How to use linguistic devices in your writing
The word linguistic means ‘relating to language’.
Linguistic devices can be used to influence the response of the reader, or to help communicate an idea or point of view.
There are many devices to use, including simile, metaphor, allusion and hyperbole.
Linguistic devices are also known as language devices, linguistic techniques or figurative devices.
Why use linguistic devices?
Linguistic devices are words or phrases that convey a meaning which is different to the literal one. A well-chosen linguistic device can help make your writing more effective and powerful. They can be used in fiction or non-fiction texts, and can:
- add something special or original to your writing
- give more information using fewer words
- persuade or engage your reader
- communicate your ideas in a precise way
- help the reader visualise a scene
Writers often make comparisons in their writing. There are a variety of ways to do this:
Metaphor - a direct comparison, usually between two unlike things - ‘His scars were a map on his skin’.
Simile - a phrase that compares two different things by using a word such as ‘like’ or ‘as’ - ‘His scars were like a map on his skin’.
Personification - a type of metaphor where something non-human is given human emotions - ‘The storm raged all night’.
Analogy - a comparison often used to explain or clarify something, often the comparison is made to something different but familiar to the reader:
‘The rainforests are the vital organs of our planet: they are the lungs that draw in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen; they are the kidneys because they regulate the flow and use of water; they are the heart of our natural world, pumping life into other ecosystems; they are essential to the health of our planet, by destroying the forest we are killing our planet.’
Allusions make reference to well-known characters, places or events that immediately create meaning in the mind of the reader. For example, a writer might refer to a male character as ‘a real Romeo’. Many readers would know that this allusion is suggesting he is romantic, just like the famous character Romeo from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Allusions link to a shared understanding of the world and are a useful way to communicate with the reader. For example, ‘Christmas day is often a feast for meat eaters and I often want to shout “I’m a vegan, get me out of here!”’
Hyperbole is using exaggeration for effect. These exaggerations are not true and are not meant to be taken literally. They are used to provoke strong emotions or emphasise a particular point:
‘I can think of a million reasons why we need to talk about recycling.’
‘She had to wait an eternity for him to return.’
‘He was dying of embarrassment.’
A few carefully chosen devices are better than using a device in every sentence.
Match the device carefully to the reader. Think about who you are writing for and then select a device that is appealing and appropriate.
Remember that devices might not be suitable for some types of writing, such as scientific reports.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with devices in your writing - play around and see what works. This may give you more confidence when reading - you are more likely to spot and understand why a device is being used by another writer.
Find out how much you know about linguistic devices in this short quiz!
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