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Bill Louw and Marija Milojkovic. Corpus Stylistics as Contextual Prosodie Theory and Subtext.

Bill Louw and Marija Milojkovic. Corpus Stylistics as Contextual Prosodie Theory and Subtext. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2016. xix + 419 pp. $149.

The term corpus stylistics, usually regarded as a near-synonym for stylometry, stylometrics, statistical stylistics, or stylogenetics, is closely related to statistics and corpus linguistics. Despite an increasing number of studies in the field, people still do not attain a clear line of demarcation between corpus linguistics and corpus stylistics. Corpus linguists are typically concerned with "repeated occurrences, generalizations and the description of typical patterns," while corpus stylistic studies relate to "deviations from linguistic norms that account for the artistic effects of a particular text" (Mahlberg, "Corpus Stylistic Perspective" 19). However, more needs to be known about what new perspectives corpus linguistics can offer to the depiction of stylistic devices and the interpretation of stylistic values. Under these circumstances, Bill Louw and Marija Milojkovic's Corpus Stylistics as Contextual Prosodie Theory and Subtext is instructive and worthy of reading, for it offers valuable perspectives for interdisciplinary investigations. This volume comprises two parts: the first part (Chapters 1-6) is devoted to the theoretical construction of Contextual Prosodie Theory (CPT), and the second part (Chapters 7-12) applies CPT to literary criticism, translation studies, and foreign language teaching.

Chapter 1 revisits the proposal on "language and literature integration" in foreign language teaching. Louw dissolves the doubts from language teachers about "integration" by sufficiently discussing lexical syllabus design and progressive delexicalization. Having critically reviewed different theoretical perspectives on collocation, the authors argue in

Chapter 2 that one objective characteristic of literary devices is that they will demonstrate some evidence of relexicalization through collocation. Chapter 3 focuses on the theoretical interpretation of semantic prosody. Semantic prosody, according to Louw, is the "consistent aura of meaning with which a form is imbued by its collocations" (80). In Chapter 4, the author expounds that data-driven reading will produce a class of negotiator distinct from the intuitive counterparts. Chapter 5 affirms the role of collocation in terms of predicting and grading the potential success of all humorous contexts of situation as well as composition. Moreover, the interaction between collocation and events in the external world is capable of isolating humorous situations that are "waiting to happen" (132). Chapter 6 introduces subtext, a core concept of CPT, and proceeds to explore what these deviations from logical semantic prosody (subtext) can tell us about an author's text.

The second part (Chapters 7-12) is written by Milojkovic and adapts CPT to other disciplines. In this sense, the volume can be considered as a necessary reference for a consortium of scholars. In order to test the applicability and universality of CPT, Milojkovic applies CPT to Slavic languages, namely, Russian and Serbian. Based on a synthesis of the theoretical tools of CPT (i.e., collocation, semantic prosody, and subtext), Milojkovic analyzes the logical construction of literary worlds as well as a hitherto uncharted domain in corpus stylistics: authorial intention, that is, whether the author sincerely means what he or she writes. Chapter 8 reveals the subtext of "in the * of" in a translated poem of Pushkin as a picture of action verging on conflict, which inspires Milojkovic to probe into whether this is an incompatible grammatical pattern to express Pushkin's call for resignation. Methodologically, the application of CPT in translation studies enriches the theoretical toolkit of corpus-based translation studies. Chapter 9 distinguishes inspired writing from banality by evaluating the deviation from the reference corpus. Chapter 10 puts forward the hypothesis that inspired writing will differ from uninspired in the density of its subtextual and prosodie clashes, and that the clashes themselves will be indicative of the presence of inspiration (274). In order to test this hypothesis, Milojkovic, in Chapter 10, contacts several poets to elicit clear-cut cases of inspired writing. The final two chapters, concerning applications for foreign language teaching, pertain to time-honored pedagogical stylistics. Chapter 11 is a piece of classroom corpus stylistics research with a twofold purpose: empirically, to verify Louw's supposition that it is sufficient to analyze the target text via similar events as a reference corpus without the interference of theoretical concepts; pedagogically, to propose a classroom corpus stylistics methodology founded on CPT. The quantitative research in this chapter follows in the form of a questionnaire composed of 11 questions to investigate students' comprehension on the module and their degrees of satisfaction. Chapter 12 is the continuation of Chapter 11 and probes the subjects' understanding and acceptance of subtext as part of CPT. This testing yields highly motivating results for CPT-based classroom stylistics: not only do the students handle the concordances with great competence, but they also come up with original and valuable angles of interpretation (385).

One of the most invaluable academic contributions of this book is the establishment of CPT based on a dialogical interchange with other stylisticians. For instance, in Chapter 1 Louw states that "delexicalisation in the end became part of the lexicographer's terminology, and semantic prosody a sort of a run-away child that roamed the world, trying its potential in corpus linguistics, stylistics, translation studies and language pedagogy rather than settling anywhere in particular" (4). This book brings delexicalization, relexicalization, and semantic prosody under the umbrella of CPT in pursuit of a coherent and consistent corpus stylistic framework. It is a consensus that the ways one defines collocation influences our understanding of semantic prosody. In reviewing several influential scholarly positions on collocation, Louw approves of J. R. Firth and John Sinclair's "context situation view" but criticizes M. A. K. Halliday's syntax view for the fact that he inexplicably locates collocation both within syntax and colligation (a major mismatch between Halliday's thinking and that of Firth) and for his ignorance of grammatical collocates (40-43). Although the filtering on grammatical collocates lays the foundation for inventing the stop word, "subtext would never have eventuated if this advice had been heeded and the very fact that strings of grammar words have lexical collocates is crucial to the localizing of argument and logic within states of affairs and contexts of situation" (xiv).

Another theoretical innovation in this book, as stated earlier, is the concept of subtext, a concept springing forth out of the doubts and denials from other corpus stylisticians. For example, Michaela Mahlberg assumes that repeated sequences or dusters are more relevant for the discipline of corpus stylistics than subtext. A wider range of corpus methods depends to some extent on the availability of sufficient data for the identification of patterns across texts (Corpus Stylistics 19). However, for Louw, Mahlberg seems to be prompted by literary texts alone, rather than by any attempt to use forms of automation through reference corpora that will result in a complete picture. Obviously, Mahlberg's cluster analysis has limitations for not distinguishing grammar items and vocabularies within clusters, given that the prosodies of grammar strings are usually opaque to our intuition. Since reference corpora are not involved, delexicalization and relexicalization are absent from her analysis, not to mention the subtler forms (e.g., when an absent but frequent collocate interacts with those in the text). How can we ever assess the intuitive deficit in establishing the deviation between the highly frequent but absent collocates and those in authorial texts if reference corpora are not resorted to (Louw and Milojkovic 79)? Actually, CPT adopts a bottom-up paradigm to explore "what do these deviations from logical semantic prosody (subtext) tell us about an author's text" (174)? The significance of this method manifests itself only if the stylistic values are connected with the stylistic devices. Therefore, it will depend on the text's context of situation, as the most frequent lexical variable (quasi-propositional variable) becomes part of interpretation. The second part (Chapters 7-12), written by Milojkovic, has applied this methodology to literary criticism, translation studies, and language teaching. For instance, the searched grammatical string in Chapter 8 "in the * of" yields a picture of action verging on conflict, which inspires Milojkovic to wonder whether this is an acceptable grammatical pattern to express Pushkin's call for resignation.

Taken as a whole, Louw and Milojkovic inherit and develop the contextual linguistics of the London School. Nevertheless, it is an overstatement, as I observe, to claim that "if research into semantic prosodies were allowed free rein to refute Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), very little of SF thinking would continue to appear as firm as it is often made to look" (41). In fact, since the first edition of the Introduction to Functional Grammar, a theoretical framework has already been constructed, modified, and improved. The fourth edition, fully updated and revised by the coauthor Christian M. I. M. Mattiessen, consolidates the theoretical framework by the corpora evidence. For corpus stylistics, is data from corpora the only orthodox empirical method? Or should the intuitional counterparts, to take Appraisal Theory (Martin and White) as an example, be called "the wrong-headed products of all human intuition" (41)? Actually, Appraisal Theory takes an arduous voyage to be empirical, as J. R. Martin and R R. R. White highlight: "we looked intensively at writing in the workplace and secondary school (from about 1990 to 1995) and moved from one register to another, and shuttled among theory, description and applications to school-based literacy initiatives" (xxxi). Louw's strident criticism of SFL prompts us to reconsider the scientific methods for stylistics. Admittedly, there are some inherent flaws in intuitional linguistics. However, I think that some intuitional defects can be addressed, to a large extent, in cases where the research process adheres to a scientific research flow, "the formulation of quite explicit hypotheses, independent data analysis and opening new perspectives on unforeseen aspects of a problem" (Peer 151). Compared with stylometry, corpus stylistics has not yet attached sufficient importance to inference statistics in order to estimate the possibility and potentiality of applying and generalizing the findings.

One pedagogical significance of CPT lies in the fact that corpora contribute to a more process-oriented composition classroom for "engaging students in the writing process and giving them experience in solving the problems successful writers solve" (Fortune 508). Of particular note is the question of whether or not nativeness is the ultimate pedagogical goal for non-native students to pursue. As Diane Belcher and Lauren Lukkarila state, the goal of the instruction concerns "not just what learners want to be able to do in a language but also who they want to become through language" (89). As I (Wang) see it, the data retrieved from native English corpora is instrumental in guiding non-native students to shape their cultural identity during intercultural communication rather than confine and stifle their thoughts.


Tongji University, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium


Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium

FENG (ROBIN) WANG is a joint PhD student of Tongji University, China, and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, under the supervision of Professor Delu Zhang and Professor Philippe Humble. He is also the editor of Chinese Language, Literature & Culture. His recent research interests include corpus-based translation studies, functional stylistics, and translation stylistics. His publications have appeared in Language Education, Foreign Language Learning Theory and Practice, and Journal of Xi'an International Studies University.

PHILIPPE HUMBLE (1955) studied Romance Philology at the KULeuven and holds a doctoral degree in bilingual lexicography (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina/University of Birmingham). For twenty-five years, he taught Spanish language and literature, bilingual lexicography, and the use of corpora at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Brazil). Since 2009, he teaches Spanish translation and Intercultural Communication at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He has published on translation studies, corpora studies, and intercultural relations in translation.


Belcher, Diane, and Lauren Lukkarila. "Identity in the ESP Context: Putting the Learner Front and Center in Needs Analysis." New Directions in English for Specific Purposes Research, edited by Diane Dewhurst Belcher, et al., U of Michigan P, 2011, pp. 73-93.

Fortune, Ron. "Style in Composition Research and Teaching." Style, vol. 23, no. 4, Winter 1989, pp. 508-29.

Louw, Bill, and Marija Milojkovic. Corpus Stylistics as Contextual Prosodie Theory and Subtext. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2016.

Mahlberg, Michaela. "A Corpus Stylistic Perspective on Dickens' Great Expectations." Contemporary Stylistics, edited by Marina Lambrou and Peter Stockwell, Routledge, 2007, pp. 19-31.

--. Corpus Stylistics and Dickens's Fiction. Routledge, 2013.

Martin, J. R., and P. R. R.White. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Palgrave and Macmillan, 2005.

Peer, Willie van. "Scientific Methods for Stylistics." Language and Semiotic Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 2015, pp. 151-60.
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Author:Wang, Feng "Robin"; Humble, Philippe
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2017
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