Literary Language and Ordinary Language

  • Geoff. Hall
Part of the Research and Practice in Applied Linguistics book series (RPAL)


Does literature have a language of its own, perhaps rather unrepresentative of, or rather different from, ordinary language (e.g. old-fashioned, obscure, pretentious, generally ‘difficult’)? The simple answer to this old question is no, there is nothing uniquely different about the language of literature. But a fuller answer will reveal why the language to be found in literary texts is often particularly interesting for language learners. Of the three broad areas surveyed in Part 1, culture and curriculum (Chapter 2), reading of literature (Chapter 3) and the language of literature (this chapter), research to date has told us most about the language of literature. This is a well-researched area, and some issues and conclusions are already relatively well defined, though ongoing research, particularly in corpus linguistics, is also opening up fascinating new dimensions of the topic.


Literary Work Ordinary Language Linguistic Feature Literary Language Everyday Language 
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Further reading

Literary language

  1. Useful introductions in the work of Carter and colleagues: Carter (1999); Carter and Nash (1990); Eagleton (1996: Ch. 1); Widdowson (1992).Google Scholar
  2. Tambling (1988) and Lecercle (1990) are more advanced and explore the relevance of Derrida’s work.Google Scholar

Poetic language

  1. Jakobson (1960) is the classic founding statement of modern formalist stylistics, more widely cited and known than any other publication.Google Scholar
  2. Leech (1969) shows lucidly how many of these ideas would apply in practice.Google Scholar


  1. Carter (2004); Pope (2005): the argument for the ‘ordinariness’ of creativity, with examples.Google Scholar

Corpus linguistics and style and variation

  1. Biber is the central researcher here, as discussed.Google Scholar


  1. Gibbs (1994); Lakoff and Turner (1989).Google Scholar


  1. Toolan (2001); Eggins and Slade (1997: Chapter 6 especially). Genre in casual conversation: telling stories.Google Scholar


  1. Mills (1997); Jaworski and Coupland (1999) and Tannen (1989) are the best overviews for readers of this book.Google Scholar


  1. Dentith (1995) and Vice (1997) offer general introductions (Vice is more literary in orientation).Google Scholar


  1. Bradford (1997) is the most recent clear argument for formalist stylistics, intelligent and respectful toward Jakobson.Google Scholar


  1. Birch (1989) gives a useful critical review of major influential schools of criticism in modern times, which have dictated how we learn to read, talk and write about literature.Google Scholar


  1. Simpson (2004) is the best introduction.Google Scholar
  2. Verdonk (2002) is readable and stimulating.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Geoff Hall 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoff. Hall
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Applied Language StudiesUniversity of Wales SwanseaUK

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