What is form, structure and language?I was recently told to consider Literature in relation to form, structure & language, though I'm not entirely sure how this works. I mean, without wanting...

What is form, structure and language?

I was recently told to consider Literature in relation to form, structure & language, though I'm not entirely sure how this works. I mean, without wanting to make it too formulaic, does it mean the following:

- form is type of writing (novel/play etc), how it satisfies the genre, narrative voice

- structure is how the the writer maniuplates the raw components. so things like time, chronology, point of view.

- language is the vocabulary and how it influences people in the novel & the audience

Could someone confirm/rectify the above please?


Expert Answers
martyweis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question and one that is still debated by scholars. This is particularly true of distinctions between form and structure.

Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, some schools of thought approach form as the elements that produce the shape of the work. For these scholars, form is that which is visible or audible, and it includes such elements as justification, rhyme, and line breaks. It is that which is noticeable before we start thinking about the content of the work. Other schools will refer to form in terms of type or genre, and toward the end of this answer I want to reflect on the value of this disagreement.

Language is incredibly important when studying literature, and although your definition moves you in the right direction, I want to help you think about it in terms of the particular word that is used. One exercise to help you better analyze the language of a text is to make sure you ask yourself two interrelated questions:

  1. What are the different meanings of a word?
  2. What does it mean to the text that this word has these different meanings?

Studying literature requires us to recognize that each text uses specific language and that we cannot transform it to another form (say, film) without changing its meaning.

Although I have already suggested that form and structure are often used interchangeably, another way to think about structure is as a text’s unique relationship between form and content. That is, how do form and language—the visible and the content—work together to produce meaning?

Regardless of how we divide form, structure, and language, it sounds like you are being asked to think about what makes a literary text unique. How does it present language through a particular way to produce a meaning?

James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You seem to have a very solid understanding of the terms “form,” “structure,” and “language.”

When talking about the general type or tradition of writing that a particular work belongs to (novel, play, etc.), we often use the term "genre." Definitions of the term “genre” often use the word "form" as if it were nearly synonymous with "genre." The dictionary.com link below, for example, gives the following definition of genre: "a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like: the genre of epic poetry; the genre of symphonic music." (my emphasis)

"Structure" in a novel or short story, as you write, could indeed include chronology and point of view. In a poem there are often other structural elements to consider, such as meter and rhyme.

Your definition of "language" is probably the least developed of the three definitions that you give. I think that “language” may be synonymous with both “diction” and with what John Crowe Ransom and some of the other New Critics sometimes referred to as “local texture” – the distinctiveness in a literary work that is lost when, for example, we simply paraphrase the content of a poem that we have read in everyday language. You may find the two enotes links below on “diction” to be helpful in further developing this third definition.
thewanderlust878 | Student

I agree in that it seems you have a pretty good grasp on the concepts. However, I think your definition of language could be tweaked a bit, or perhaps simply added to. It might be just a subjective point of view from me, but I think that language also includes the words that come out of someone's mouth and how they say it. I believe that the feeling behind it is important as well.