Analyzing Diction Contributors: Mrs. Smith Miss Cullen
Diction, word choice, is the most powerful element of style for you to understand. Many words in our language have strong connotationsand authors use them on purpose to elicit certain responses from the reader. Diction
Denotation • Denotation- literal dictionary definition of a word. • Example: The words plump and obese both literally describe a person who is overweight. They are synonyms.
However… • The word plump has the connotation of being pleasantly fat, almost cutely overweight. Its connotation describes women more often than men. It is this extra emotional feeling that shows how we use the word.
Connotation • Connotation-implied or suggested meaning attached to a word or the emotional “tag” that goes along with a word.
The word obese , often used by medical personnel, has a more technical connotation. It carries a less emotional, more scientific emotional tag. Both plump and obese have the same literal definition, but the connotations are different. Connotation illustrates ways in which we use a word.
Connotative Diction • The boy surveyed the class, congratulating himself for snatching the highest grade on the test. • Two words are important here: surveyed and snatching. They are the words with the strongest connotations.
Commentary • Once you identify an author’s diction, you must analyze it. This means that you write commentary about it. You must discuss the connotation of the word or phrase.
Practice • Now it is your turn to try some commentary for the other strong connotative word in the sample- snatching.
Diction may be… • 1. The choice of appropriate language for your audience: • A. technical (computer manual) • B. formal (application letter to a college) • C. informal (a personal experience story) • D. familiar (a letter to your best friend)
2. The specific choice of words for their meaning or for their connotation (associations and emotional overtones that have become attached to a word). • Connotation is different for different people. • A cat is not simply a cat to everyone. An author’s specific word choice- a “ferocious feline” or a “fuzzy furball”- influences the reader and creates tone.
Types of Diction • A. Slang= informal, substandard language which most of us use regularly • B. Dialect & Colloquialism= words and pronunciation of a certain place or group of people (ie. The drawl of Southerners, a mountain dialect, etc.) • C. Jargon= language which is appropriate for particular groups (i.e. computer jargon, medical jargon)
Good Diction is Effective • Think of a menu from a fancy restaurant: • “Juicy rib-eye, charbroiled with a hint of mesquite and garlic” • “Creamy, garlic mashed potatoes with a luscious hint of butter, cheese, sour cream and bacon” • Makes you hungry right?! Good diction is effective!
Verbs • Although many diction words are adjectives, don’t neglect to recognize verbs which function as diction. The choice of specific, appropriate verbs is very important in writing. • The use of specific rather than broad words can influence the effectiveness of the work.
Verb Intensity • Think of the intensity of a verb on a 1-3 scale. • 1= low intensity • 2= medium intensity • 3= high intensity • For the following verbs, think of a “Level 1” version of the verb, a “Level 2” and a “Level 3”.
Example • Sleep: • Level 1= doze, nod • Level 2= nap, snooze • Level 3= slumber
Try It… • 1. Ask • 2. Cut • 3. Grab • 4. Laugh • 5. Cry
LEAD • Look for these when reading for diction. • L= low or informal diction (dialect, slang, jargon) • E= elevated language or formal diction • A= abstract or concrete diction • D= denotation and connotation
Diction Analysis • The following words are closely related in meaning but differ in connotation. Select one pair, then answer the “Diction Analysis” questions (handout) about the distinctions between the words in the pair you have chosen.
Choose one Pair to Analyze… • Art & Craft • Faith & Creed • Gang & Club • Imaginative & Fanciful • Instrument & Tool • Intelligent & Smart • Labor & Work • Lady & Woman • Recreation & Play • Religion & Cult • Terrorist & Revolutionary
Writing about Diction • Use the “How to Talk About Diction” handout when writing about an author’s diction. • This is incredibly useful when writing thesis statements. • Here’s an example (a little wordy, but good…): In “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King, Jr. writes in a relatively denotative formal style. His intellectual vocabulary contributes to a dignity of tone, while the lack of euphemism underscores the seriousness of his intention.
Essay Writing • Diction analysis is useful in essays that require you to: • Analyze an author’s style • Analyze an author’s attitude (tone) • Analyze the author’s diction (specifically)