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The Belles-Lettres Style

• Poetry

• Emotive Prose

• The Drama

Each of these substyles has certain common features, typical of the general belles-lettres style.

The common features of the substyles may be summed up as follows. First of all, comes the common function, which may broadly be called «aesthetical-cognitive». Since the belles-lettres style has a cognitive function as well as an aesthetic one, it follows that it has something in common with scientific style, but the style of scientific prose is mainly characterized by an arrangement of language means which will bring proofs to clinch a theory. Therefore we say that the main function of scientific prose is proof. The purpose of the belles-lettres style is not to prove but only to suggest a possible interpretation of the phenomena of life by forcing the reader to see the viewpoint of the writer.

The belles-lettres style rests on certain indispensable linguistic features, which are:

1. Genuine, not trite, imagery achieved by purely linguistic devices.

2. The use of words in contextual and very often in more than one
dictionary meaning, or at least greatly influenced by the lexical

3. A vocabulary which will reflect to a greater or lesser degree the
author's personal evaluation of things or phenomena.

4. A peculiar individual selection of vocabulary and syntax, a kind
of lexical and syntactical idiosyncrasy.

5. The introduction of the typical features of colloquial language to a
full degree or a lesser one or a slight degree, if any.


The first differentiating property of poetry is its orderly form, which is based mainly on the rhythmic and phonetic arrangement of the utterances. The rhythmic aspect call forth syntactical and semantic peculiarities which also fall into more or less strict orderly arrangement. Both the syntactical and semantic aspects of the poetic substyle may be defined as compact, for they are held in check by rhythmic patterns. Both syntax and semantics comply with the restrictions imposed by the rhythmic pattern, and the result is brevity of expression, epigram-like utterances, and fresh, unexpected imagery. Syntactically this brevity is shown in elliptical and fragmentary sentences, in detached constructions, in inversion, asyndeton and other syntactical peculiarities.

Rhythm and rhyme are distinguishable properties of the poetic substyle provided they are wrought into compositional patterns. They are typical only of this one variety of the belles-lettres style.

Emotive Prose

Emotive prose has the same features as have been pointed out for the belles-lettres style in general; but all these features are correlated differently in emotive prose. The imagery is not so rich as it is in poetry, the percentage of words with contextual meaning is not so high as in poetry, the idiosyncrasy of the author is not so clearly discernible. Apart from metre and rhyme, what most of all distinguishes emotive prose from the poetic style is the combination of the literary variant of the language, both in words and syntax, with the colloquial variant. It would perhaps be more exact to define this as a combination of the spoken and written varieties of the language.

Present-day emotive prose is to a large extent characterized by the breaking-up of traditional syntactical designs of the preceding periods. Not only detached constructions, but also fragmentation of syntactical models, peculiar, unexpected ways of combining sentences are freely introduced into present-day emotive prose.

The Drama

The third subdivision of the belles-lettres style is the language of plays. Unlike poetry, which, except for ballads, in essence excludes direct speech and therefore dialogue, and unlike emotive prose, which is a combination of monologue and dialogue, the language of plays is entirely dialogue. The author's speech is almost entirely excluded except for the playwright's remarks and stage directions, significant though they may be.

Publicistic Style

Publicistic style also falls into three varieties, each having its own distinctive features. Unlike other styles, the publicistic style has spoken varieties, in particular, the oratorical substyle. The development of radio and television has brought into being a new spoken variety, namely, the radio commentary. The other two are the essay (moral, philosophical, literary) and articles (political, social, economic) in newspapers, journals and magazines. Book reviews in journals and magazines and also pamphlets are generally included among essays.

The general aim of the publicistic style, which makes it stand out as a separate style, is to exert a constant and deep influence on public opinion, to convince the reader or the listener that the interpretation given by the writer or the speaker is the only correct one and to cause him to accept the point of view expressed in the speech, essays or article not merely by logical argumentation, but by emotional appeal as well. Due to its characteristic combination of logical argumentation and emotional appeal, the publicistic style has features common with the style of scientific prose, on the one hand, and that of emotive prose, on the other. Its coherent and logical syntactical structure, with the expanded system of connectives, and its careful paragraphing, makes it similar to scientific prose. Its emotional appeal is generally achieved by the use of words with emotive meaning, the use of imagery and other stylistic devices as in emotive prose. But the stylistic devices used in the publicistic style are not fresh or genuine.

Publicistic style is also characterized by brevity of expression. In some varieties of this style it becomes a leading feature, an important linguistic means. In essays brevity sometimes becomes epigrammatic.

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