It is often felt that there is something special about language used in literature. The study of ‘English’ was dominated for a long time by the study of English language literature. The ‘best’ English language use was supposed to be found in literature.

Literary language and poetic language from stylistic and other empirical applied linguistic research perspectives is more often unusual for its uses and meanings in contexts, literature as discourse, than purely for its surface linguistic features, literature as text. Extensive linguistic variation is arguably a distinguishing feature of literary texts. Overall, however, English language use is increasingly ordinary-language-based in more modern literature, including non-standard Englishes appearing more frequently as the global reach of English language literature grows.

Research on Shakespeare’s writings is used to illustrate the value of systematic stylistic analysis of language used in literature to develop better informed understanding of literary language use.

I close by highlighting some of the most fertile current areas of research into English language in literature such as corpus linguistics, creativity in language use, multimodality, and empirical studies of literature reading.