English Grammar

Functional stylistics

1. The notion of style in functional stylistics

The notion of style has to do with how we use the language under specific circumstances for a specific purpose. The notion of using English, apart from using our knowledge of its linguistic structure also involves awareness of the numerous situations in which English can be used as a special medium of com­munication with its own set of distinctive and recognizable features. Uses of English in numerous situations that require definite stylistic features are studied by the theory of functional styles.This theory involves consideration of such notions as norm and function in their relation to style.

2. Correlation of style, norm and function in the language

Any national language uses the notion of ‘correct language’ which involves conformity/accordance to the grammatical, lexical and phonetic stan­dards accepted as normative in this society. The favoured variety is usually a version of the standard written language. It is presented in dictionaries, grammars and other official manuals. Those who speak and write in this way are said to be using language ‘correctly’, those who do not are said to be using it ‘incorrectly’. Correct usage is associated with the notion of the linguistic norm.

The norm is closely related to the system of the language as an abstract ideal system. The system provides and determines the general rules of usage of its elements. The norm is the actual use of these provisions by individual speakers under specific conditions of communication.

However the literary norm is not a homogeneous and calcified entity. It varies due to regional, social, situational, personal factors, etc.

The norm will be dictated by the social roles of the participants of communication, their age and family or other relations. An important role in the selection of this or that variety of the norm belongs to the purpose of the utterance, or its function. Informal language on a formal occasion is as inappropriate as formal language on an informal occasion. This brings us to the notion of the norm variation.

Functional styles are subsystems of the language and represent varieties of the norm of the national language. Each of them is characterized by its own parameters in vocabulary usage, syntactical expression, phraseology, etc.

3. Language varieties: regional, social, occupational

Language variety features depend on the presence of certain factors in a social situation. These factors may be grouped into two types: sociolinguistic and stylistic.

Sociolinguistic factors identify the regional and social varieties of the language.

Stylistic factors identify individual preferences in usage (phraseology, special vocabulary, language of literature) or the varieties that are associated with occupational groups (lawyers, journalists, scholars).

Regional language variation of English provides a geographical answer to the question ‘Where are you from, in the English-speaking world?’ Social language variation provides an answer to the question ‘Who are you?’ or ‘What are you in the eyes of the English-speaking society to which you belong?’ One and the same person may belong to different social groups and perform different social roles (be described as ‘a parent’,  ‘a wife’,  ‘an architect’,  ‘a feminist’, ‘a member of Parliament’, ‘an amateur sculptor’, ‘a theatre-goer’, etc.)

Language more than anything else will testify to our permanent and temporary roles in social life. Our pronunciation, choice of words and constructions, general strategy of communication are defined by the age, sex, occupation and socio-economic aspects.

Britain is usually said to be linguistically more class-conscious than other English-speaking countries. For example, in England Received Pronunciation (RP), is considered to be the ‘prestige accent’.

However today with the breakdown of rigid divisions between social classes and the development of mass media RP is no longer the prerogative of social elite. Today it is best described as an ‘educated’ accent which actually has several varieties. Most educated people have developed an accent, which is a mixture of RP and various regional features that sometimes is called ‘modified RP’.

Occupational varieties of the national language are normally associat­ed with a particular way of earning a living.

There are no class distinctions here. People belonging to any professional field develop jargon and professional slang, their own linguistic rituals which its members accept as a criterion of proficiency, which set them apart from outsiders as, e. g., languages of law, government and religion with their unique grammar, vocabulary, and patterns of discourse.

4. Distinctive linguistic features of the major functional styles of English

There are a great many classifications of language varieties that are called sublanguages, substyles, registers and functional styles that use various criteria for their definition and categorization. The term generally accepted by most Russian scholars is functional styles. They suggest the following style classes: 1) Official business style. 2) Scientific-professional style. 3) Publicist style. 4) Literary colloquial style. 5) Familiar colloquial style.

However these five classes can seldom be observed in their pure forms: mixing styles is the common practice. His description of five major functional styles is based on their most distinctive features on each level of the language structure: phonetical (where possible), morphological, syntactical and lexical.

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