Rhetorical stylistic device

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A rhetorical device (also called figure of speech , style figure , figure of speech or voice figure hereinafter) is


The stylistic devices used in the theory of rhetoric , in poetics and linguistics come primarily from ancient rhetoric and poetics, which already knew several developed systems. Accordingly, the terms themselves mostly come from Greek or Latin , in exceptional cases from French or other modern languages. Some German names are also common. The definitions of the figures are not uniform and differ depending on the system: sometimes terms are viewed as synonymous (e.g. pleonasm and tautology ), sometimes a name denotes different means in different systems (e.g. catachresis ). The delimitation of similar stylistic devices is often very subtle (e.g. metaphor , metonymy and synecdoche ) and varies depending on the definition (e.g. hypallage and enallage or syllepse and zeugma ).

Not all stylistic devices are possible in every language: In ancient Greek and in German, for example, there is almost any possibility of forming new words through composition, which makes these languages ​​particularly suitable for the use of neologisms ; In ancient Greek, Latin and also in German, the word order is comparatively free, especially in poetic language, which allows a multitude of positional figures (e.g. hyperbaton , anaphor , chiasm ).

Classifications of rhetorical stylistic devices

The rhetorical stylistic devices are roughly divided into the figures ( figurae verborum , also called style, language or word figures), which concern the syntax , and the tropics , which concern the semantics . Since ancient times there have been several, partially mutually exclusive ways of further subdividing these genera:

Classification according to Quintilian

Quintilian distinguishes the language figures as follows:

  • Grammatical figures arise through a deviation from the correctness norm of the language, so they are, as it were, 'allowed' speech errors for the higher purpose of the expression, for example in Ernst Bloch : "common magic" or the common expression "still and more".
  • Rhetorical figures are word order variants above the level of grammaticality, such as the chiasmus .
  • He brings the tropics into this system as a third type under the name of thought figures (lat. Figurae sententiarum ), which arise on a conceptual level and can be formulated in different ways. These include, for example, the metaphor, the paradox , the antithesis .

Classification based on the change categories

The division into four categories of change, which predominates in rhetoric, also comes from antiquity . With the theory of deviation it starts from an underlying actual expression, the verbum proprium . It becomes an improper, figurative expression, the verbum translatum , when it is changed according to one of the four categories:

  1. Figurae per adiectionem (by adding) expand the linguistic expression, for example Geminatio , Hendiadyoin , Pleonasmus .
  2. Figurae per detractionem (through omission) shorten the linguistic expression, for example ellipse , brachylogy .
  3. Figurae per transmutationem (by interchanging) change the sequence of the linguistic expression, for example hyperbaton , hysteron-proteron .
  4. Figurae per immutationem (by substitution) replace the linguistic expression on site, for example metaphor , metonymy , irony .

The first three categories contain the figures, the fourth denotes the tropics.

Classification from the point of view of aesthetics of interpretation

Newer classifications mostly divide the stylistic devices from the interpretative point of view and often differentiate more detailed and less systematically between:

  1. pictorial figures , so
    • Stylistic devices that use a substitute designation instead of the designation ( tropics ), and
    • Linguistic images that enable vivid representation, such as parable or comparison ;
  2. Sentence and word figures, that is
    • Linguistic means that are characterized by a special syntactic position ( sentence figure ) or by the original connection of their individual parts ( word figure ), for example climax , the repeating figures;
  3. Sound figures , so
    • Linguistic means in which a special effect is achieved by the sound of the word combination, for example alliteration , assonance ;
  4. other style figures,


The effect of the stylistic devices is usually a special emphasis that the reader or listener unconsciously picks up. While most stylistic devices are intentionally incorporated into speeches or written works, some are commonplace, for example the ellipse . The ancient rhetoric system, with the demand for latinitas (Latinity, correspondingly linguistic accuracy), perspicuitas (clarity), aptum (appropriateness) and partly brevitas (scarcity), regulates the use of figures. While Cicero advocates a lively use of the figures in order to challenge the mind of the listener, John Locke, with the demand for a scientific style, opposes any figuration that only leads to obscuritas (concealment of the meaning).

See also


  • Wolfram Groddeck: Talking about rhetoric. On a style of reading (= Nexus. Vol. 7). Stroemfeld, Basel a. a. 1995, ISBN 3-86109-107-0 .
  • J. Dominik Harjung: Lexicon of the art of language. The rhetorical styles. With over 1000 examples (= Beck series. Vol. 1359). Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-42159-8 .
  • Heinrich Lausberg : Handbook of literary rhetoric. A foundation of literary studies. 3rd edition, with a foreword by Arnold Arens . Steiner, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-515-05503-7 .
  • Urs Meyer: Stylistic text features. In: Thomas Anz (Hrsg.): Handbuch Literaturwissenschaft. Volume 1: Objects and Basic Concepts. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 2007, ISBN 978-3-476-02154-0 , pp. 81-110.
  • Heinrich F. Plett: Introduction to rhetorical text analysis. 9th, updated and expanded edition. Buske, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-87548-246-8 .
  • Erhard Schüttpelz: Figures of Speech. On the theory of the rhetorical figure (= Philological Studies and Sources. Vol. 136). Erich Schmidt, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-503-03720-9 (also: Bonn, Universität, Dissertation, 1993).
  • Gert Ueding , Bernd Steinbrink: Outline of the rhetoric. History - technology - method. 4th updated edition. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 2005, ISBN 3-476-02057-6 .

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