Literary Language – Concept, types, characteristics and examples

We explain what literary language is, its types, characteristics and famous examples. Also, what are literary figures.

literary language
Language seeks more aesthetic, elegant or powerful forms of language.

What is literary language?

It is known as literary language, literary language or, more appropriately, as a literary record when use of verbal language that is typical of literary writing and word games, as well as certain liturgical or ritual offices.

It is a use that presents notable differences with respect to the colloquial language that we speak every day, since in it correctness and norms prevail, as well as the poetic function of language, as defined by the linguist Roman Jackobson (1896-1982), that is, the interest in finding more aesthetic, elegant, powerful or elevated ways of using the language.

In the past, the literary language par excellence, in which works were written and ecclesiastical mass was given, was Latin, as it was the language of the ancient Roman Empire. But over time the written Latin and the vulgar Latin that people spoke every day in the different corners of the empire were distancing themselves.

The differences were so great that it was necessary to abandon written Latin and vulgar Latin the different Romance languages ​​were born, each one, in our days, with its respective literary register, which presents more or less variation with respect to everyday language. This phenomenon of language differentiation is known as diglossia.

Characteristics of literary language

The literary register of the language is characterized by the following:

  • In her the norm and the correctness of the language prevail, although poetic or expressive licenses are often allowed, that is, breaking the rules of the language is allowed as long as this is based on a greater aesthetic effect.
  • Literary figures abound, puns, cultisms and unusual expressions, since it is an artistic use of the language, which instead of serving merely as a means of communication, draws attention to itself, its beauty, its ingenuity , on the very way in which the work is written.
  • It is communicatively unidirectional (because whoever reads a literary work cannot answer the author in the same book), disinterested (in the sense that you do not control what the recipient does with the information provided) and polysemic (There are many different ways to interpret it and levels of interpretation to access).

Types of literary language

literary language types verse prose
Verse and prose have a different structure and characteristics.

The literary language is very free, and obeys the aesthetic or philosophical purposes of the author, so it can really take the form you want, as long as your readers can decipher some valuable meaning from reading. Thus, more than proper types, literary language can be understood in two different ways:

  • Verse. It is a mode of literary writing that focuses on how words sound, that is, on their orality, their rhyme, their sonority or their musicality, to construct texts normally classifiable within the genre of poetry. Its typical structure consists of small or large sentences separated from the rest (verses) that make up thematic or musical blocks (stanzas).
  • Prose. It is a mode of literary writing that presents information in a fluid, continuous way, trying to immerse the reader in it, and is characteristic of the genres of narration and essays. There is also poetic prose, which is prose written paying attention to the sound and beauty of words, rather than what they convey.

Examples of literary language

Some examples of literary language are as follows, taken from classic works of literature:

  • Taken from The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha (Second part, 1615) by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616):

“Warn, Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “that love neither looks at respects nor keeps terms of reason in its speeches, and has the same condition as death: that it thus attacks the high fortresses of the kings as the humble huts of the shepherds , and when he takes full possession of a soul, the first thing he does is take away the fear and shame ”.

  • Taken from the Divine Comedy (1304-1321) by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321):

“Of the road in the middle of our life
I found myself in a dark forest
that on the right path was lost.

And how much in saying is a hard thing
this wild, rough and strong jungle,
that in thinking renews the pavement!

It is so bitter that it is little more death:
more, to talk about the good that he will find there
I will say other things that I was a seer. “

  • Taken from Popol Vuh (1701) from anonymous author:

“Immediately the end came; the ruin and destruction of such wooden figures, which were also sentenced to death. Then the waters rushed at the will of The Heart of Heaven and a great flood occurred, which covered the dolls; those beings made of wood ”.

Literary figures

Literary figures, better known as rhetorical figures or literary devices, they are unconventional ways of using the language, which serve to beautify it, draw attention to yourself or express different things at the same time. They should not be confused with tropes, which are playful or figurative turns of language, which occur equally in literary and colloquial languages.

Some examples of literary figures are:

  • Periphrasis or circumlocution. It consists of the use of more words than necessary to express an idea or concept, in order to emphasize or embellish the phrase or highlight what has been said. For example: “The laurels of victory rested on the customary forehead of the most experienced runner” (instead of: “The most experienced runner won the race“).
  • Paradox or antilogy. It consists of the elaboration of a proposition or phrase that goes against common sense, without therefore containing a logical contradiction. This is a valid but unsolvable reasoning. For example: “Everything I say is a lie, even this very sentence.”
  • Rhetorical question. It consists of asking a question that does not seek an answer, since its function is to express a state of mind or reflect the thoughts of a character, without anyone even asking it. For example: “Why did those things happen to him? What did the world have against him?
  • Polysyndeton. It consists of the excessive use of links or conjunctions in the sentence, to achieve an effect of repetition and speed. It is the exact opposite of asyndeton. For example: “there will be no neither Kisses, neither petting, neither hugs neither good morning when you wake up, everything will be lost ”.
  • Anaphora. It consists of the repetition at the beginning of the sentence of one or more words, something especially used in poetry. Thus, greater strength and rhythm are given to what has been said. For instance: “Very late help arrived / Very late Medicine / Very late for the poet / whom death already claimed ”.