Roger Fowler: ‘Literature as Discourse’

  • K. M. Newton


Adopting a linguistic approach to literature, as I do, it is tempting to think of and describe the literary text as a formal structure, an object whose main quality is its distinctive syntactic and phonological shape. This is a common approach, adopted by, for instance, the most famous of the linguistic stylisticians, Roman Jakobson.1 It also happens to agree with the dominant formalist tendency of the more conservative schools of modern criticism. I argue that linguistic formalism is of limited significance in literary studies, and educationally restrictive. As an alternative I shall employ some linguistic techniques which emphasize the interactional dimensions of texts. To treat literature as discourse is to see the text as mediating relationships between language-users: not only relationships of speech, but also of consciousness, ideology, role and class. The text ceases to be an object and becomes an action or process.


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    L. Jones, Shakespeare’s Verbal Art in ‘Th’Expence of Spirit’ (The Hague, 1970).Google Scholar
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    M. A. K. Halliday, ‘Language Structure and Language Function’ in New Horizons in Linguistics, ed. John Lyons (Harmondsworth, 1970), pp. 140–65.Google Scholar
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    I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (London, 1924), Ch. 34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    J. L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words (London, 1962);Google Scholar
  5. John R. Searle, Speech Acts (London, 1969).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

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  • K. M. Newton

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