Language in Literature
Style & Foregrounding

By Geoffrey Leech
November 2008
Distrubuted by Trans-Atlantic Publications Inc.
ISBN: 9780582051096
240 pages
$52.50 Paper Original

Over a period of over forty years, Geoffrey Leech has made notable contributions to the field of literary stylistics, using the interplay between linguistic form and literary function as a key to the ‘mystery’ of how a text comes to be invested with artistic potential.

In this book, seven earlier papers and articles, read previously only by a restricted audience, have been brought  together with four new chapters, the whole volume showing a continuity of approach across a period when all too often literary and linguistic studies have appeared to drift further apart.

Leech sets the concept of ‘foregrounding’ (also known as defamiliarization) at the heart of the interplay between form and interpretation. Through practical and insightful examination of how poems, plays and prose works produce special meaning, he counteracts the ‘flight from the text’ that has characterized thinking about language and literature in the last thirty years, when the response of the reader, rather than the characteristics and meaning potential of the text itself, have been given undue prominence.

The book provides an enlightening analysis of well-known (as well as less well-known) texts of great writers of the past, including Keats, Shelley, Samuel Johnson, Shaw, Dylan Thomas, and Virginia Woolf.  




1.  Introduction: about this book, its content and its viewpoint

1.1 Stylistics as an ‘interdiscipline’

1.2  The chapter-by-chapter progression of this book.

1.3  A digression on ‘literariness’

1.4  A list of texts examined


2.  Linguistics and the figures of rhetoric

2.1  Introduction

2.2  A linguistic perspective on literary language

2.3  Figures of speech as deviant or foregrounded phenomena in language

2.4  Classifying figures of speech

2.5  Linguistic analysis and critical appreciation


3.  ‘This Bread I Break’ – language and interpretation

 3.1  Cohesion in a text

3.2  Foregrounding

3.3  Cohesion of foregrounding

3.4  Implications of context

3.5  Conclusion: interpretation


4. Literary criticism and linguistic description

4.1  The nature of critical statements

4.2  The nature of linguistic statements

4.3  The relation between critical and linguistic statements

4.4  Leavis on Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’

4.5  Linguistic support for Leavis’s account

4.6  Conclusion


5. Stylistics

 5.1  Introduction

5.2  The text: ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Percy B. Shelley

5.3  Stylistic analysis: deviation and foregrounding

5.4  Secondary and tertiary deviation

5.5  Coherence of foregrounding

5.6  The poem’s interpretation

5.7  Conclusion


6.  Music and metre: ‘sprung rhythm’ in Victorian poetry

6.1  Introduction

6.2  A multi-levelled account of metre: four levels of metrical form

6.3  Why we need an extra layer of musical scansion

6.4  Sprung rhythm

6.5  Conclusion

Appendix: Further examples of musical scansion


7.  Pragmatics, discourse analysis, stylistics and ‘The Celebrated Letter’

 7.1  The close affinity between pragmatics, discourse analysis and  stylistics: a  goal-oriented framework

7.2  Politeness and irony in a multi-goaled view of communication

7.3  Samuel Johnson’s ‘Celebrated Letter’ as a demonstration text

7.4  Conclusion: there is no dichotomy between literary and non-literary texts


8.  Stylistics and functionalism

 8.1 Roman Jakobson: a formalistic functionalist

8.2 A goal-oriented multifunctionalism

8.3 Typologies of language function and kinds of meaning

8.4 Functionalism in terms of a threefold hierarchy

8.5 Applications to literature

8.6 Jakobson’s poetic function revisited: autotelism

8.7 Conclusion


9.  Pragmatic principles in Shaw’s You Never Can Tell

 9.1  Introduction

9.2  The plot of Shaw’s You Never Can Tell

9.3  Pragmatic principles and pragmatic deviation

9.4  (Un)cooperative and (im)polite behaviour in the play

9.5  Quality and quantity: rights and obligations

9.6  Pragmatic abnormalities of character

9.7  A system of pragmatic contrasts

9.8  ‘You never can tell’


10.  Style in interior monologue: Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’

 10.1  Introduction

10.2  The formal levels of phonology, lexigrammar and semantics

10.3  A digression on the stream of consciousness

10.4  The textual function

10.5  The ideational function: representation of (mock) reality

10.6  The interpersonal function

10.7  Conclusion


11.  Work in progress in corpus stylistics: a method of finding ‘deviant’ or ‘key’ features of texts, and its application to ‘The Mark on the Wall’

11.1  A method in corpus stylistics: WMatrix

11.2  The results

11.3  Conclusion


12.  Closing statement: text, interpretation, history and education

 12.1  The book’s relation to other work

12.2  What is a text?

12.3  Ambiguity and interpretation

12.4  Historical and educational viewpoints

12.5  Conclusion





Written by a leading scholar who has contributed to English stylistics for over forty years, this book celebrates the close bond between linguistic and literary studies after a period when they hav drifted further apart.


Professor Leech is Emeritus Professor of  English Linguistics at Lancaster University. He has written, co-edited and co-authored over 25 books and over 100 articles in the areas of linguistics and English language, especially in stylistics, English grammar, semantics, pragmatics and corpus linguistics.

He was co-author, with Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum and Jan Svartvik, of the monumental and authoritative A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language  (Longman 1985). In pragmatics, too, his Principles of Pragmatics (Longman 1983) has been a landmark text. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, and a Member of Academia Europaea.

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