Defamiliarization- Definition

Defamiliarization refers to the artistic practice of compelling the audience to view the familiar in an unfamiliar or rather strange way so as to improve the perception of what is already familiar. Also known as ostranenie, the term defamiliarization was first used by Shklovsky in 1917 in the study, interpretation, discussion as well as evaluation of literature (Stacey, 1977) The reason of applying this art is to pass on the sensation of items as they are viewed rather than what they are known to be. This approach is a means of forcing people to experience the day to day happenings that are ordinary in new-fangled fashion through the application of art language. The artist by doing that creates a swing from the anticipated, ordinary in addition to normal form of perception into a new world exposure. According to Shklovsky (1990), this method of art is intended to challenge the mind of the reader that she or he is compelled to perceive the ordinary differently and thus be glad about the text form and not just the meaning and the content. Defamiliarization boosts the pall of repetition that is unproductive including the modus operandi and political arguments that are often jammed by tendentiousness or even corruption.

This ensures a renewed deliberation a probable result of art. Another role played by defamiliarisation is the adjustment of the mind in a manner of sweeping unpreparedness; to ensure the suspension of doubt. The mind of a person is forced to rethink the position in the world through spending of effort. The chief aim of applying this approach is to defamiliarize the usual or prosaic perceiptions. This is usually attained by application of such big collection of “deviant” linguistic tools such as metonymy, symbolism, metaphor, rhyme, rhythm as well as sophisticated patterning of sounds plus sense.

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How to do things with words by Austin

This is probably one of the highly applauded works by Austin.

In this book Austin tries to apply the art of defamiliarization where he tries to make the reader of this piece of literature to view what they know in a different perspective. The creation of imaginary worlds as well as objects is what Austin applies as a means of defamiliarization (Theo, 1986). He tries to move from the predominant believe that the main objective of sentences is to stipulate facts, being “true” on instances when they manage and “false” on instances when they fail on that objective.

Austin (1976) explores how some cases of language appear by their mere utterance, lead to performance of a certain act- saying leads to something being done. For instance, if someone promises to perform a task, it is the definite utterance that is promising. In defamiliarization, Austin (1976) argues that sentences that contain truth values form a miniature part of the variety of statements. He tries to categorize statements into either performatives or constatives where the former is construed to mean statements that perform certain acts while the latter means those statements that describes the states of affairs. He introduces the performative utterance where he argues that as such do not carry truth values. For instance Austin (1976) proposes that, once something goes off beam as pertaining to such a performative statement, it can be said to be “unhappy”, maybe “infelicitous” instead of being false as is ordinarily viewed. In further usage of defamiliarization, Austin refers to these false statements as “misfires” where for example the said act is purported and rather does not take place.

The distinction according to Austin between performatives and constatives is but illusionary. He classifies acts pertaining utterances as: lucutionary-the face value of the statement itself, Illocutionary- the act’s contextual purpose and perlucutionary- the outcome of the act on the listener (Stokes, 2007). The 3 speech act could be illustrated by an example where a person states, “its cold”, which is a locutionary act portraying how one is feeling.

It can as well be taken in the situation of a house with an open window, as an act (illocutionary) a demand to have the window closed. As the one who hears the utterance responds by closing the window, the very words have performed an action. The title of this book can be said to be locutionary, implying that every time one applies words, he/she does an act. The book has a perlocutionary act of trying to convince the reader to believe in the accuracy of the supposition.


Looking at this entire framework that Austin is trying to put fourth, it is evident that he is trying to convince the reader that each utterance (with few exceptions) constitutes an act. This therefore constitutes defamiliarization in that he is forcing the reader to perceive what is familiar (utterances) in unfamiliar way (utterances are indeed actions).

Works cited

Austin, John.

How To Do Things With Words; 2nd Ed, Oxford University Press, 1976 Shklovsky, Viktor. “Art as Device”, in Theory of Prose, translated by, Benjamin Sher, Dalkey: Archive Press, 1990. Stacey Robert. Defamiliarization in language and literature: Michigan, Syracuse University Press, 1977 Stokes, Philip. Philosophy, the Great Thinkers, Capella, 2007. Theo, Henry.

Linguistics and the study of literature, Rodopi, 1986.


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