Diction is word choice intended to convey a certain effect. Writers employ diction, or word choice, to communicate ideas and impressions, to evoke emotions, and to convey their views to the reader. You would NOT write that “the writer uses the technique of diction,” because that would simply mean he uses words. Instead, you would want to use a specific technique listed below, such as connotative language, jargon, or formal diction.
Levels of Diction
High or Formal Diction usually contains language that creates an elevated tone. It is free of slang, idioms, colloquialisms, and contractions. It often contains polysyllabic words, sophisticated syntax, and elegant word choice.
Neutral Diction uses standard language and vocabulary without elaborate words and may include contractions.
Informal or Low Diction is the language of everyday speech. It is relaxed and conversational. It often includes simple words, idioms, slang, jargon, and contractions.
Types of Diction
Denotation – the exact literal definition of a word independent of any emotional association or secondary meaning
Connotation – the implicit rather than explicit meaning of a word and consists of the suggestions, associations, and emotional overtones attached to a word. For example the word house has a different emotional effect on the reader than does the word home, with its connotation of safety, coziness, and security. Since connotative words have complex layers of associations and implications, writers spend a considerable amount of time searching for just the “right words.” These connotations help determine to mood of a literary selection. You could write that the writer makes use of evocative language, loaded words, or connotative language.
Slang - a group of recently coined words or phrases that pass in and out of usage. This should be avoided in all formal and standard writings. In fiction slang may be used to create mood or define a character.
Colloquial expressions – non-standard, often regional ways of using language appropriate for informal or conversational speech and writing. These should be avoided in all formal and standard writings. These may be used in fiction to create local color and to define a character.
Jargon – consists of words and expressions characteristic of a particular trade, profession, or pursuit. These may be used in standard technical reports. In fiction, they may be used to add realistic detail.
Dialect – a nonstandard subgroup of language with its own vocabulary and grammatical features. Dialect should be avoided in all formal or standard writings. Writers often use regional dialects to reveal a character’s economic or social class.
Concrete Diction – consist of specific words that describe physical qualities or conditions. Specific concrete words are often used to describe people, places, and objects. Concrete words also consist of strong active verbs.
Abstract diction – refers to language that denotes ideas, emotions, conditions, or concepts that are intangible. Some examples of abstract diction include words such as impenetrable, inscrutable, and unfathomable. These words tend to be used impersonally to convey universal truths and emotions.
How do you analyze Diction? You can use the acronym LEAD to examine diction.
Low or informal diction
Elevated language or formal diction
Abstract and concrete diction
Denotation and connotation
Examine these four areas, and see how any of them add to the mood or create an atmosphere. You may consider some of the questions below:
Do any of the characters speak using slang or colloquialisms? Do any characters speak formally? If so, perhaps their diction helps reinforce local color or suggest something about the characters’ backgrounds or social class. Are the narrative sections formal? Is the author removed from the whole story? Are strong verbs used to make the story’s message clear? What connotative words are used to convey messages beyond the literal meaning of a word?
When analyzing diction, you may also want to look at musical devices such as alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeias.