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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

style,text and frequency:-Deviance,prominence and literary relevance

The role of quantitative evidence can be understood more clearly if we look at the interrelation of the three concepts of DEVIANCE,PROMINENCE AND LITERARY RELEVANCE.Leaving aside for the moment the problem of determining a norm,we may define deviance as a purely statistical notion:as the difference between the normal frequency of a feature,and its frequency in the text or corpus.Prominence is the related psychological notion:Halliday defines it simply as the general name for the phenomenon of linguistic highlighting,whereby some linguistic features stands out in some way.We assume that prominence of various degrees and kinds provides the basis for a reader's subjective recognition of a style.Halliday distinguishes prominence from literary "relevance" which he calls value in game.Like Halliday,we shall associate literary relevance with the Prague School notion of Foregrounding,or artistically motivated deviation,as discussed.Foregrounding may be qualitative,ie deviation from the language code itself-a breach  of some rule or convention of English-or it may be quantitative,ie deviance from some expected frequency.The question stylistics must consideris:how are these three concepts of deviance,prominence and foregrounding interrelated?
                                                        first,let us consider the relation between prominence and deviance.Prominence must obviously be understood in relative terms:if features can register on a reader's mind in his recognition of style,the degree to which they are salient will vary,and the degree to which the reader responds in a given reading will also vary according to a number of factors,such as his attentiveness,sensitivity to stlye and previous reading experience.But this ability to react to what is "noticeable" in style must underlie our ability to recognize one passage as Dickensian,another as Jamesian and so on.We may go so far as to suggest that each reafer has a "stylistic competence",analogous to and conditional to the linguistic competence shared by all native speakers of a language.The analogy holds in so far as stylistic competence,like linguistic competence,is a capacity which we possess and exercise unconsciously and intuitively:only with special training can it be turned into explicit knowledge.But unlike Chomsky's ideal linguistic competence,stylistic competence is an ability which different people possese in different measure,so that although there may be a great deal in common between different English speakers responsiveness to stylo,allowance must be made for differences of degree and kind.........
                                                                               We presume a fairly direct relation between prominence(psychological saliently)and deviance (a function of textual frequency).It is resonable to suppose that a sense of what is usual or unusual or noticeable in language is built up from a life long experience of linguistic use,so that we are able to affirm with resonable confidence and without resort to a pocked calculator that Hemingway favors short sentences.It is in this sense that statistics may be an elaborate way of demonstrating the obvious.But it would be hazardous to assume that prominence and deviance are simply subjectice and objective aspects. of the same phenomenon.This is first because of the individual differences in stylistics competence already noted;secondly because our sense of style is essentially vague and indeterminate,not reducible to quantities;and thirdly because it is likely that certain deviances donot reach the threshold of response,even for the most experienced,alert and sensitive reader....
                                                              Both prominence and deviance have a negative,as well as a positive side:a feature which occurs more rarely than usual is just as much a part of the statistical pattern as one which occurs more often than usual;and it may also be a significant aspect of our sense of style.Recall that in Halliday's analysis of Lok's language,the rarity of certain categories was just an important as the high frequency of others:the most striking features of Lok's language were it's limitations.Like the relation between prominence and deviance,that between prominence and literary relevance or foregrounding is not a one-to-one match.Prominence,which is the basis for our sense of the particularity of a style,also provides the condition for recognition that a style is being used for a particular literary end:that it has a value in the game.But there is an additional  condition:we should be able to see a prominence feature of style as forming a significant relationship with other features of style,in an artistically coherent pattern of choice.According to Mukarovsky,it is the "consistency" and systematic character of foregrounding, not just the isolated occurence of this or that prominence feature,which is the distinguishing mark of literary language.Instances can be cited where this appears not to be the case:where prominence is due to other than literary considerations.Swift's dislike of monosyllables and Dryden's avoidance of final prepositions are cases of writer's preferences being guided by a general sense of linguistic propriety,of what is GOOD English.Lessers writers could provide many examples of idiosyncrasies of style which have no discernible literary function.In other cases,there is room for disagreement.It may be relevant feature of the later style of Henry James that he favors manner adverbs,and avoids adjectives.James himself seems to have felt an aesthetic reason for these propensities,for he is reported to have said:Adjectives are the sugar of literature and advervbs the salt.Whatever the force of this cryptic remark,it is up to us as readers to find a value for these preferences,or else to dismiss them as the outcome of prejudice or eccentricity.The dividing line between foregrounding and unmotivated prominence must be drawn in principle:where it is drawn in practice depends on a coherent literary interpretation of style.....
                                                           

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