Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £29.99 £19.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more


In this video, Professor Dan McIntyre explains the role of language in the characterisation process.
When you read fiction, inevitably you form images of characters in your head. You imagine what they look like, what they sound like and how they behave. Essentially, you engage in the process of characterisation. But how does this happen? How do you get from the words on the page to the detailed mental pictures you create when you read? The answer is that particular elements of language and linguistic behaviour tend to have characterising effects. If a character routinely interrupts other characters and speaks more than anyone else, we’re likely to think of them as dominant and assertive. If they use long Latinate words, we might think of them as particularly well-educated or posh.
Non-standard spellings can indicate a particular accent and how characters address other characters can tell us something about the relationships between them. All of these things and more help us to form an image of a character. We also draw on any prior knowledge we might have about character types. If we’re reading a detective novel, for example, we’ll draw on any previous knowledge we have about what detectives are like, whether that knowledge comes from reading books, watching TV or even from real life. Context is also really important in characterisation. We expect to see certain characters in certain settings. This is the landscape of Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights. It’s not the landscape of Oliver Twist or Superman.
So context is really important. But what’s at the heart of characterisation is language.

When we read stories, either fiction or non-fiction, inevitably we form impressions about characters. But how does this happen?

In this video, Professor Dan McIntyre explains the role of language in the characterisation process.

This article is from the free online

Stylistics: Using Linguistics to Explore Texts and Meaning

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now