Ashok R. Kelkar





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Trustees : S.M. KATRE, Poona and Sukumar SEN, Calcutta (both through 1970).

Chief Editor : A.M. GHATAGE, Poona.


Executive Committee: The office bearers and the following elected members :

1. N.G. KALELKAR, Poona               4. P.B. PANDIT, Delhi.

2. D.D. MAHULKAR, Baroda            5. H.S. BILIGIRI, Mysore.

3. M.G. PANSE, Poona                       6. H.S. ANANTHANARAYANA, Hyderabad.

and the following coopted members :

1. Masood Hussain Khan, Aligarh         4. M.Shanmugam Pillai, Madurai.

2. N.M. SEN, Poona                           5. C.R. SANKARAN, Poona.

3. B.G. MISRA, Delhi              6. H.C. BHAYANI, Ahmedabad.


Committee on Publications: The Chief Editor and the following:

  1. Ashok R. Kelkar, Poona (through 1970)
  2. M. Mariappa Bhat, Madras (through 1971)
  3. E.D. Kulkarani, Poona (through 1972)


Indian Linguistics (founded 1931, abbreviations : IL) is a quarterly journal of the Society which publishes articles and reviews of interest to the scientific study of language and languages, especially the languages of India.  The views expressed therein are not necessarily shared by the Editors or the Society.


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Ashok R. Kelkar


Centre of Advanced Study in Linguistics (Poona)

at Deccan College, Poona


            ABSTRACT : Literature in the narrower sense is presented as an intersection of the use of language and the aesthetic life and distinguished from the wider sense.  The relation between it and language – especially, the operative concept of style – is then examined from the language end (style in language) and from the literature end (style in literature), Finally, the tasks of the literary critics and the philologist and examined in the light.




No matter what the vague titles of university departments or the award of Sahitya Akademi Prizes to books on languages or the agenda of literary conferences, suggest, language is not literature.  Even if we interpret the term ‘literature’ liberally so as to include history and philosophy and mythological texts and the literature on internal combustion engines, literature is not even the staple use of language.  In a way it is as specialized and abnormal a use of language as that in drawing up a contract or sending a diplomatic note.  Even the simple or the conversational style used in literature is a special effect-we have often fondly hoped that teaching Goldsmith’s or Dicken’s prose or Wordsworth’s or Tennysons’s verse is teaching the twentieth century everyday use of English.  The position of Literature vis-à-vis the Use of Language on the one hand and vis-à -vis the Aesthetic life on the other can be set out as follows.  (At this point we shall adopt the convention of using the term letters when we have the liberal interpretation in mind and literature when the narrower interpretation is relevant).











        The Use of language                                 The Aesthetic life






Non-letters                   letters                          Fine arts                     Non-artistic

                                                                                                         Aesthetic event





              Non-literature            Literature                            Other arts




Literature thus represents the intersection of Letters and Art.  (We shall dispense with the adjective ‘fine’ from now on)  Certain texts are re-performed from time to time in essentially unchanged form and are considered to be worthy of such repeated performance.  Such texts so treated in a linguistic community constitute the letters of the community.  A piece of letters need not be a work of art-for example, a historical narrative, a religious sermon, a learned disquisition, a philosophical argument, a school lesson, a popular riddle, an anecdote philosophical argument, a school lesson, a popular riddle, an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln, a spell against poisoning (provided it is not meaningless)  If a piece of letters constitutes a work of art on the other hand, we can call it a piece of literature.  There is a third possibility that we must not overlook: a piece of letters may not be self-contained work of art, but an ingredient either main or subordinated within a larger unit constituting a work of art.  The libretto of an opera, the screenplay of a film, the text of a khyāl or humrī are cases in point.  Of course any piece of letters presupposes the sustenance provided by a language.  Abracadabra or do re mi fa or o hra hrī hrū are certainly articulate syllables but not instances of letters.  One must grant, however, that these basic distinctions were not always clear in historical times.  The compilations known as the Bible or the Vedas constitute a mixed bag from the point of view adopted here.


            The linguistic underpinning of letters is essentially that of the formalized, non-casual version of languages.  This is true whether we are speaking of oral, anonymous, folkloristic examples or of examples carrying the signature (legible or not) of an individual author.  (Incidentally this is not a distinction between plebeian and refined strata- this last distinction cuts across folk letters)  Certain pieces of letters constitute aesthetic objects and only some of these aesthetic, stylized objects constitute art objects-that is, pieces of literature.


            There is a derivative distinction we must recognize-the one between re-performance of piece of letters and its study as a text and a cultural product.  In the former case we are entertaining it for its intrinsic worth within the particular field-a riddle may be difficult, a sermon satisfying, a legal provision full of loopholes, a philosophical argument convincing, Judgments of this kind are to be made within the framework, the discipline, and the raison deter of the specific field.  In the latter case the scholarly study has to be aware of the demands of the field but has no intention of satisfying them.  It is not necessary either to believe or to disbelieve in astrology in order to produce a scholarly edition of a treatise on that subject.  The scholarly study of letters is called ‘philology1 which is thus distinct from linguistics-the scientific study of language in all its uses.  The re-performance of a work literature for the sake of its intrinsic worth gives rise to aesthetic enjoyment.  When this aesthetic enjoyment becomes articulate and therefore intellectualized (for example, when it gives rise to aesthetic judgments or interpretative efforts), we speak of literacy criticism.  Literary scholarship and literary criticism may help each other, but must remain distinct.  Even the history of literature can be undertaken from a scholarly, extrinsic point of view or from a critical, intrinsic point of view.  Finally, there is as it were the grammar of language of literary criticism, the attempt to build a consistent theory of literature within a larger theory of art.  The theory of literature is thus essentially a philosophical pursuit and a division of the theory of art which in turn is a division of aesthetics.  It may be noted in passing that there was a tendency at one time to include linguistics and literary criticism-especially interpretative literary criticism-under philology.


            The stance we shall take from now on will be that of a literary theorist examining the relationship between language and literature more closely.  It is obvious that the operative concept here will be that of style, which we shall consider first from the language end and then from the literature end.  In doing so we shall constantly bear in mind that a piece of literature is at once a piece of letters, a linguistic artifact, and a work of art.




            Style may be defined in the context of languages as purposeful language variation.


            Suppose one wants to make a chair.  One will have, then, to take note of what and how much is available by way of raw material, money, implements, time, energy, skill, etc., and allow oneself to be ruled by the limits set by these.  Further one will have to keep in mind the purpose or goal in view.  How much weight the chair is going to bear.  How low the center of gravity is to be placed, how portable or stackable the piece need be are some of the conditions that will impose themselves.  Once the chair is ready and its design apparent, it will be seen that the limits of availability and the limits of utility have been observed either more or less successfully.  But then it may also be observed that the designer has also exercised a freedom of choice within these limits.  Style then is simply this residue, this surplus.  (An unhappy exercise of this freedom or bad style must be distinguished from a non-exercise of freedom or lack of style.  And then these may be serrations where the limits are so confining that there is left no freedom and therefore no style.  Thus, in the landing of an aero plane the end of safe and smooth lading in a given airfield and the technical means available may leave leeway for only a single technical solution).


            Examples can be multiplied.  Style may thus be discerned in what is being served at the table, in how it is being prepared.  Two equally successful pieces of surgery may differ as to style.  And so may numerically equal batting centuries from two players.  A mathematical problem may be solved in two equipollent but stylistically different ways.  Hand-written Roman script may be either copper-plate or chancery or print hand in style.


            Style is the distinctive way carved out between availability of resources on the one hand and functionality on the other.  In the social context we can distinguish between there sources of style.


(a)    Style as worked out by an individual for himself.

(b)   Style as chosen by the individual from among the alternatives offered by his society – possibly with some individual variation; and

(c)    Style as given by society as the only way of fulfilling a need.


In recognizing style in the third case the term ‘style’ has to be stretched a bit.  Since style implies choice, one would suppose that it will first become discernible to the one who exercise that choice.  But then who is the author of the choice or the author of the style in the third case?  If society is the author of the style, then style will become apparent in that case only under certain peculiar conditions; (a) if a second alternative becomes available to the members of the society in the course of time; or (b) if an outsider compares that alternative with others he is aware of; or (c) if a member of that society can sufficiently detach himself from it.


            Extending this notion of style to language, one finds that style is the variation in language proceeding from the exercise of freedom while meeting the exigencies of the available resources of language and of the conveying of meaning.  Meaning, as a rule, originates in needs that are external to language.  The resources of language are its conventions-you can flout them on pain of failing to convey the message.  Of the three sources of style, the second one the individual’s choice from among socially available alternative-is the one most commonly operative.  Language makes available more than one versions of itself.  He came too soon and He arrived prematurely thus represent two whole ways of saying things in English-each appropriate to some social situations.  Sometimes the speaker may take even a short cut-instead of choosing between two varieties of the same language he may choose between two languages, at least between two dialects.  This explains the switching from standard to regional Marathi or from Marathi to English that is typical with some Marathi speakers.  In all these cases linguistic style is, as it were, readymade.


            But the alternatives offered by language may not come in such total ranges but in small clusters of phonological, grammatical, or lexical traits.  Some are free variants not amenable to purposeful manipulations.  At most they may betray (rather than express) the speaker’s age, sex, locality, etc. and turn out to be worthy of note by the listener.  (Their deliberate use in the speech of a character in a play is of course purposeful manipulation-for example, tu, tum, and āp in Hindi, small, little, and tiny in English; one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine (common in documents), nineteen sixty-nine, and one nine six nine; should go, must go; and so forth.  The choice of one of the alternatives conveys the speaker’s purpose or intention in the given sentence and to that extent adds up to the meaning side of the ledger.  But then it is equally true that as the author thus chooses his way through a stretch of sentences, he is also being the author of a style.  The expression not merely conveys the meaning but enriches and amplifies meaning.  (We shall have an occasion later to return to this fundamental two-sidedness of style in language)  The stringing together of sentences into larger units of discourse such as the paragraph affords even more here than within the bounds of a sentence.  When one traces linguistic manipulation within existing conventions in all that is meant most of the time.  Linguistic innovation in the form of foreign borrowings, archaic revivals, neologisms, and the like is also resorted to in the service of style-but not as frequently as one would like to believe.


            Finally, there is the third possibility of equating style in language with the style of a language as when one says that English is informal.  Persian ceremonious, French clear.  German literal-minded.  The point is of course that such statements are made at all-and not whether one agrees with them or not.


            When one is engaged in such activities as paraphrase and summary, interdialectal and interlinguistic translation, learning a new language, one becomes acutely conscious that a language not merely has a phonology, a grammar, a lexicon, and occasionally, a writing system that characterize and identify it, but also has its characteristic stylistic code.  The prime field of operation for the stylistics of a language is of course the business of letters-especially of the segment of letters known as literature.  It does not matter whether you are an author, a performer, or just a receiver.  In each case you have to reckon with the stylistics or the language concerned.  (The strength of a standard variety vis-à-vis the non-standard varieties often lies, one may note in passing, in the richer stylistic resources at its command.  Cf. Kelkar 1967).


            It needs to be noted here that in working out etc style for himself an individual may derive some of his effects by manipulating the stylistic code or codes offered in the society.  Thus, if he were to use high style in a situation calling low style, he will be being ‘genteel’ or if he were is the low style in a situation carrying for high style, he will be being ‘coarse’.




            But as soon as one thinks of literature (in the narrower sense, as an art-form), one finds that, while one can hardly ignore a consideration of style, the conception of linguistic style so far presented falls short of the requirement.  Stylistics has to be seen as an extension of aesthetics, and not just as an extension of grammar.


            Style may be defined in the context of a work of art as the function (to use a popular mathematical metaphor) that obtains between on the one hand the work of art and the shared aesthetic culture of the community of aesthetes and on the other hand the aesthetic quality that characterizes an aesthetic event.  At the back of this definition there is of course the recognition that a work of art is a kind of aesthetic object.  Indeed the concept of style is applicable not only to works of art but also to other human artifacts that are at the same time aesthetic objects.


            ‘Beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘sublime’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘charming’, ‘dainty’ are some typical aesthetic adjectives.  The nature of the value judgment making use of these is distinct from that of  judgments using various other objectives as ‘true’, ‘false’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘sacred’, useful’, lawful’, ‘invalid’, ‘unfair’, etc.  An aesthetic value of judgment of course goes beyond a mere aesthetic gesture (‘beautiful !” or even some bodily equivalent) or an aesthetic report (‘I found such and such beautiful’) : it invites assent from fellow members of the community of aesthetes sharing an aesthetic culture.  (For a fuller discussion of aesthetic qualities, see Kelkar 1969b).  The schema for a stylistic statement may be set down in some such fashion :


            Given a certain aesthetic culture (e.g. that of the Marathi language community) objects of the following sort (e.g. sound sequences rich in retroflex consonants) tend to give rise to such and such aesthetic quality (e.g. harshness).


            In must be made clear that this is by no means a definition of the aesthetic quality of harshness.  Indeed if someone found it necessary to count the retroflex consonants before deciding that a given sound sequence is harsh, one would discredit the genuineness of his aesthetic report – not to speak of his very status as an aesthetic.


            It is not necessary, indeed not likely, that the creator of an aesthetic object is guided by any such stylistic rule-of-thumb.  Such explicit stylistic considerations may prove to be a distraction.  As aesthetic object that happens to be a man-made product may be looked at from the point of view the maker and of the aesthete.  The two definitions of style will now be seen to represent these two points of view.  They are not opposed but complementary.  In relation to the aesthete style is the function between the artifact, the aesthetic community, and the aesthetic quality – respectively the input, the filter, and the output.  In relation to the maker style is the characteristic mode in which the maker reconciles the available resources with the end in view.  In relation to a work of art such as a piece of literature, the two definitions become one.  The qualities of the work at the level of its material of the work at the level of its medium constitutes the reason of its being, the end in view.  Style, then, is the transformation of the material object (e.g. the linguistic text) into the total work of art (e.g. the work of literature)  (For a fuller discussion of the material and the medium of literary art, see Kelkar 1969a)


            It will now be seen why linguistic style cannot exhaust style in literature.  At best a consideration of the stylistics of a language is merely a useful reminder that the literary artist’s material is not a wholly passive affair : the language community has already imprinted it with style.  It is up to the artist to exploit this common property or to reshape it so as to receive a signature that is very own.   ‘Popular’ latter : the ‘great’ writer does not permit the aesthetic to worry as to which strategy is being employed.  To continue with the earlier crude paradigm of the harsh sound sequences, the implications of all this for literary criticism can thus be brought out :


(a) “Ha ! a harsh sound sequence – an item on the debit side of the ledger.’  This is the native variety.  (One must accept that there is a lot of the kind

of dross in ancient Indian literary thought.)


(b) ‘Why is the author using the harsh sound sequences ? Are they appropriate to the character in the story, to the mood of the whole?’  This is certainly an improvement over the proceeding.  (To be honest, stopping at this level of sophistication is not too unfair to the ordinary work of art).


(c) Finally, rather than pass from the material of art to its medium, one may encounter the total work of art and understand it before passing from the medium to the material.  This is the critical idea.  (To be honest, when the material is dissolved in the medium, expression and content have become one-as in a perfect work of art-such a separate assessment is rendered needless.  The two sided nature of style in language mentioned earlier contributes to this unifying process.


            The stylistics of a literary work may be seen either as reaching down to its local effect or as reaching down to the contemplative phase of the encounter, to the total effect.  The texture and the structure to give names to these two sides of style – are simply two ends of a continuous hierarchy.  To overlook texture is to be oblivious that character, plot, atmosphere, symbolism and the like have no existence outside the linguistic fabric.  To overlook structure is to be obvious that imagery, rhythm, figures of speech, wit and the like have to be seen in the context of the total work of art.  Even the judge in an obscenity case or a textual critic has to move back and forth between texture and structure.  For the critic this is the very first lesson.


            After all this discussion, it is easy to see (as Leech 1970 does) that “the task of style is co explain for the find the linguistic correlate of) rather than to refute or liberals judgment:.  At the most, stylistics can serve “to sensitize areas of literary response which are currently critical “blind spots”, by reason of its ampler and more comprehensive Framework for understanding musicality in veer the rationale of materials ‘rules’, or the form content distinction in terms of surface/deep.




A theory of literature – including the theory of style that goes with it- can never replace literary criticism.  That making a census of the faults in a poem is naïve is, for example, a critical insight.  What the literary theorist does is to place this insight in the context of other insights and thus make better sense of it.  Many of the terms used by a literary critic are either stylistic and thus concerned with some aspect of texture or structure-for example, plot, symbol, image, prose, metaphor, rhythm-or with a stylistic component-for example, tragedy, rasa, poem, social consciousness.  Cultivating clear thing about style and the analysis of style in language is likely to help us in reducing the sloppiness that so often besets the use of critical terms and classifications.  Rebellious slogans proposing to do away with these analytic and classificatory terms is an understandable reaction against sloppiness, but hardly a solution.  More to the point is the tendency in contemporary criticism of creating a newer and brighter terminology.  Consider, for example, what Ann Ridler has to say about Dylan Thomas’s use of language namely, that he uses words in a way that makes us feel that he was present at the time of their birth.  This certainly captures what many of us have felt in responding to the language of some poet or other-it does not have to be Dylan Thomas.  Now someone has to make it his business to worry about what precisely this expression means.  If nobody is willing to show this sort of patience, one has to reconcile oneself to the glib imitation of such terminological innovations.


            So much for the language of criticism.  The twin tasks of literary criticism are interpretation and evaluation.  Interpretative criticism has to be distinguished from textual exegesis or annotation which is the business of the literary scholar; i.e., the philologist of literature.  Exegesis tells you what a piece of text means when that piece does not mean anything to you or sets you right when your linguistic ignorance is at that piece does mean something to you-but something that is obviously not the whole story.  Looking for a spiritual allegory behind an erotic surface will do as an example of interpretative criticism, but is by no means an example of interpretative criticism at its best.  Whether we are doing exegesis with a philologist or interpretation with a critic, we are always in danger of departing from the original without realizing it.  (Of course, consciously using the original as a point of departure and creating or recreating something new is a different matter altogether).  What helps us in avoiding this danger is a firm grasp over language.


            Textural exegesis is not the only service that a philologist performs for the student of letters.  Philology proper-as distinct from linguistics and as inclusive of literary scholarship-is the study of letters as letters, as linguistic artifact.  This study is text-centered but may be either centripetal or centrifugal, the circumference being the linguistic and the socio-cultural envelope of the text.  Philology in proceeding from a thorough knowledge of this envelope to a close study of the text undertakes the following tasks :


(a)    textual criticism or the reconstitution of the lost original from its exemplars or from surviving translations (e.g. the original lost Buddhist Canon in Old Magadhi from the surviving Pali rendering);

(b)   textual exegesis through annotation of lexical meaning, grammatical construal, allusions, and the like and through content analysis2 of themes, motifs, ideas and the like;


(c)    Preparation of a concordance and a statistical study;


(d)   Study of the genesis of the text battling with problems of chronology, authenticity, Judgments as the authenticity,3 of a text can be supported by stylistic judgment which in turn can be supported by statistical funding with or without computer-using refinements and concordances.


(e)    Study of the transmission and dissemination of the text-thus tracing its rising or failing fortunes or the interpolations and modifications in it.


Vice versa, in using the text as evidence for reconstructing the circumstances in which it was produced, the scholar provides instruments to:


(f)     The biographical study of the maker-whether public or inward biography;

(g)    Linguistics study of the specific language variety and its space-time context;

(h)    Historical study as in dating a battle or an epidemic or the migration of a group or in assessing contemporary reactions to such a historical event;

(i)      Social and cultural history including the history of ideas and the history of the literary culture of a social group.


The philologist is like an archaeologist-both examine and ‘restore’ the material remains of the bygone age with the thoroughness and controlled imagination of a detective or a paleontologist and restore as much of that age as possible.4 There is an important difference, however, between the material artifact and the text in relation to the envelope which they both illumine by virtue of their very existence and form and of their fit with the immediate context.  The text, being a symbol, does something more in that it also points allusively to events, objects, and conditions in a way that a material artifact cannot (unless it is inscribed with a text, as in the case of a coin, a seal, or a sheet of watermarked paper).  This requires long experience and an intimate and specialized knowledge of the possibly relevant facts.  Thus a textual critic accustomed to work with old manuscripts will not be at home with printed texts with or without surviving autographs.  It is obvious that philological activity-especially in its tasks (a), (b), (c), and (g) – demands a consideration of language.  When a philologist studies literature, he has to have a feel for literature, a grasp of the fundamentals.  A literary critic does not have to be literary scholar, though he should not hesitate to take the latter’s help where necessary-for example, in tackling literature in an ancient language-without making the mistake of forgetting his own distinctive job.





1.      It occurs to me that the Greek distinction between love of wisdom (philosophia) and love of learning (philogia) probably corresponds to the distinction we have just drawn between the perspective intrinsic to the field and the scholarly perspective of letters as letters.

2.      The technique of content analysis has been developed by Bernard Berelson (1952 see also Pool 1959) in the context of social sciences.  But philologists can very well claim it for their own province and enrich it with their traditional skills.

3.      Judgement’s as to the authenticity of a  text can be supported by stylistic judgement which in turn can be supported by statistical funding with or without computer-using refinements and concordeness.

4.      There is an important difference, however, between the material artifact and the text in relation to the envelope which they both illmine by virtue of their very existence and form and of their fit with the immediate context.  The text, being a symbol, does something more in that it also points allusively to events, objects, and conditions in a way that a material  artifact cannot (unless  it is inscribed with a text, as in the case of a coin, a seal, or a sheet of watermarked paper).









Berelson, Bernard 1952.  Content analysis in communication research.  Glenoe, III.

            The Free press.

Kelkar Ashok R 1967, Bhāece niyamana.  Mahārāṣṭra-sāhitya parikā no. 161 41-54, (In Marathi; The Regulation of language)

-1969a.  The Being of a poem.  Foundations of language 5, 17-33.

-1969b, On aesthesis.  Humanist review no. 2, 211-28 Bombay : Modern Education Foundation.


-1970, Bhāā āj Sāhitya.  Mahārāṣṭra-sāhitya parikā no. 171-2, 18-28.


Pool, Ithel Desola (ed.) 1959.  Trends in content analysis.  Urbana III U of Illinois P.


Leech, Geoffrey 1970, The linguistic and the literary.  Times Literary Supplement no. 3569: 305-6, July 23.



            This is a slightly revised version of a paper presented before the literary group of the center for Indian Writers, Poona on 10 December 1969.  It was published in Indian Linguistics 31-3 : 1-11; July September 1970.  For an earlier and longer version in Marathi see Kelkar 1970.