Linguistic Stylistics and Children's Literature

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Marice C. Brown

Advisor Department



The research was designed to identify the range of syntactical choices available to writers in expanding the basic sentence and to determine which of these were used by the authors of certain works of children's literature. Fourteen Newbery Medal winners were selected for study, and the Table of Random Digits was used to select ten sentences from each book. Sentence expansion was divided into two main categories: conjunction and embedding. Conjunction was defined as conjoining with a coordinating conjunction at least two elements that serve the same function in a sentence. Embedding was defined as inserting one or more sentences inside another sentence. Each sentence was tree diagrammed to show the variety of expansions used by the authors of children's literature. Some of the sentences selected did not fit the traditional definition of a sentence as a group of words with a subject and predicate which expresses a complete thought. The random selection process necessitated an alteration in this definition. For the purposes of this paper the sentence was defined as any printed words between the capital letter signifying the start of a sentence and a mark of end punctuation. Although literary language was selected for study, many of the sentences were written as dialogue. Some particularly elliptical and depended on other sentences for meaning. When the elided material was not readily recoverable, no attempt was made to reconstruct elliptical sentences. All of the transformational rules in the models used for the tree diagrams were used by the authors represented in the study. Some constructions found in the corpus were not treated, and some were insufficiently treated, in the models. Transformational-generative grammar according to the Chomskian model was used to diagram each sentence to show the types of embeddings and conjoinings. This kind of analysis is important to the literary analyst because it offers a visible and quantifiable means of assessing objectively what the sensitive reader intuitively recognizes as style. Obviously, syntactic complexity is not the end of style, but it constitutes a large part of it. Each transformation described in the models was used by the authors of the children's literature in the study. One may conclude then that the difference in complexity between literature for children and literature for adults lie not in the kinds but in the degree of complexity.