

The differences in frequency and distribution of negation and of negation types across different text types have been discussed by authors such as Tottie and Douglas Biber. …

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