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Rhetorical StyleThe Uses of Language in Persuasion$
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Jeanne Fahnestock

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199764129

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199764129.001.0001

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Language Varieties

Language Varieties

4 Language Varieties
Rhetorical Style

Jeanne Fahnestock

Oxford University Press

Rhetorical standards for effective language emphasize choices that are appropriate to the arguer's audience and situation. Manuals since antiquity have divided appropriateness into three levels: the colloquial or low, the middle, and the grand or high. Sociolinguists have provided useful descriptions of language varieties (special intonation, word and phrasing choices) that indicate how speakers adjust to the age, status, and level of intimacy among interlocutors. They have also revealed how people sharing the same occupation, avocation, or discipline share a special language variety (called a register), just as people in the same geographical area or economic niche tend to share a spoken variety, a dialect or sociolect. Spoken as opposed to written language, and distinct genres like weather reporting or personal ads, also feature distinct language varieties. Resisting this specialization into varieties are various forms of standardized language such as the ubiquitous prepared phrases and allusions that show up across contexts. A standard, less marked language can in itself argue for the acceptability of its content. Corpus linguistics, the study of large databases of language, reveals the stereotypical nature of registers and prepared phrases by demonstrating the frequency of fixed strings. Arguers can deploy language varieties by matching either the register or variety appropriate to the preexisting rhetorical situation. Or they can try to change the rhetorical situation by using a different language variety. Persuasive texts often feature sudden shifts in register or language variety for the sake of emphasis or a sudden change of footing between arguer and audience.

Keywords:   appropriateness, levels of style, language varieties, sociolinguistics, register, dialect, prepared phrases, register shift, corpus linguistics, maxims, allusions

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