The branch of stylistics thus named deals with the principles of stylistic
description of lexical and phraseological units of language in abstraction
from the context (or contexts) in which they function. This task
presupposes establishing a general stylistic classification of words. To
solve the problems arising, we must overcome certain basic difficulties.
1. Lexicology of units is expected to neglect contextual relations of
the word, describing it as a self-sufficient phenomenon, which is incon-
sistent with its nature. As we know, the stylistic value of a word is the
total of its distributions. Its analysis as an isolated unit is only feasible in
so far as we consider its connotations to be definite and relatively
2. Another difficulty lies in polysemy and polyfunctionality of words.
Various meanings of a polysemantic word used in varying functions have
quite different connotations. Therefore what we usually call one word
could be placed in several lexical classes at once. That is why to classify
words as sound complexes irrespective of their meanings would be
senseless: stylistic classification does not deal with the word as such (as
it is presented in dictionaries), but only its varieties, each with a meaning
of its own — the so-called 'lexical semantic variants', or LSV.
3. Besides, even the connotations of an isolated LSV are manifold; the
have a complex of features, and it is impossible to say with anything like
certainty which feature is dominant.
All the immeasurable richness of the vocabulary of any civilized
language cannot be memorized or even understood by an individual native
speaker; it is only the most common words that are widely used in actual
communication. A very essential part of the lexicon, its greater part i
fact, belongs to special spheres of human intercourse.
Evidently,we must divide the vocabulary into smaller groups. Here we come again
to the problem of the existing classifications. More often than not, it is
mentioned that stylistic distinctions are revealed by archaisms, bookish
words, foreign words, euphemisms, etc
To be sure, words belonging to these groups reveal stylistic distinc-
tions, yet these groups do not make a classification. A logically infallible
classification is a set of classes which do not intersect: every item of the
object classified can occupy only one section, i.e. belongs (or must belong)
to only one class; it cannot belong to two or three classes simultaneously.
In our particular case, saying that a word is archaic, we mean it is
obsolete, no more in current use; the term 'bookish' informs us about the
sphere in which the word mostly occurs; the label 'foreign' pertains to
the origin of the word; 'euphemism' is a term of speech ethics. Each class
has a foundation of its own. Just because of this a word can be bookish,
and foreign, and euphemistic simultaneously.
Therefore we may state that the items (classes of words) discussed are
stylistically different from one another, but it is wrong to try combining
them in a general, common classification: each item belongs to a
classification of its own, each class is opposed only to classes singled out
on the same dividing principle, namely:
Since it is stylistically relevant (essential for stylistics) to distinguish
between what is obsolete, i.e. practically dead, what is normal, habitual,
unconditionally acceptable, and what is new, i.e. only being born, we can
establish a system comprising three classes: 1) archaisms; 2) current words
of the epoch; 3) new creations, or neologisms, i.e. words that appeared
recently, are still felt to be new and not yet accepted by all.
Along with the four classes discussed, we could mention further classes
usually treated in handbooks on lexicology or stylistics: professionalisms,
dialect words, specialist terms, slang words, colloquial words, popular
words, vulgar words, poetic words, nonce-words. Like those discussed
above, they are stylistically relevant, but the terms themselves do not
disclose the stylistic value of each class.
This differentiation has social grounding. 'Elevation' and
'degradation' do not exist by themselves, as self-sufficient
characteristics, but as the result of evaluating at least three factors: the
iubject of speech, the character of the communicative sphere, and the
participants of communication. The notions of elevation and degradation
иге correlative, in the sphere of morals, with the biblical concepts of good
and evil; logically, they represent the opposition of the positive to the
Poetic words constitute the highest level of the scale; every poetic word
pertains to the uppermost part of the scheme; it demonstrates the
maximum of aesthetic value.
Official words of business and legal correspondence as can be seen in
the diagram, occupy the middle level of the upper part of our scheme.
Colloquial words demonstrate the minimal degree of stylistic degra-
Jargon words as well as slang and nonce-words (see below) must be
placed at the second (medial) level of the lower part of the scale.
^ Vulgar words occupy the lowest step of the lower part.
Thus it can be stated that the classes enumerated are more or less
homogeneous from the stylistic viewpoint.
Much greater difficulties arise as soon as we begin to deal with other
classes of words singled out in lexicological descriptions. The classes we
enumerate further are heterogeneous stylistically: one is never sure what
place in the scale they occupy.
Bookish words. The epithet 'bookish' implies a very wide sphere of
communication. Words traditionally referred to as 'bookish' occupy, as
a matter of fact, the whole of the upper part of the stylistic scale: some of
them are only slightly above the neutral sphere; others belong to the
medial sphere; many bookish words are excessively high-flown,
Archaic words, or archaisms are also stylistically heterogeneous. They
are usually thought to pertain to the upper strata of the vocabulary. As a
general view this opinion is correct, but only with reference to the lexical
units which, though obsolete, are not completely out of use.
Neologisms, or new creations. In most cases, newly coined words are
not easily accepted by the linguistic community due to its conservative
attitude towards every innovation. Therefore, a neologism seems, to the
majority of language users, a stranger, a newcomer, and hence a word of
low stylistic value, although the intention of the speaker (writer) maybe
finite the opposite. Obviously humorous are the so-called nonce-words (see
below), i.e. words created by the speaker (writer) to meet the needs of the
actual communicative situation. Their place is in the medial grade of the
lower part of the scale.
Barbarisms, or Foreign Words.
Bookish (learned) words constitute the overwhelming majority of
Jargon words. 'holier-than-thou',
Vulgar words. 'low slang' — such as
old bean ('old man' — deprecatingly), smeller ('nose'), pay dirt ('money'),
and the like.