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Review of  The Stylistics of Professional Discourse

Reviewer: Ines Busch-Lauer
Book Title: The Stylistics of Professional Discourse
Book Author: Martin Solly
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.4339

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Martin Solly’s book “The Stylistics of Professional Discourse” is a well-written and concisely structured overview of how stylistics evolved as a linguistic discipline and how it currently determines the discourse in various professional communities. In this context, the author also reflects on globalisation and on the increasing use of English as a lingua franca with impacts on its language dynamics. In particular, Solly draws on communication in medicine and healthcare, legal contexts and education with chapters specifically devoted to each of these domains as representative of the author’s ongoing research on professional communities. The author refers to early stylistics’ household books (e.g. Crystal & Davy 1969) as well as to sociolinguistic aspects (e.g. Hymes 1996). Moreover, Solly considers the role of other linguistic approaches to text and discourse pedagogy. The increasing globalisation is also touched upon as is the impact of digitalization on the the way experts communicate in and beyond their domains. Every chapter is complemented by ACTIVITY assignments for readers to reflect on the individual chapter’s content. In this respect, the book may also be a good reference textbook on stylistics.

Martin Solly’s main objective is to examine and illustrate how professional groups like doctors, healthcare personnel, lawyers and educators demark their identity. For this purpose, the monograph is made up of seven chapters and a brief introduction into the book.

The concept of “style” is the starting point for an elaborate discussion on the background and current interpretation of stylistics. Chapter 1 therefore considers the intrinsic relationship of style and stylistics, referring, for example, to utterance and voice; written and spoken discourse; native and non-native speaker characteristics as well as translation and interpreting. Among the relevant linguistic approaches related to stylistics, Solly identifies the following: Critical Discourse Analysis, Conversation Analysis, Genre Analysis, Multimodal Discourse Analysis, Cognitive Linguistics, Pragmatics and Speech Acts, Corpus-based Analysis, Narrative and Story-telling. These theoretical foundations form the basis for the discussion of professional discourse communities in Chapter 2. Here, Solly applies results of sociolinguistics (Hymes) to stylistics, and describes both speech communities and communities of practice, i.e. people working in the same domain of human endeavour. Following an explorative investigation on the communities’ nature, he finally arrives at professional communities and their language competences. In this context, academic literacy and professional identity, as well as English as an unequal global language, are described. Moreover, some examples of discursive identity, multimodality and pragmatics are considered. The chapter closes with some interesting remarks about Sarangi’s notion of the analyst’s paradox and that it might be hard for a linguist to properly understand distinct communication processes of a specific domain.

Chapter 3 examines language and genre use in medicine and healthcare. In its first part, Solly outlines some of the changes that took place in medicine and healthcare communication over the last decade. For that purpose, he uses examples to illustrate features of style in patient information leaflets and in case studies, as well as in doctor-patient communication. He then touches upon international healthcare insurance issues and illustrates the changes to be observed in communicating about illnesses such as AIDS. He states that better patient literacy through Internet sources and teamwork collaboration are two decisive aspects that will influence doctor-patient communication in the future and make it an interesting field of further research for applied linguists.

Chapter 4 focuses on legal settings, the courtroom, statutes, witness reports and forensic linguistics. First, short paragraphs briefly refer to the relation between law and language. Then cultural stereotypes in the field, as well as the role of English in various legal systems, are briefly characterized. Solly again reflects on the domain by examining three different legal language modes: written, spoken-composed and spoken-spontaneous. Therefore, the legal style is both frozen, formal and consultative. Moreover, Solly examines the relation between vagueness and precision in legal style. Adjectives, for example, are used in both evaluative and vague statements, i.e. they can be precise and open for interpretations. This specific feature of legal discourse can only be understood by domain specialists as a result of their conventional professional use of such phrases. Moreover, Solly considers the role of other grammatical categories such as determiners, tenses and modality that lead to the repetitive and fairly frozen, formal legal style. Stylistically, repetition in word doublings and hierarchy also play a significant role. Moreover, legal language in the courtroom is particularly repetitive and formal, e.g. as can be seen in the witnesses’ oath, the lawyers’ questioning of witnesses in court and legal power exercising. Solly provides evidence for this by well-chosen samples.

Stylistics of educational discourse is the main subject of Chapter 5. Again, Solly first outlines the domain characteristics and then exemplifies three types of educational discourse: (i) the language of educational reform in the U.K. and Europe; (ii) the language of primary school job adverts and (iii) the language of commencement speeches in American universities.

Following this brief overview of discourse particularities in the three domains, it becomes clear that stylistics has a key role in the appropriate use of language for specific purposes in the various professional communities and domains.

Chapter 6 examines the effects of technological innovations on communicative practice. Solly examines the style of e-mails, below-the-line comments, blogs and social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Since the future impact of the Internet seems hard to predict, Solly leaves the reader with some questions open, referring to handwriting becoming obsolete and machine translation becoming established as standard procedure.

Chapter 7 finally addresses the teaching of professional discourse, e.g. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and English Medium Instruction (EMI). It then refers to the stylistic toolkit applied by professionals in communication. Here the reader is introduced to the functionality of foregrounding, metaphor and discourse marker use, the effects of deixis, parallelism and phatic bonding. Finally, Solly chooses trademarks as a genre to demonstrate the intertwining of various stylistic means and texts suitable to teach stylistic analysis.

The conclusion “Coda: new trends and future directions” briefly provides the author’s main statements on the future developments of professional language use. Martin Solly hopes that his analyses in his book will spur interest in a stylistic approach to professional text and discourse.


Overall, Martin Solly’s book addresses a wide range of topics setting stylistics at the very centre of linguistic analysis, clearly delimiting its origin and relations to other linguistic approaches. To cover three major domains, however, seems problematic to the reviewer, since only some specific features could be addressed in the respective chapters. Each domain would deserve an entire volume to cover its aspects relevant to written and oral texts and professional communities. In particular this is true for the medical and legal domains. They are very dynamic with lots of interdisciplinary interactions between experts, researchers and practitioners as well as expert-layperson communication. So it might be too difficult and too early to to draw general conclusions just from Solly’s examples of professional communities. In this respect, the book seems to be introductory and therefore valuable for students of applied linguistics as well as for novice communicators in the three professional domains. Moreover, Solly’s investigations seem to rely more on random qualitative observation than on consistent corpus analysis. The latter might even reveal some guidelines for the proper use of style in the various professional domains which could support professionals, in particular non-native speakers of English, in using their English language skills more consistently.

Covering a wide range of topics, Solly’s volume effectively demonstrates the complexity of stylistic analysis and interpretation in texts. In that respect, the volume clearly reaches its objective. The target audience will definitely benefit from the content, also gaining insights into research in other related disciplines like sociolinguistics and language for specific purposes. The author offers plenty of references to household books and to current research. The activity assignments at the end of each chapter definitely contribute to self-instructed further reading and research proposals into stylistics. Overall, the book is a valuable source of linguistic research on stylistics, addressing both scholars in applied linguistics and the respectively reviewed disciplines as well as students of stylistics and professional discourse analysis. Martin Solly offers a concise argument to continue research on the dynamic field of professional discourse in different domains.


Crystal, D. and Davy, D. (1969). Investigating English style. London: Longman.

Hymes, D. (1996). Ethnography, linguistics, narrative inequality: Toward an understanding of voice. London: Taylor and Francis.

Saragani, S. (2914). Experts on experts: the analysts’s paradox, ist conditions and consequences. Pleanry lecture delivered on 19 June 2014 at the interntional conference on The Language of Medicien: Science, Practrice and Academia, held at the University of Bergamo, Italy.
Ines-A. Busch-Lauer is Professor of English (Applied Linguistics) and Communication at the University of Applied Sciences in Zwickau/ Germany. Her main fields of research comprise English and German specialized communication in various domains (especially in technical subjects, business, medicine, linguistics), the study of texts and genres, contrastive rhetorics and intercultural communication, academic writing in English, LSP didactics and style. She is a member of the editorial board of Fachsprache. International Journal of Specialized Communication published by facultas, Vienna. In this role, she is responsible for review management and compiles the biannual bibliography of recent publications on languages for specific purposes’ research.

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