Have you ever wondered why some speakers include so many rhetorical figures, while others only seem to use a few of them? Wondered about the communicative effect such choices have on audiences? Ever heard of register and other topics in vocabulary acquisition, like the connotation of words? In this part of Rhetoric, it is all about demonstrating that you have good taste and understand what is socially appropriate to say. Linguistic choices like the decision to use rhetorical figures and which ones, or to avoid using them as much as possible, so the type of style (high, medium or low) including choices revolving around language use, like the connotation of vocabulary, matter. Such deliberations are all part of style.
In previous blog posts, I explained how timing relates to language use and how verb tense switches change meaning and can have a strategic purpose. In this blog post, I will focus on the types of style, how to start exposing yourself to more styles and how to expose yourself to richer language and how to do the opposite if that suits your purpose better.
In future posts related to this part of Rhetoric, I will focus on how connotation affects tone, on jokes and figures that focus on how we auditorily receive content as well as the type of ‘rhetorical figures’ that you could choose to include. By the end of this part 3 blog mini-series, you will be able to understand how stylistic choices shape meaning and how to start making more deliberate, stylistic choices going forward
Typology of style
Three types of style exist roughly speaking, which are high, medium and low style. ‘Style’ in this sense seems to appeal to the extent to which rhetorical figures are used. Please note that we are very used to higher styles nowadays, which often makes it difficult for us to recognize style in the first place. Lackoff and Johnson (1980) are considered to be the founding fathers in the field of metaphors and have said that their usage is so ingrained in our language use that it would be quite a challenge not to use them. A reason for this is that we commonly use metaphors to share experiences to relate to each other as humans, which still holds in academia.
High versus low style
For the sake of clarity, I will only focus on ‘high’ versus ‘low’ style to keep this post as short as possible, while attempting to deliver some valuable content for you to use. Having said that, high style generally includes a greater number of rhetorical figures, while low style contains fewer. An example of low style would be a document written in plain English, generally focused on using active voice to express who is saying or has done something ensuring accountability, honesty, accessibility of content as well as clarity. This type of style results in document or speech being more democratic as people with various backgrounds, mother tongues, and of all walks of life can understand the message. Clearly, more features distinguish plain English from other styles, but this seems to be the gist of it.
High style, on the other hand, like poetry and academic literature, can be recognized through more use of passive voice, for example. You will also probably find more unfamiliar, obscure words being used and perhaps even more jargon, and synonyms and antonyms to establish variety in language use. Moreover, I expect there to be a greater number of rhetorical figures to be used by writers or speakers in such discourse, including figurative language.
Such linguistic choices determine the readability of your text or speech and the accessibility of your message. As people differ from each other, so do their preferences for style of course, which has to be taken into account as well. Some are more into higher style and enjoy watching or reading literature that elegantly displays such features of language use, whereas others appreciate it when content is given to them straight – so to say.
Regardless of what your preference is, stylistic choices should serve your purpose and objectives and to not defeat it by ensuring that every linguistics choice is meaningful and impactful. Take having been made aware of this typology to your advantage.