Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
AUTHOR: Jeanne Fahnestock TITLE: Rhetorical Style SUBTITLE: The Uses of Language in Persuasion PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2011
Jan Henning Schulze, German Linguistics, University of Bamberg, Germany
SUMMARY Jeanne Fahnestock presents a well-written, easy-to-read introduction to the analysis of rhetorical style. Deeply rooted in the rhetorical tradition, Fahnestock offers templates for analyzing the persuasive uses of language, templates backed by modern theories of linguistics, argumentation and rhetorical style. Her credo, as given in the final chapter, is that stylistic methods are “the substance of argumentation […], since the material of argument is language” (p. 414). Thus, this textbook demonstrates, by extensive analysis of numerous examples, how stylistic means can amplify or diminish the persuasive power of language.
Since Plato’s scorching criticism of the sophists in ancient Greece, rhetoric has always had a rather ambivalent reputation. New interest in language-driven persuasion emerged through the re-establishment of oratory and rhetoric in current humanities with the works of Toulmin 1958, Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca 1958 and others. Fahnestock now brings together important strands of rhetorical theorizing under the viewpoint of stylistics and persuasion.
The chapters are organized into four parts: “word choice”, “sentences”, “interactive dimension”, and “passage construction”. Every chapter is prefaced with an epigraph, to which special attention should always be paid as these quotations usually are central to one of the main points of this chapter and are later on referred to as illustrative examples (this may require some thumbing back through the book). Central concepts and insights are also reviewed in the summary that closes each chapter.
Part 1 deals with word choice, starting with a short introduction to the historical layers of English vocabulary. Though each word triggers a specific rhetorical effect, its persuasive appeal by and large correlates with the word’s origin: According to Fahnestock, Old English words of the Germanic core convey simplicity and sincerity (“food”, “thin”), borrowings from Old French communicate elegance (“viands”, “gaunt”), while words derived from Latin and Greek suggest higher degrees of abstraction and formality (“comestibles”, “emaciated”). Fahnestock goes on to discuss further semantic, morphological and sociolinguistic categories of word choice such as level of generality, lexical field, part of speech, register and sociolect. The last two chapters of Part 1 offer a catalogue of classical tropes and figures from synecdoche and metaphor through hyperbole and irony to polyptoton and agnominatio, each illustrated by attested examples from texts.
Part 2 explores rhetorical aspects of sentence construction. A whole range of basic syntactic concepts is introduced and then put to analytic use, e.g. for describing the rhetorical effects of verb choice under the framework of case grammar or determining the relative proportion of modification versus predication to assess the style of a certain writer, passage or sentence. Fahnestock goes on to show how the architecture of a sentence may be used to put special emphasis on an element and to reinforce the meaning of a sentence by its iconic form (also referred to as syntactic symbolism: the word order and the structure of a sentence support its meaning). This idea is developed further in the following chapters on figures of argument, series, prosody and punctuation, where the persuasive effects of parallelism, antithesis, repetition, conjunction, sentence length and the like are discussed.
Part 3 on the interactive dimension of text production opens with a chapter on speaker and audience construction via the different uses of the pronouns “I”, “you”, “we”, etc. It goes on to illuminate some ways of managing communication in settings with mixed audiences and deals with the interactional aspect of asking questions. Fahnestock addresses the use (and misuse) of other voices by direct or indirect quotation as well as the stylistic and persuasive value of incorporating other voices. And she shows some ways of using deixis to create a rhetorical occasion or to exploit a specific situation.
Part 4, finally, turns to passage construction by introducing the concepts of coherence, cohesion, topic, and comment. Here one also finds an appendix on different kinds of meaning relations that can connect clauses in sentences, e.g. “chronological sequence”, “exemplification”, “conclusion”, etc., and how these can be verbally constructed with or without using explicit transition words. Compositional units and passage patterns (e.g. syllogism and enthymeme), paratactic sequences vs. hypotactic sequences, and figures of discourse management (e.g. forecast, enumeration) are explained in terms of the rhetorical tradition.
The concluding chapter brings together the book’s basic insights under the heading of “amplification”. The sublime force of stylistically elaborate texts is traced back to the word level, the sentence level, the passage level, and to the constructed situation as a whole. By way of analyzing the last paragraph of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, Fahnestock demonstrates how all these factors contribute to the persuasive power of language.
EVALUATION The style of an argument is typically regarded as a means for polishing its surface but not as the core of argumentation, e.g. Eemeren 2010. In the present work, Jeanne Fahnestock stresses the fundamental importance of style in persuasion. According to her view, what is primarily given by an argument are linguistic expressions, and these expressions inevitably exhibit a certain style which can be analyzed by an external observer. Contrary to other approaches to the analysis of argumentation, Fahnestock proposes multi-leveled stylistic analyses in order to understand the persuasive effect of an argument. This makes “Rhetorical Style” a provocative contribution to the study of argumentation, as the current literature mainly focuses on logical, semantic or pragmatic aspects.
One of this textbook’s strengths lies in developing handy schemas for analyzing the style of a given piece of text. These schemas are amply illustrated by real textual examples that are analyzed in detail. The sources of these examples range from U.S. presidential speeches, e.g. by Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, on to scientific papers, newspaper articles, blogs, and of course also some literary sources.
Another asset of the book is the broad historical background against which Fahnestock explains concepts and templates for stylistic analysis. Throughout the book she draws from theoretical sources across the broad swath of western written history, including Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Erasmus, Henry Peacham, Kenneth Burke, and Richard Weaver, to name only a few. Greek and Latin technical terms are always introduced first and then used consistently throughout the book, though not every student might embrace the use of foreign words like “epicheireme”, “ratiocinatio” or “syllepsis”.
This book, of course, is not a book about linguistics. There are, however, several references to linguistic theories, e.g. Fillmore 1968 and Cook 1989 on case grammar, Halliday & Hasan 1976 on cohesion, Grice 1989 on pragmatic principles, Leech & Short 1981 on iconic form. Fahnestock shows how these linguistic concepts can be put to good use to establish and explain stylistic templates.
There is not much to criticize, though the inclusion of dialogic communication might have been an interesting addition. The book exclusively addresses unidirectional communication, and the templates and examples, accordingly, are monologic in nature -- also in the chapters on the interactive dimension of argumentation. Although the neglect of dialogic communication is very much in line with rhetorical tradition, this textbook might have broadened its domain significantly by including the contribution of style to persuasion in discussions, interviews, negotiations, etc.
Another remark relates to the impression that an argument should become more persuasive by adding more and more figures and tropes. This is because Fahnestock says little about the rhetorical virtue of “aptum” (i.e. the appropriate use of figures and tropes) or about the persuasive effect of simple style in argumentation. Furthermore, Fahnestock’s explanations are comprehensible, but more often than not they are based on common sense. What I would welcome is an overall theoretical framework that could show how stylistic features systematically relate to persuasive effects. But those are simply suggestions for future research.
Lastly, two minor errata: p. 67 “the indefinite question was always more comprehensive […] than the indefinite” should read “than the definite”; p. 401 “Of all things nothing is better governed that the universe” should read “than the universe”.
Overall, “Rhetorical Style” is a rich and rewarding textbook that shows how stylistic features make for persuasion. It provides readers with a good introduction to the study of figures in the sense of classical rhetoric.
REFERENCES Cook, W.A. (1989). Case Grammar Theory. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Eemeren, F.H. van (2010). Strategic maneuvering in argumentative discourse: Extending the pragma-dialectical theory of argumentation. Argumentation in context, Vol. 2. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Fillmore, C.J. (1968). The Case for Case. In E. Bach & R.T. Harms (Eds.), Universals in Linguistic Theory (pp. 1-88). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Grice, H.P. (1989). Studies in the way of words. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Halliday, M.A.K., & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.
Leech, G.N., & Short, M.H. (1981). Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose. London: Longman.
Perelman, C., & Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. (1958). Traité de l'argumentation: La nouvelle rhétorique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Toulmin, S.E. (1958). The uses of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jan Henning Schulze holds a Dr. phil. in Linguistics. He currently works as
a postdoc in the Department of German Linguistics at the University of
Bamberg, Germany. His primary research interests lie in linguistic and
cognitive aspects of argumentation theory and rhetoric, especially verbally
mediated persuasion. He also does research in historical phonology and has
published a book on Old High German i-umlaut.