Dimensions of Style
Style involves a number of choices that a speaker makes in formulating the language
of his/her message:
Choices in the invention of text
- Word Choice. Words have synonyms and variety of possibility
in meaning. Why do we choose the words we choose in our message?
- Tropes or Figures of Speech. We can not only use words
for their literal meaning, but in non-literal ways that touch our imagination
and augment the power of our messages. Why does some phrasing carry greater
- Arrangement of Words. Particular arrangements of words
can make them memorable and more powerful. What arrangements wield such power?
Choices of delivery
- Pace. We can speed up our delivery or slow it down. We
can involve those who hear us differently with the difference in the pace
of our message.
- Rhythm. We can use cadences, climax, and other forms of
rhythm to enhance the power of our messages.
- Attitude and Tone. We can build an attitude and emotion into our presentation.
Our language contains several words to refer to any one thing, characteristic,
or action. The words we choose influence the power of our discourse.
Nouns: The Power to Name
With our choice of nouns we name things, people, and events..
- A choice of names places things into a framework or an orientation.
The choice of particular names emphasize different characteristics of the
thing we name. Whether you are called "a student," a "son" or "daughter,"
of "a member of the X generation" is a choice that places you into different
- A choice of names focuses attention on those characteristics.
We can use words to emphasize the characteristic that we want people to focus
upon. The name we choose among those above concentrates our attention on particular
- A choice of names provokes strong feelings and attitudes.
The connotative power of terms is one of the capacities which language has.
It can lead us to embrace or to reject things that affect us.
We have strong feelings of love and affection toward our father. So, calling
someone the "father of our country" not only points to George Washington
but expresses our feelings toward his contributions.
- Denotative meaning is the power of words to point to something, to help
us understand the reference is to this rather than that.
- Connotative meaning is the power of words to invoke feelings and attitudes
beyond the pointing function.
- A choice of names allows us to exploit abstract language or concrete
- Abstract language
- Ignores difference to emphasize commonality
- Postpones consideration of differences
- Forms a basis for negotiating difference
- Unites diverse people into identifications
- Concrete Language
- Provides greater clarity of reference
- Provides vividness of experience
- Better conveys connotative power
The verbs chosen help to manage the activity in discourse.
- Active verbs communicate a level of activity by people. Which active
verbs are chosen shape action. Are you "arguing"? "suggesting"?
"stating"? "insisting"? "pleading"? or "implying"?
- Passive verbs or versions of the verb "to be" deaden action.
They do not specify actors so they project things happening rather than being
directed. "The economy is slow right now."
Adjectives modify nouns and augment their characteristics.
- Adjectives communicate values. The speech was a remarkable tribute
to his life.
- Adjectives communicate characteristics of people, things, events. "He
was sincerely contrite for his action."
- Adverbs modify verbs by augmenting the way an action occurs. Do you
speak "aggresively"? "tenderly"? "meekly"?
- Adverbs can also intensify adjectives and adverbs. He gave a very
Clusters of Words
In truth, we seldom select individual words. Rather, we select a set of nouns,
verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that go together in common clusters of words.
- The war metaphor employs nouns such as "soldiers," "enemy,"
"allies"; verbs such as "attack," "defend,"
"sacrifice"; adjectives such as "honorable," "intense";
and adverbs such as "violently," or "bravely."
- A narrative of achievement employs nouns such as "success,"
"effort," "wealth"; verbs such as "toiled,"
"worked," "succeeded"; adjectives such as "dedicated,"
"wealthy"; adverbs such as "unceasingly," "worked
Perhaps no characteristic of language is as powerful as its ability to declare the negative. With
language we can imagine not just things that happen, but how it might have happened differently.
- underlies comparison as a basic form of expression.
- underlies the power of language to change because it allows us to envision the unexperienced
- gives us the power to see difference
- provides the power to divide people who can envision their disagreements and differences
Figures of Speech
Figure of Speech: An expression in which words are used in a nonliteral way
to achieve an effect beyond the range of ordinary language.
||The use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened
||"His voice was like a golden trumpet."
||Asking a question, not for the purpose of eliciting an answer, but to
urge the participation of others in making your point.
||"Do you feel safe in your home anymore?"
||Using one or more words to mean their opposite.
||"That test was a snap, wasn't it?" when the test was in fact difficult.
||Substituting part for whole, or whole for part.
||"She is my right hand on this project."
||Using a word drawn from one concept to refer to something in another concept.
||"The Union was a zoo yesterday."
||Substituting an attribute or a suggestive word for the things referred
||"He is on the bottle most of the time these days."
||A reference that invokes particularly powerful and familiar experiences
||"You have the patience of Job."
||Giving non-human objects human characteristics.
||"If we could cut off the head of the drug syndicates, they would die."
Schemes or arrangements of words
Discourse can be amplified by arranging words in certain patterns. Our ears
catch the arrangement and recognize its signalling of significance.
||Using a similar word structure in two or more items (words, phrases or
clauses) in a list.
||"He came, he saw, he conquered."
||Juxtaposing contrasting notions, often in parallel structure.
||"We thought we had reformed welfare, but we had destroyed welfare."
||Arranging elements from least important to most important to convey the
sense of a building sequence
||"I am dedicated to this class, this college, and this university."
||Inserting material in the middle of a sentence that interrupts the flow
of the sentence to emphasize or deemphasize.
||"If we could improve this campus, and I am not certain that we can, we
will have to work extraordinarily hard to do so."
||Repetition of initial consonant sound.
||"You are a dastardly drawer of disgusting doom."
||Repetition of similar vowel sounds in the stressed syllables of adjacent
||"You cannot buy time with wine."
||Repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses
||"I have a dream that . . . I have a dream that . . ."
||Repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses
||"I planned the good fight. I promised the good fight. I fought the good
Evaluating the Aesthetics of Style
There is probably no dimension of speaking that magnifies the aesthetics of speaking
-- the sheer joy of hearing a speaker who touches us -- than style. To evaluate
those aesthetics the following dimensions help:
- Clarity. Good style communicates the message in a way that
is understood by all in the communication.
- Vividness. Good style makes the speaking vivid. It gives
the message an interesting sound and involves those in the communication in
an exciting discussion.
- Appropriateness. A complex judgement that ranges from whether
the stylistic strategy achieves the objectives of the communication to whether
it violates the expectations of the audience in the situation.
- Consistency. Because style can communicate attitude, tone,
objective, intensity and so many other things, the style must work consistently
toward the objectives of the communication.
- Beauty. An overall judgement that captures admiration for a speaker
who uses the language to stir us.
Strategic Choices of Style
Style is not only selected for aesthetic reasons but also to make your discourse
Effective style can provide vividness to a message and can move the audience to act on the
speaker's strategic message.
- Concrete Description. In general, concrete language provides
a more vivid and active message.
- Visualization. Vivid messages allow those in the communication
to have a concrete, visual experience of the events or the result of the action.
- Figures that vivify.
- Rhetorical Question
Certain stylistic choices increase the vividness of the message and provide greater
energy to the speech, thus giving it more power to activate.
- Pace. A more rapid delivery will contibute to a feeling of action.
Building pace is particularly effective since it brings the audience from
rest to activity.
- Rhythm. A speech that provides a rhythm in which the audience can
become involved in the speech will also activate.
- Arrangments which activate.
- Climax Construction
Stylistic strategies are also quite useful when the purpose of a communication
is a major alteration in the way people think about experience -- a reorientation.
Among the particularly powerful strategies in reorienting ideas about a subject:
- Labeling/Renaming. The power of names are never more important
than when new names are used to change the way we look at old things. For
example: Declaring the use of corporal punishment to be a form of child abuse.
- Slogans. Effective reorientation provides people with ways
of seeing their experience in the future. Messages which contain memorable
words and phrases that can be easily remembered and invoked in later experiences
are powerful. For example: Martin Luther King's use of "I Have a Dream."
- Identification. Stylistic strategies which allow people
to see themselves in relationship to the new orientation are more powerful.
For example: A description of the benefits of better time management.
- Narrative. A narrative provides a kind of logic to a new
way of seeing a series of events. It can therefore be a powerful addition
to a message of reorientation. For example: A narrative of the difficulty
that single mothers have in providing adequate schooling for their children
may be enhanced by a well told story of one mother.
- Figures of speech that reorient
Arrangements of material that reorient
In addition, however, stylistic arrangements that aid memory, that provide slogans are useful too.
To frame change
Strategically seeking and opposing change will be facilitated by using your knowledge
of style. Among the strategies that will aid each are:
|Construct a vivid and concrete vision of the future that
you believe your change will bring
||Construct a vivid and concrete vision of the present you
believe will be lost if the change occurs. Provide a vivid appreciation
for the tradition that opposes the change
|Focus attention on a target for change; clearly designate
responsibility for the problems that you believe should be addressed and
responsibility for those problems.
||Focus attention on the aspects of the proposed change that
most threaten the tradition that you uphold.
|Change will be most easily accepted when ironically the people
you seek to accept the change can see the change as continuity with their
||Change will be most easily rejected ironically when the people
you seek to persuade to oppose the change can see that the tradition has
the ability to change to solve the problems that are being raised.