Linguistic Theory

Classical art and aesthetics are preoccupied with form. Plato used metaphors, dramatic scenes, characterization, setting and tone. In his Poetics Aristotle recommends “an orderly arrangement of parts that form a beautiful whole or organism”.

Some awareness of Formalisms implicit in many classical, medieval and Renaissance work on art or poetics. Moreover, in the twentieth century the famous short story writer Henry James, implied the use of setting ,theme, scene, narrative image and symbols as formalistic components of a short story.


This trend started in 1914 with the writings of Viktor Syklovsky and continued un-till Lenin came into power. The analytical methods of the Russian Formalists still have influence today. The other representatives are Roman Jakobson and Yurii Tynyanov.


The aim of Formalistic criticism is the discovery and explanation of “form” in a literary work. Whereas,the author’s life ,his times, sociological, political, economic or psychological implications are unimportant. On the other hand the following points are important;

*What is the literary work?

*What are its shape and effect?

*How are these achieved?

It should be noted that all the answers ought to come from the text itself.


In this kind of an analysis one has to read intensively by showing care to the words of the text and their implied meanings. It is vital to understand the words themselves. After the words one has to look for the structures and patterns, interrelations of the words. As for the short story one can look for the telling word or phrase, the recurring word or imagery, the symbolic object or character and the plot.



The main object of Formalism is poetry. The Russian Formalists believed that the language of poetry was completely different from and independent of everyday language. The language of poetry should have the element of “defamiliarization”. This ‘making strange’ could be achieved through elements like the stress on certain words, unusual syntactic arrangements of words. For instance, it is a fact that water consists of hydrogen and oxygen. However, when one wants to defamiliarize this simple sentence he/she would have to say,”water is pre-sent with the passionate togetherness of hydrogen and oxygen.” Furthermore, by this way, the reader could stay away from the language in which the words themselves are ”tossed out like a chocolate bar from an automatic machine”.

Again in the same reference Syklovsky claims that art defamiliarizes things that have become habitual or automatic.


According to the Russian Formalists, the target of literature is not literature itself but literariness. Therefore, there is no dilemma between form and content.


Fabula is the story and syuzhet is the plot. The relation between these two is analogous to the one relation between practical (everyday) and poetic language. The syuzhet creates a defamiliarizing effect upon the fabula.


The traditional priority of reality over literature is reversed.A change in literaryform is not caused by a changed reality,but by the need to refresh automatized forms of literature.Reality in the construction of literature is only secondary.


The Formalists, just as the New Critics, targeted on the text itself. On the otherhand ,the Formalists differed from the New Critics in two ways;1-Formalists had more technical means to approach the text,2-The Formalists were not 100% diverting from the historical and sociological background of the text.