Categories of Word Choice

Jeanne Fahnestock

in Rhetorical Style

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199764129
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918928 | DOI:
Categories of Word Choice

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The set of words making up a text can be classified in different ways depending on an analyst's goals. Critics often intuitively select certain words for attention. This chapter covers explicit categories of word analysis. Words can, for example, be grouped into lexical or semantic fields; these are large fuzzy sets of terms that collocate in the same area of meaning and are retrieved in word association tests. Decisions about the subject of a text depend on the frequency of words from the same lexical field, and the interspersion of terms from other fields can help or harm the persuasiveness of a text. Words can also be related, especially within lexical fields, according to whether they are more or less abstract or concrete, that is, distant or proximate from physical referents. Concrete words, contrary to the advice in many style books, are not critical in rhetorical effectiveness, and in fact rhetorical manuals advised arguers to switch levels and support both particular and general versions of the same claim. The words in a text can also be assigned to functional classes (parts of speech) as a way to inspect how speakers or writers use these available roles. This kind of analysis is performed on paired passages from early twentieth-century nature writing. The chapter closes by reviewing the categories for language analysis created by twentieth-century rhetoricians Kenneth Burke (positive, dialectical, and ultimate terms) and Richard Weaver (god, devil, and charismatic terms).

Keywords: lexical field; semantic field; hypernym; hyponym; WordNet; general semantics; abstract; concrete; thesis/hypothesis; functional classes; parts of speech; Burke; Weaver

Chapter.  8917 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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