LINGUIST List 7.1209

Sat Aug 31 1996

Disc: Operational definition of "style"

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Peter Daniels, Re: 7.1167, Sum: Operational definition of "style"

Message 1: Re: 7.1167, Sum: Operational definition of "style"

Date: Sun, 18 Aug 1996 23:26:08 CDT
From: Peter Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 7.1167, Sum: Operational definition of "style"
Let's not confuse "stylized", apparently the original area of inquiry,
with "style" or "stylistics"! "Stylized", to me, refers to phenomena
in the visual arts; e.g., Art Deco is characerized by stylized
representations of human figures, etc.; think of the drawings of
Erte', perhaps the best- known Deco designer as an individual. (Think
also of Astaire-Rogers movies, quintessentially Art Deco.) The
Egyptomania of the early 19th century also involved stylized
interpretations of Egyptian motifs.

I don't see that "stylized" can apply to written language.

James Branch Cabell is one of my favorite authors (*Jurgen* is his
most famous work--because it was the subject of an obscenity
trial--but is very atypical of his output). I would hardly call his
style unmarked or typically American (or even Southern--he was a
Virginia aristocrat): I find it wonderfully mannered, Baroque, but
beautifully balanced. Perhaps his truest literary heir is Tennessee
Williams; also early Truman Capote trended in that direction, but
later (presumably in the course of finding the voice for *In Cold
Blood*) became more lapidary, more direct. (Note that they are both
Southerners as well; note that the best-known, still later Southern
writers, like Eudora Welty, seem not to use that kind of floridity any

Cabell's near contemporaries are writers like Wm. Dean Howells (a
generation earlier), Willa Cather, Edith Wharton; then Sinclair Lewis,
Upton Sinclair, etc.; John Dos Passos is just a little later. It is
they, I think, who write in a more unmarked American; for the origin
of real American style, I think we can go all the way back to
Washington Irving, whom I find astonishingly modern; as compared to
James Fenimore Cooper, whom I found unreadable (and that not so long

As for E. R. Eddison (I don't think that's exactly right--I recall
something more akin to "Eddington"), author of *The Worm [not Word!]
Ourobouros*, I found him utterly unreadable. His work was reprinted in
the wake of the success of Tolkien and is as about an appropriate
comparison as the recent movie of *The Scarlet Letter* is to the

There are a few contemporary authors writing in English whose style is
most distinctive: Calvin Trillin, Mark Helprin, David Lodge, Julian
Barnes (there, two from each side of the Atlantic; sorry, I don't know
the postcolonial English literatures, except the occasional memoir of
Ved Mehta and the highly mannered and multicultural Salman
Rushdie--*Satanic Verses* is also pretty tough going, and wasn't a
good introduction to the body of his work!). It perhaps isn't really
the task of linguistics to figure out what that means; but certainly
the literary scholars who do so ought to be better informed about
linguistic phenomena!
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