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Stylistics: Using Linguistics to Explore Texts and Meaning

Gain insights into political speeches, beautiful poetry, and everything in between as you take a deep dive into stylistics.

3,268 enrolled on this course

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Stylistics: Using Linguistics to Explore Texts and Meaning

3,268 enrolled on this course

  • 4 weeks

  • 4 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Intermediate level

Find out more about how to join this course

Uncover the real meaning behind the words you read and hear with stylistics

Stylistics is the study of linguistic style in texts. It helps to explain how politicians mislead; how novelists and poets move their readers; how advertisers persuade us to buy their products and how the media influence public opinion. Stylistics empowers students to become critical readers by developing rigorous techniques of linguistic analysis.

Academically, stylistics sits at the interface between many other disciplines, including Literary Studies, Linguistics, History, Politics, Sociology and Psychology. If you’d like to learn more, this four-week course from the University of Huddersfield is the perfect way to begin your stylistics journey.

See stylistics in action across different situations

By examining the language choices that are made in different contexts, you’ll be able to develop your critical reading ability. Armed with these skills, you’ll be able to analyse and interpret the daily messages you receive from every sphere of your life.

Hone your stylistic analysis skills

By the end of this course, you’ll be able to identify stylistic devices, understand how language choices attract our attention, and compare the speech patterns of different people.

You’ll also know how to perform corpus stylistics, using simple computer analysis of textual patterns and interpreting their relation to a speaker or writer’s style and effect.

Learn from leading linguistics experts

With its established track record in corpus stylistics, stylistic analysis, and other areas related to this field, this course from the University of Huddersfield is the perfect place to study this fascinating branch of linguistics.

You’ll learn how to identify stylistic devices, foregrounding, and characterisation, and gain invaluable insight into everything you read or hear!

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Skip to 0 minutes and 17 seconds Have you ever had that feeling of being engrossed in a book? When you read about politicians in the newspaper are you infuriated by them? Do you sometimes feel closer to literary characters than you do real people? What is it about the language of novels, poems, newspapers, plays, film scripts, text messages, emails, adverts, letters and much more besides that grabs our attention. What role does language play in shaping our emotions during the reading process? And how can we use linguistic theories and analytical frameworks to explain the reactions we have when we read? To answer these questions, you need stylistics.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds Stylistics is the linguistic study of style, and how this is manifested in language - and central to stylistics is the concept of choice. You can’t create stylistic effects in language unless you have a range of linguistic options to choose from. What stylisticians are interested in doing is describing those linguistic choices and identifying the effects associated with them. A lot of stylisticians are interested in the language of literature. Maybe you are, too. But stylistics is not restricted to the study of literary language. Any text can be analysed stylistically, and by doing this, we can start to explain how it is that certain kinds of texts attract our attention or cause us to have particular emotional reactions.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 seconds On this four week course we’ll introduce you to some of the key concepts in stylistics. We’ll look at foregrounding theory, which predicts which elements of a text will stand out to readers. We’ll investigate the range of options writers have for presenting the speech of other people We’ll explore the linguistic aspects of the characterisation process and we’ll show you how you can use computer software to stylistically analyse large databases of language. We’ll do all of this using a variety of teaching methods from short lecture videos to interactive tasks to guided readings from leading stylisticians. Along the way, you’ll also get the chance to find out what it’s like to study at the University of Huddersfield.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds So I hope you’ll join us to explore the relationship between language, text and meaning.


  • Week 1


    • Welcome to the course!

      Meet the people who have designed this FutureLearn course and get an overview of the course.

    • Style and meaning

      Find out how we can analyse features of texts stylistically and consider the effects of the linguistic choices that stand out to us in a poem.

    • Foregrounding in language

      Find out about the theory behind foregrounding and see how different techniques of linguistic foregrounding can be seen at work in advertisements.

    • The effects of foregrounding

      Find out how foregrounding affects our interpretations and feelings, and explore some ways of testing these psychological effects in readers.

    • Weekly round-up

      Test yourself on what you have learnt so far and find out about further reading and resources on foregrounding.

  • Week 2


    • Where do characters come from?

      How do we create detailed conceptualisations of characters as we read? In this activity we'll explore the linguistic means by which this happens.

    • Characterisation in the mind

      What happens in our heads as we read? This activity explores the cognitive processes involved in characterisation.

    • Characterisation in dialogue

      What does dialogue tell us about characters? This activity explores the particular linguistic triggers for characterisation that we find in character talk.

    • Characterisation through subtitles

      Inferring character from written texts is one thing. But how does characterisation work in dramatic performances? And how do subtitles affect the characterisation process in TV and film drama?

    • Weekly round-up

      Test yourself on your knowledge of characterisation and discover extra resources for learning about this topic.

  • Week 3

    Speech presentation

    • Quoting other people's words

      This activity draws on some ideas that may be familiar to you, such as direct and indirect speech, to introduce the topic of quoting other people's speech and then shows that these labels don't tell the whole story.

    • A model of speech presentation

      Here, we will introduce a system for analysing speech presentation that has more categories than direct and indirect speech and works for speech in fiction as well as in the real world. You will also get to try some analysis.

    • The power of quotation

      This activity will show how powerful it can be to quote other people in public life such as politics and news reporting. It will also demonstrate how the model of speech presentation helps us to explain the effects of misquoting.

    • What we hear and what we believe

      What is the relationship between speech presentation and context? Are we more likely to believe something quoted is accurate if it is in a reputable printed text than spoken in a casual context?

    • Weekly roundup

      A quiz to check that you have understood and learnt about speech presentation. A short summary of what we've covered in this week's work. And a list of further reading if you want to know more about discourse presentation.

  • Week 4

    Corpus stylistics

    • Samples, frequencies and concordances

      Corpus linguistic methods are really useful in stylistics because they help us to see patterns in texts that we might not otherwise notice. We'll start by looking at frequency.

    • What is keyness analysis and how do we use it in stylistics?

      Keyness analysis is a fundamental technique in corpus stylistics because it enables us to identify significant differences between texts.

    • Introducing N-grams and clusters

      In this activity we'll see how examining repeated sequences of words in corpora can be helpful in stylistic analysis.

    • Collocation: how words congregate with each other

      Frequency is not the only measure of how important particular words and structures are in a text. What's also important is how those words and structures relate to each other. Measuring collocation allows us to see this.

    • Weekly round-up

      Test yourself on your knowledge of corpus stylistics and find out more about resources for corpus stylistics.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe what is meant by the term stylistics
  • Identify foregrounding and explain how language choices attract our attention
  • Explain the role of language in the process of characterisation
  • Compare different ways of presenting the speech of other people and the potential effects associated with these techniques
  • Perform simple computer analysis of textual patterns and understand their relation to style

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone considering university English Language or Linguistics, teaching these subjects at A-level, new to studying Stylistics, or just interested in the effects of language choices in different contexts.

What software or tools do you need?

In Week 4 of the course we’ll be using two pieces of software, English-Corpora.org and AntConc. English-Corpora.org is web-based. All you need to do to use it is create a login. We’ll show you how to do this at the relevant point in the course. The other piece of software, AntConc, is something that you’ll need to download from https://www.laurenceanthony.net/software/antconc/. It’s a small program and we’ll give you full instructions on how to download it when we get to the relevant point in the course.

Who will you learn with?

I am Professor of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Huddersfield. I teach corpus linguistics, stylistics, and the history of English, and I co-founded Babel: The Language Magazine.

I am Professor of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Huddersfield. I teach stylistics of poetry, critical stylistics and I co-founded Babel: The Language Magazine

I am a Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Huddersfield. My teaching and research lie in stylistics, cognitive linguistics and the study of reading and readers.

Who developed the course?

University of Huddersfield

The University is home to six academic Schools of Study: Applied Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Business and Law, Computing and Engineering, Education, and Human and Health Sciences. It is an established and growing centre of research and excellence, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and is recognised for the quality of its teaching, achieving a Gold Award in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and winning the inaugural Higher Education Academy Global Teaching Excellence Award in 2017.

  • Established

  • Location

    Huddersfield (West Yorkshire), United Kingdom
  • World ranking

    Top 610Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021

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  • Access to 1,000+ courses
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  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$129/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
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Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 30 Dec 2023

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