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The interface between stylistics and pragmatics

There are many definitions of style and stylistics. Different authors see the focus of stylistic study differently and to choose one definition, which would grasp the nature of stylistic endeavour in its full extent, is by no means easy. Perhaps the most observable tendency in modern stylistics is the growing interest of stylistic scholars in pragmatics and discourse analysis. Leech and Short (2007) talk about a “pragmatic turn” and a “cognitive turn”. Frameworks which have followed the “cognitive turn” focus on the nature of literary interpretation, perceiving it as a cognitive process of “making sense”, in the broadest sense, of a story and a way of telling it (Leech and Short 2007: 306). The interest in interpretations and effects inevitably raises questions about contexts, including the social contexts in which texts are interpreted.

The most characteristic feature of modern stylistics is the focus on the interpretative and social dimensions of stylistic analyses; the interest in interpretations and effects inevitably raises questions about contexts in which texts are interpreted. As noted by Stockwell “a growing body of work in stylistics marries up detailed analysis at the micro-linguistic level with a broader view of the communicative context” and thus “stylistics necessarily involves the simultaneous practice of linguistic analysis and awareness of the interpretative and social dimension” (Stockwell 2006: 755). As Stockwell further points out, the numerous different developments that can be outlined in modern stylistics “all have in common the basic stylistic tenets of being rigorous, systematic, transparent and open to falsifiability... In short, they present themselves as aspects of a social science of literature” (Stockwell 2006: 755).

The focus of this paper is on pragmatic principles applied in the process of understanding and interpreting literary discourse. This approach is social in that it focuses on the principles of cooperation and politeness as employed by individuals, affected by the given social contexts in which communication and interpretation of messages take place.

The interface between stylistics and pragmatics can be best characterized as a process of applying pragmatic principles to stylistic analyses of texts. A natural assumption is that Gricean or post-Gricean approaches can explain how characters understand each other and how we understand characters. Of course, we have to consider the layers of discourse and differentiate “between work that applies the pragmatic models to examples of communicative interaction between fictional participants in literary texts, and work that addresses the nature of the interaction between writer and reader” (cf. McMahon 2006: 232).

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