Diction & Tone

Diction & Tone

Diction & Tone and how to discuss them meaningfully PowerPoint modified from originals at http://parkrose.orvsd.org/, Hills 2007 AP Lit Diction Guide, and http://exchange.guhsd.net/details.php?object_id=370 Definitions Diction: an authors choice of words, especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness Any of the four generally accepted levels of dictionformal, informal, colloquial, or slangmay be correct in a particular context but incorrect in another or when mixed unintentionally. Most ideas have a number of alternate words that the writer can

select to suit his or her purposes. Children, kids, youngsters, youths, and brats, for example, all have different evocative values. Encyclopedia Britannica Tone: the attitude of an author toward her subject matter and/or audience CUNY Glossary of Literary Terms When assessing diction, first consider: REGISTER (aka, level of formality) High or formal diction: dignified, elevated, usually impersonal language, with elaborate or sophisticated vocabulary. High style may refer to grammar or syntax manipulated for artistic effect. Often

polysyllabic. Middle or neutral diction: grammatically accurate language using common, unexceptional vocabulary; easy to understand. Low or informal diction: plain, everyday language, possibly including slang, vulgarity, and dialect; often monosyllabic. Then consider: Denotation vs. Connotation Denotation: the direct, specific, literal meaning of a word Connotation: something suggested by a

word or thing; its implication Merriam Webster In assessing diction and tone, we need to consider the connotative value of words more than their denotative value. Terminology for describing register: Note: the terms in each category are not synonyms For high, formal style: cultured, learned, pretentious, archaic, scholarly, pedantic, ornate, elegant, flowery For middle, neutral style: unadorned, plain, detached, simple For low, informal style: abrupt, terse, laconic,

homespun, colloquial, vulgar, (filled with) slang Terminology for discussing connotation or denotation: You will find fewer extracts from literature that are strictly denotative rather than connotative. However, you may find that the first list applies to writing by authors such as Hemingway who employ a more direct and unadorned style, non-fiction, straightforward action narratives, etc. Denotative language: literal, exact, journalistic, straightforward, unembellished, jargon-filled Connotative language: poetic, lyrical, figurative, symbolic, metaphoric, obscure, sensuous, grotesque, picturesque

Considerations for analyzing diction: Does the author choose concrete or abstract expression? Are the words monosyllabic or polysyllabic? Do the words have clearly negative, positive, or other connotations? Is the diction formal or colloquial? Is there a marked change in the level of diction at any point in the passage? What can the reader infer about the speaker or the speakers attitude from the word choice? Is the language intended to sound pleasing, or harsh? What conclusions can we draw

from these considerations? If the diction is . . . Might the speaker seem . . .? Concrete Direct, observant, childlike Abstract Evasive, vague, mature, philosophical Monosyllabic words

Intellectually inferior, terse, stoic Polysyllabic words Sophisticated, or pompous Formal Colloquial Educated, polite, cautious Rash, uneducated, provincial Change in diction?

Undecided, emotional, reaching an epiphany Euphonious Elated, calm Cacophonous Agitated, angry Diction as a means of establishing tone: Remember that tone refers to the authors rather

than the speakers attitudehowever, assessing the speakers attitude is a first step in drawing conclusions about the authors. What seems to be the speakers attitude in the passage? Is more than one attitude or point of view expressed? Does the passage have a noticeable emotional mood or atmosphere? Can anything in the passage be described as irony? If so, this may indicate that the authors tone differs from the speakers. How to assess diction and tone Always use an adjective when describing both diction and tone.

Remember that the adjective you apply to the tone needs to be a word that can describe an attitude. When in doubt, use a formula such as this one: ___ diction contributes to the ___ tone. Or, in somewhat greater detail: In [name of work], [author] writes in a [connotation] [level of formality] style. Her use of [connotation descriptor] and [level of formality descriptor] language [achieves this specific purpose]. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad writes in a highly connotative high style. His use of abstract, poetic, and ornate language establishes existential themes of fate and meaninglessness. Consider the following example:

Bouncing into view, she illuminated the entire room with the joyous glow on her face as she gushed about her fianc and their wedding plans. What specific words create feeling in the sentence? What words did the author use to create that mood or feeling? Bouncing into view, she illuminated the entire room with the joyous glow on her face as she gushed about her fianc and their upcoming nuptials.

[bouncing illuminated joyous glow gushed] What kind of words are these? How might you describe them? Cheerful diction contributes to the euphoric tone. Exuberant diction contributes to the joyful tone. Can the same passage be rewritten with different diction and tone? Bouncing into view, she illuminated the entire room with the joyous glow on her face as she gushed about her fianc and their upcoming nuptials. How would you change the terms in bold to rewrite

this passage with lackluster diction to indicate indifferent tone? Example #2: She huddled in the corner, clutching her tattered blanket and shaking convulsively, as she feverishly searched the room for the unknown dangers that awaited her. ____ diction contributes to the ____ tone. (Perhaps frightening and alarming? However, there are many other possibilities. Can you rewrite this passage with different diction and tone?) A final tip:

Please do not ever say, The author uses [a lot of] diction. This is tantamount to saying, The author writes [a lot of] words. A discussion of diction is meaningless unless you precede the term diction with an adjective that aptly describes the specific nature of the words. Finally, in commentary, what makes your discussion of diction truly worthwhile is establishing a clear link between it and what youve identified as the purpose or main idea of the passage under consideration.

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