Stylistic iconicity and Love's two orders of language

Michael Toolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
233 Downloads (Pure)


My aim here is to put integrationism’s anti-systematicity into close conjunction with stylistics’ craving for linguistic explanation of literary effects, to see whether any kind of rapprochement, even of conceptual inclusion of the latter within the former, is remotely possible—or whether such an effort only highlights the mutual incompatibility of the two mind-sets. Love’s idea of two orders of language activity helps to focus the difficulties. Applying these to the practice and principles of stylistics, they prompt several basic questions: Is stylistics doomed to the adoption of one ‘second order’ descriptive machine after another, in a futile effort to capture the essence, the life, of the literary texts it analyses? Are readers’ actual engagements with poems, their ‘first order’ experiencing of poems, never to be satisfactorily or usefully explained by these abstracting, unit-manipulating, second-order systems? In moving towards answers to these questions I will suggest that stylisticians are not unaware of their difficulties (sometimes more aware than other linguistic analysts of texts), and that one concept that some have adopted as part of an effort to forge a strong connection from the second-order description back to the first-order experience, is that of iconicity. I discuss whether ‘iconicity’ is stylistics’ attempt to bridge the second-order/first-order gulf.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage Sciences
Early online date5 Dec 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Dec 2016


  • Stylistics
  • Iconicity
  • Second-order description


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