A history of style

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Perales Escudero 1

Moises D. Perales Escudero University of Michigan Ann Arbor Style as Register: A Linguistic Approach to Style in Composition

Perhaps the central theoretical problem presented by the study of style is the question of whether style as an entity really exists (Glenn and Goldthwaite The St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing 200). Style is thus placed squarely within theframework of general language variation and it follows that no reader should expect to find the field of inquiry even tending to be limited to poetry and belles lettres (Quirk, Foreword to Investigating English Style). The best hope for the contribution of linguistics to composition has always lain in its potential to enrich students’ mastery of style (Crowley “Linguistics and Composition Instruction”487). 1. Introduction This paper is about style in composition. As simple as this statement of territory seems to be, the fact that style is the subject matter makes it complicated. For style lives in language, and language in composition is, in the words of Mina Shaughnessy, “a mine field” (Errors and Expectations 10). Style, as the first epigraph above reminds us, is a nebulous subject. Aprecise, unified definition of what it is in college composition, what it does, and how it can be theorized and taught has eluded the field for a long time (Rankin, Hiatt). The definition of the term changes depending on who defines it and where in the disciplinary landscape that person is situated. Literary critics define style in ways that are not those of the linguistically-oriented stylistician.Popular style handbooks like William Strunk and Elwyn B. White‟s The Elements of Style or Joseph Williams‟ Ten Lesson in Clarity and Grace offer their own definitions of style, sometimes not explicitly but implicitly in their admonitions about how language should be used in writing. Rhetoricians of different traditions also offer their own definitions. But many who theorize style do not define it.Its attributes and values are described, its pedagogy is addressed, but sometimes no identity is explicitly drawn between subject and predicate. Style is, indeed, protean. This lack of a unified concept and theory of style is not new; it has been faulted for the neglect of style in composition‟s theoretical fora that has been apparent for the past thirty years or so (Weiser, MacDonald, Connor). Theconceptual instability of style was already deplored by Mary Hiatt in 1978 when she wrote: Stylistic theory itself ranges widely. Some stylisticians hold that style is totally a matter of one individual‟s writing... others take an opposing view and maintain that it is possible to describe the characteristics of a group of writers or of writers in a certain era. Stylisticians further differ onwhether style is the sum total of the characteristics of the writing or whether it describes in what way the writing departs from the norm... The state of the theory itself is therefore conflicting and confusing (222). Then there is the matter of exactly at which level of linguistic analysis style exists. For prominent compositionist and stylistician Edward P.J. Corbett, style can be analyzed at theparagraph level and below (Classical Rhetoric). But for Robert Connors it makes no sense to offer stylistic advice beyond the sentence level (“Static Abstractions”). For Susan Peck MacDonald style consists of “language patterns discernible at the sentence level” but does not include “specific 1

Perales Escudero 2

features within the sentence” such as modal verbs (“Prose Styles” 622). And inrhetoric, style has long being associated with figures, schemes and tropes (Cautrell; Pace Just a Reminder; Fahnestock; Glenn and Goldthwaite), which are not restricted to any single level of linguistic analysis (Lanham A Handbook). Not to speak of literature, where style is seen by many as “the totality of impressions which a literary work produces” (Chatman and Levin Literary Style 337)....
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