Lexical Expressive Means and Stylistic Devices


Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

By being forcibly linked together the elements acquire a slight modification of meaning. The elevated ancestors simile unhallowed disturb in the now obsolete meaning of tear to pieces are put alongside the colloquial contraction the Country's the country is and the colloquial done for. Interaction of different of different types of lexical meaning Words in context as has been pointed out may acquire additional lexical meanings not fixed in dictionaries what we have called contextual meanings. The latter may sometimes deviate from...



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Основы теории изучаемого языка                                                                         Стилистика английского языка

                                                                 Лекция 7

                                                                                                                             Lexical Expressive Means and Stylistic Devices

Lecture 7

Lexical Expressive Means and Stylistic Devices

Intentional mixing of the stylistic aspect of word

Heterogeneity of the component parts of the utterance is the basis for a stylistic device called bathos. Unrelated elements are brought together as if they denoted things equal in rank or belonging to one class, as if they were of the same stylistic aspect. By being forcibly linked together, the elements acquire a slight modification of meaning.

Oh, Julia! what is every other woe?— For God's sake let me have a glass of liquor;

This produces an effect which serves the purpose of lowering the loftiness of expression, inasmuch as there is a sudden drop from the elevated to the commonplace or even the ridiculous.

The following sentence from Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" illustrates with what skill the author combines elevated words and phrases and common colloquial ones in order to achieve the desired impact on the reader — it being the combination of the supernatural and the ordinary.

"But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for."

The elevated ancestors, simile, unhallowed, disturb (in the now obsolete meaning of tear to pieces) are put alongside the colloquial contraction the Country's (the country is) and the colloquial done for.

Interaction of different of different types of lexical meaning

Words in context, as has been pointed out, may acquire additional lexical meanings not fixed in dictionaries, what we have called contextual meanings. The latter may sometimes deviate from the dictionary meaning to such a degree that the new meaning even becomes the opposite of the primary meaning, as, for example, with the word sophisticated. This is especially the case when we deal with transferred meanings.

What is known in linguistics as transferred meaning is practically the interrelation between two types of lexical meaning: dictionary and contextual. The contextual meaning will always depend on the dictionary (logical) meaning to a greater or lesser extent. When the deviation from the acknowledged meaning is carried to a degree that it causes an unexpected turn in the recognized logical meanings, we register a stylistic device.

The transferred meaning of a word may be fixed in dictionaries as a result of long and frequent use of the word other than in its primary meaning. In this case we register a derivative meaning of the word.

The interaction of primarily dictionary and contextually imposed meanings

The interaction or interplay between the primary dictionary meaning (the meaning which is registered in the language code as an easily recognized sign for an abstract notion designating a certain phenomenon or object) and a meaning which is imposed on the word by a micro-context may be maintained along different lines. One line is when the author identifies two objects which have nothing in common, but in which he subjectively sees a function, or a property, or a feature, or a quality that may make the reader perceive these two objects as identical. Another line is when the author finds it possible to substitute one object for another on the grounds that there is some kind of interdependence or interrelation between the two corresponding objects. A third line is when a certain property or quality of an object is used in an opposite or contradictory sense.

The stylistic device based on the principle of identification of two objects is called a metaphor. The SD based on the principle of substitution of one object for another is called metonymy and the SD based on contrary concepts is called irony.

Let us now proceed with a detailed analysis of the ontology, structure and functions of these stylistic devices.


The term 'metaphor', as the etymology of the word reveals, means transference of some quality from one object to another. From the times of ancient Greek and Roman rhetoric, the term has been known to denote the transference of meaning from one word to another. It is still widely used to designate the process in which a word acquires a derivative meaning. Thus by transference of meaning the words grasp, get and see come to have the derivative meaning of understand. When these words are used with that meaning we can only register the derivative meaning existing in the semantic structures of the words. Though the derivative meaning is metaphorical in origin, there is no stylistic effect because the primary meaning is no longer felt.

A metaphor becomes a stylistic device when two different phenomena (things, events, ideas, actions) are simultaneously brought to mind by the imposition of some or all of the inherent properties of one object on the other which by nature is deprived of these properties. Such an imposition generally results when the creator of the metaphor finds in the two corresponding objects certain features which to his eye have something in common.

The idea that metaphor is based on similarity or affinity of two (corresponding) objects or notions is, as I understand it, erroneous. The two objects are identified and the fact that a common feature is pointed to and made prominent does not make them similar. The notion of similarity can be carried on ad absurdum, for example, animals and human beings move, breathe, eat, etc. but if one of these features, i.e. movement, breathing, is pointed to in animals and at the same time in human beings, the two objects will not necessarily cause the notion of affinity.

Identification should not be equated to resemblance. Thus in the following metaphor:

"Dear Nature is the kindest Mother still" (Byron) the notion Mother arouses in the mind the actions of nursing, weaning, caring for, etc., whereas the notion Nature does not. There is no true similarity, but there is a kind of identification, Therefore it is better to define metaphor as the power of realizing two lexical meanings simultaneously.

Due to this power metaphor is one of the most potent means of creating images. An image is a sensory perception of an abstract notion already existing in the mind. Consequently, to create an image means to bring a phenomenon from the highly abstract to the essentially concrete. Thus the example given above where the two concepts Mother and Nature are brought-together in the interplay of their meanings, brings up the image of Nature materialized into but not likened to the image of Mother. The identification is most clearly observed when the metaphor is embodied either in an attributive word, as in pearly teeth, voiceless sounds, or in a predicative word-combination, as in the example with Nature and Mother.

Metaphors, like all stylistic devices, can be classified according to their degree of unexpectedness. Thus metaphors which are absolutely unexpected, i.e. are quite unpredictable, are called genuine metaphors. Those which are commonly used in speech and therefore are .sometimes even fixed in dictionaries as expressive means of language are trite metaphors, or dead metaphors. Their predictability therefore is apparent Genuine metaphors are regarded as belonging to language-in-action, i. e. speech metaphors; trite metaphors belong to the language-as-a-system, i.e. language proper, and are usually fixed in dictionaries as units of the language.

The examples given above may serve as illustrations of genuine metaphors. Here are some examples of metaphors that are considered trite. They are time-worn and well rubbed into the language: *a ray of hope', 'floods of tears', 'a storm of indignation', 'a flight of fancy', *a gleam of mirth', *a shadow of a smile' and the like.

Genuine metaphors are mostly to be found in poetry and emotive prose. Trite metaphors are generally used as expressive means in newspaper articles, in oratorical style and even in scientific language. The use of trite metaphors should not be regarded as a drawback of style. They help the writer to enliven his work and even make the meaning more concrete.

There is constant interaction between genuine and trite metaphors. Genuine metaphors, if they are good and can stand the test of time, may, through frequent repetition, become trite and consequently easily predictable. Trite metaphors, as has been shown, may regain their freshness through the process of prolongation of the metaphor.

The constant use of a metaphor gradually leads to the breaking up of the primary meaning. The metaphoric use of the word begins to affect the dictionary meaning, adding to it fresh connotations or shades of meaning. But this influence, however strong it may be, will never reach the degree where the dictionary meaning entirely disappears. If it did, we should have no stylistic device. It is a law of stylistics that in a stylistic device the stability of the dictionary meaning is always retained, no matter how great the influence of the contextual meaning may be.


And the skirts! What a sight were those skirts! They were nothing but vast decorated pyramids; on the summit of each was stuck the upper half of a princess. (A.B.)

At the last moment before the windy collapse of the day, I myself took the road down. (Jn. H.)

He smelled the ever-beautiful smell of coffee imprisoned in the can.

They walked along, two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate.


Metonymy is based on a different type of relation between the dictionary and contextual meanings, a relation based not on identification, but on some kind of association connecting the two concepts which these meanings represent.

Thus, the word crown may stand for 'king or queen', cup or glass for 'the drink it contains', woolsack for 'the Chancellor of the Exchequer who sits on it, OJT the position and dignity of the Lord Chancellor*, e. g., "Here the noble lord inclined his knee to the Woolsack." (from Hansard).

Here also the interrelation between the dictionary and contextual meanings should stand out clearly and conspicuously. Only then can we state that a stylistic device is used. Otherwise we must turn our mind to lexicological problems, i.e. to the ways and means by which new words and meanings are coined. The examples of metonymy given above are traditional. In fact they are derivative logical meanings and therefore fixed in dictionaries. However, when such meanings are included in dictionaries, there is usually a label fig ('figurative use'). This shows that the new meaning has not replaced the primary one, but, as it were, co-exists with it.

Still the new meaning has become so common, that it is easily predictable and therefore does not bear any additional information, which is an indispensable condition for an SD.

Here are some more widely used metonymical meanings, some of which are already fixed in dictionaries without the label fig: the press for '(the personnel -connected with) a printing or publishing establishment', or for 'the newspaper and periodical literature which is printed by the printing press'. The bench is used as a generic term for 'magistrates and justices'. A hand is used for a worker, the cradle stands for infancy, earliest stages, place of origin, and the grave stands for death.

Many attempts have been made to pin-point the types of relation which metonymy is based on. Among them the following are most common:

1. A concrete thing used instead of an abstract notion. In this case the thing becomes a symbol of the notion, as in "The camp, the pulpit and the law For rich men's sons are free." (Shelley)

2. The container instead of the thing contained: “The hall applauded”

3. The relation of proximity, as in:

"The round game table was boisterous and happy." (Dickens)

4. The material instead of the thing made of it, as in: "The marble spoke."                    -

5. The instrument which the doer uses in performing the action instead of the action or the doer himself, as in:

"Well, Mr. Weller, says the gentleman, you're a very good whip, and can do what you like with your horses, we know." (Dickens)

Metonymy used in language-in-action, i.e. contextual metonymy, is genuine metonymy and reveals a quite unexpected substitution of one word for another, or one concept for another, on the ground of some strong impression produced by a chance feature of the thing, for example:

"Then they came in. Two of them, a man with long fair moustaches and a silent dark man... Definitely, the moustache and I had nothing in common." (Doris Lessing, "Retreat to Innocence")

Again we have a feature of a man which catches the eye, in this case his facial appearance: the moustache stands for the man himself. The function of the metonymy here is to indicate that the speaker knows nothing of the man in question, moreover, there is a definite implication that this is the first time the speaker has seen him.

Here is another example of the same kind:

"There was something so very agreeable in being so intimate with such a waistcoat', in being on such off-hand terms so soon with such a pair of whiskers that Tom was uncommonly pleased with himself." (Dickens, "Hard Times")

Metonymy and metaphor differ also in the way they are deciphered. In the process of disclosing the meaning implied in a metaphor, one image excludes the other, that is, the metaphor 'lamp' in the 'The sky lamp of the night', when deciphered, means the moon, and though there is a definite interplay of meanings, we perceive only one object, the moon. This is not the case with metonymy. Metonymy, while presenting one object to our mind, does not exclude the other. In the example given above the moustache and the man himself are both perceived by the mind.


Irony is a stylistic device also based on the simultaneous realization of two logical meanings—dictionary and contextual, but the two meanings stand in opposition to each other. For example:

"It must be delightful to find oneself in a foreign country without a penny in one's pocket."

The italicized word acquires a meaning quite the opposite to its primary dictionary meaning, that is, 'unpleasant', 'not delightful'.

Therefore, irony is generally used to convey a negative meaning. Therefore only positive concepts may be used in their logical dictionary meanings. In the example quoted above, irony is embodied in such words as 'delightful. The contextual meaning always conveys the negation of the positive concepts embodied in the dictionary meaning.

Richard Altick says, "The effect of irony lies in the striking disparity between what is said and what is meant."

Irony must not be confused with humour, although they have very much in common. Humour always causes laughter. What is funny must come as a sudden clash of the positive and the negative. In this respect irony can be likened to humour. But the function of irony is not confined to producing a humorous effect. In a sentence like "How clever of you!" where, due to the intonation pattern, the word 'clever' conveys a sense opposite to its literal signification, the irony does not cause a ludicrous effect. It rather expresses a feeling of irritation, displeasure, pity or regret.


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