LINGUIST List 23.4531

Tue Oct 30 2012

Review: Semantics; Socioling.; Syntax: Fahnestock (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>



Date: 30-Oct-2012
From: Jan Schulze <jan-henning.schulzeuni-bamberg.de>
Subject: Rhetorical Style
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-4422.html

AUTHOR: Jeanne FahnestockTITLE: Rhetorical StyleSUBTITLE: The Uses of Language in PersuasionPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2011

Jan Henning Schulze, German Linguistics, University of Bamberg, Germany

SUMMARYJeanne Fahnestock presents a well-written, easy-to-read introduction to theanalysis 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 rhetoricalstyle. 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 numerousexamples, how stylistic means can amplify or diminish the persuasive power oflanguage.

Since Plato's scorching criticism of the sophists in ancient Greece, rhetorichas always had a rather ambivalent reputation. New interest in language-drivenpersuasion emerged through the re-establishment of oratory and rhetoric incurrent humanities with the works of Toulmin 1958, Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca1958 and others. Fahnestock now brings together important strands of rhetoricaltheorizing 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 prefacedwith an epigraph, to which special attention should always be paid as thesequotations usually are central to one of the main points of this chapter and arelater on referred to as illustrative examples (this may require some thumbingback through the book). Central concepts and insights are also reviewed in thesummary that closes each chapter.

Part 1 deals with word choice, starting with a short introduction to thehistorical layers of English vocabulary. Though each word triggers a specificrhetorical effect, its persuasive appeal by and large correlates with the word'sorigin: According to Fahnestock, Old English words of the Germanic core conveysimplicity and sincerity ("food", "thin"), borrowings from Old Frenchcommunicate elegance ("viands", "gaunt"), while words derived from Latin andGreek suggest higher degrees of abstraction and formality ("comestibles","emaciated"). Fahnestock goes on to discuss further semantic, morphological andsociolinguistic categories of word choice such as level of generality, lexicalfield, part of speech, register and sociolect. The last two chapters of Part 1offer a catalogue of classical tropes and figures from synecdoche and metaphorthrough hyperbole and irony to polyptoton and agnominatio, each illustrated byattested examples from texts.

Part 2 explores rhetorical aspects of sentence construction. A whole range ofbasic syntactic concepts is introduced and then put to analytic use, e.g. fordescribing the rhetorical effects of verb choice under the framework of casegrammar or determining the relative proportion of modification versuspredication 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 putspecial emphasis on an element and to reinforce the meaning of a sentence by itsiconic form (also referred to as syntactic symbolism: the word order and thestructure of a sentence support its meaning). This idea is developed further inthe 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 onspeaker and audience construction via the different uses of the pronouns "I","you", "we", etc. It goes on to illuminate some ways of managing communicationin settings with mixed audiences and deals with the interactional aspect ofasking questions. Fahnestock addresses the use (and misuse) of other voices bydirect or indirect quotation as well as the stylistic and persuasive value ofincorporating other voices. And she shows some ways of using deixis to create arhetorical occasion or to exploit a specific situation.

Part 4, finally, turns to passage construction by introducing the concepts ofcoherence, cohesion, topic, and comment. Here one also finds an appendix ondifferent kinds of meaning relations that can connect clauses in sentences, e.g."chronological sequence", "exemplification", "conclusion", etc., and how thesecan 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 discoursemanagement (e.g. forecast, enumeration) are explained in terms of the rhetoricaltradition.

The concluding chapter brings together the book's basic insights under theheading of "amplification". The sublime force of stylistically elaborate textsis traced back to the word level, the sentence level, the passage level, and tothe constructed situation as a whole. By way of analyzing the last paragraph ofCharles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", Fahnestock demonstrates how allthese factors contribute to the persuasive power of language.

EVALUATIONThe style of an argument is typically regarded as a means for polishing itssurface but not as the core of argumentation, e.g. Eemeren 2010. In the presentwork, Jeanne Fahnestock stresses the fundamental importance of style inpersuasion. According to her view, what is primarily given by an argument arelinguistic expressions, and these expressions inevitably exhibit a certain stylewhich can be analyzed by an external observer. Contrary to other approaches tothe analysis of argumentation, Fahnestock proposes multi-leveled stylisticanalyses in order to understand the persuasive effect of an argument. This makes"Rhetorical Style" a provocative contribution to the study of argumentation, asthe current literature mainly focuses on logical, semantic or pragmatic aspects.

One of this textbook's strengths lies in developing handy schemas for analyzingthe style of a given piece of text. These schemas are amply illustrated by realtextual examples that are analyzed in detail. The sources of these examplesrange from U.S. presidential speeches, e.g. by Jefferson, Lincoln, andRoosevelt, on to scientific papers, newspaper articles, blogs, and of coursealso some literary sources.

Another asset of the book is the broad historical background against whichFahnestock explains concepts and templates for stylistic analysis. Throughoutthe book she draws from theoretical sources across the broad swath of westernwritten history, including Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Erasmus, HenryPeacham, Kenneth Burke, and Richard Weaver, to name only a few. Greek and Latintechnical terms are always introduced first and then used consistentlythroughout the book, though not every student might embrace the use of foreignwords 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 oncase grammar, Halliday & Hasan 1976 on cohesion, Grice 1989 on pragmaticprinciples, Leech & Short 1981 on iconic form. Fahnestock shows how theselinguistic concepts can be put to good use to establish and explain stylistictemplates.

There is not much to criticize, though the inclusion of dialogic communicationmight have been an interesting addition. The book exclusively addressesunidirectional communication, and the templates and examples, accordingly, aremonologic in nature -- also in the chapters on the interactive dimension ofargumentation. Although the neglect of dialogic communication is very much inline with rhetorical tradition, this textbook might have broadened its domainsignificantly by including the contribution of style to persuasion indiscussions, interviews, negotiations, etc.

Another remark relates to the impression that an argument should become morepersuasive by adding more and more figures and tropes. This is becauseFahnestock says little about the rhetorical virtue of "aptum" (i.e. theappropriate use of figures and tropes) or about the persuasive effect of simplestyle in argumentation. Furthermore, Fahnestock's explanations arecomprehensible, but more often than not they are based on common sense. What Iwould welcome is an overall theoretical framework that could show how stylisticfeatures systematically relate to persuasive effects. But those are simplysuggestions for future research.

Lastly, two minor errata: p. 67 "the indefinite question was always morecomprehensive […] than the indefinite" should read "than the definite"; p. 401"Of all things nothing is better governed that the universe" should read "thanthe universe".

Overall, "Rhetorical Style" is a rich and rewarding textbook that shows howstylistic features make for persuasion. It provides readers with a goodintroduction to the study of figures in the sense of classical rhetoric.

REFERENCESCook, 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 incontext, 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.: HarvardUniversity 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 Introductionto English Fictional Prose. London: Longman.

Perelman, C., & Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. (1958). Traité de l'argumentation: Lanouvelle rhétorique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Toulmin, S.E. (1958). The uses of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERJan Henning Schulze holds a Dr. phil. in Linguistics. He currently works asa postdoc in the Department of German Linguistics at the University ofBamberg, Germany. His primary research interests lie in linguistic andcognitive aspects of argumentation theory and rhetoric, especially verballymediated persuasion. He also does research in historical phonology and haspublished a book on Old High German i-umlaut.

Page Updated: 30-Oct-2012