Stylistics does not study separate linguistic units - phonemes or words or clauses It studies their stylistic function, the expressive potential of the units and their interaction in conveying ideas and emotions in a certain text or communicative context. Stylistics interprets the opposition or clash between the contextual meaning of a word and its denotative meaning.
The semantic structure (the meaning) of a word consists of its grammatical meaning (noun verb adjective) and its lexical meaning The latter can be subdivided into denotative and connotative meanings. Connotative meaning is connected with extra-linguistic circumstances - the situation of communication and the participants of communication. Connotative meaning consists of 4 components: emotive, evaluative, expressive, stylistic.
1. Emotive connotations express various feelings or emotions. Emotions differ from feelings. Emotions like joy, disappointment, pleasure, anger, worry, surprise are more short-lived. Feelings imply a more stable state, or attitude, such as love, hatred, respect, pride, dignity, etc. The emotive component of meaning may be occasional or usual (i.e. inherent and adherent).
It is important to distinguish words with emotive connotations from words, describing or naming emotions and feelings like anger or fear, because the latter are a special vocabulary subgroup whose denotative meanings are emotions. They do not connote the speaker's state of mind or his emotional attitude to the subject of speech.
Thus if a psychiatrist were to say «You should be able to control feelings of anger, impatience and disappointment dealing with a child» as a piece of advice to young parents the sentence would have no emotive power. It may be considered stylistically neutral.
On the other hand an apparently neutral word like big will become charged with emotive connotation in a mother's proud description of her baby: He is a BIG boy already!
2. The evaluative component charges the word with negative, positive, ironic or other types of connotation conveying the speaker's attitudein relation to the object of speech. Very often this component is a part of the denotative meaning, which comes to the fore in a specific context.
The verb to sneak means «to move silently and secretly, usu. for a bad purpose». This dictionary definition makes the evaluative component bad quite explicit. Two derivatives a sneak and sneaky have both preserved a derogatory evaluative connotation. But the negative component disappears though in still another derivative sneakers (shoes with a soft sole). It shows that even words of the same root may either have or lack an evaluative component in their inner form.
3. Expressive connotation either increases or decreases the expressiveness of the message. Many scholars hold that emotive and expressive components cannot be distinguished but Prof. I.A.Arnold maintains that emotive connotation always entails expressiveness but not vice versa. To prove her point she comments on the example by A. Hornby and R. Fowler with the word «thing» applied to a girl.
When the word is used with an emotive adjective like «sweet» it becomes emotive itself: «She was a sweet little thing». But in other sentences like «She was a small thin delicate thing with spectacles», she argues, this is not true and the word «thing» is definitely expressive but not emotive.
Another group of words that help create this expressive effect are the so-called «intensifiers», words like «absolutely, frightfully, really, quite», etc.
4. Finally there is stylistic connotation. A word possesses stylistic connotation if it belongs to a certain functional style or a specific layer of vocabulary (such as archaisms, barbarisms, slang, jargon, etc). Stylistic connotation is usually immediately recognizable.
Yonder, slumber, thence immediately connote poetic or elevated writing.
Words like price index or negotiate assets are indicative of business language.
This detailed and systematic description of the connotative meaning of a word is suggested by the Leningrad school in the works of Prof. I. V. Arnold, Z. Y. Turayeva, and others.
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