Style – how to understand it

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Style – definition

style Style is a particular set of characteristics in the use of language.

redbtn These characteristics are the result of choices which may be made consciously or unconsciously.

redbtn The results are speech or writing which may be efficient, idiosyncratic, identifiable, or memorable.


Examples

redbtn The following are examples of good style in instructional writing and prose fiction:

Instructional writing
When approaching a roundabout, watch out for traffic already on it. Take special care to look out for cyclists or motorcyclists ahead or to the side. Give way to traffic on your right unless road markings indicate otherwise; but keep moving if the way is clear.

Prose fiction
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.


Use

redbtn The term ‘style’ is usually used in a positive sense to praise what are seen as good qualities.

redbtn Even bad style may be identifiable – if it is consistent.

redbtn Good style is often easy to recognise, but quite difficult to analyse.

redbtn It may be used and perceived – unconsciously.

redbtn NB! We all use a variety of language styles every day, especially in speech.

redbtn One very important feature of good style is that it must be entirely appropriate for the task it is performing.

redbtn This means that the author must take into account [even if unconsciously!] audience, form, and function.

redbtn Style might be good, yet hardly noticeable – because it is concentrated on effective communication. This is sometimes known as ‘transparent’ good style.

redbtn The first of the examples above is from The Highway Code.

When approaching a roundabout, watch out for traffic already on it. Take special care to look out for cyclists or motorcyclists ahead or to the side. Give way to traffic on your right unless road markings indicate otherwise; but keep moving if the way is clear.

redbtn This is writing which is makes its points as simply and as clearly as possible. The vocabulary is that of everyday life, and in manner it is speaking to a general reader without trying to make an impression or draw attention to itself in any way.

redbtn This writing is entirely free of literary effects or decoration.

redbtn In most writing however, ‘good style’ is normally associated with verbal inventiveness and clever manipulation of the elements of literary language.

redbtn The second example is from Vladimir Nabokov’s famous novel Lolita:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

redbtn This is writing which is deliberately setting out to be impressive. It relies very heavily on decoration and ornament.

redbtn In this extract Nabokov uses lots of alliteration – the repetition of the ‘l’ and ‘t’ sounds, metaphor – ‘light’ and ‘fire’ – and onomatopoeia – ‘trip’, ‘tap’ – as well as such fancy wordplay as the orthographic and semantic parallels between ‘life’ and ‘fire’.

redbtn Good style in speech and writing – like that in clothes or other matters involving taste – can go in and out of fashion.

redbtn Style in context. Style, in any kind of speech or writing, is extremely important to the overall function of communication. In most cases, a consistency of features produces what we understand as a pleasing style. That is, the style is appropriate to the context in which it occurs.

redbtn A discordant style is produced by the inclusion of some feature which does not fit with the stylistic context of the piece. In other words, the feature is out of place.

redbtn An example of this might be found in a personal letter which is signed ‘Yours faithfully’ or an aristocratic character in a novel speaking street slang for no good stylistic reason.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2004


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