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Basic conceptions of text linguistics

Text linguistics is a branch of linguistics that deals with texts as communication systems. Its original aims lay in uncovering and describing text grammars. The application of text linguistics has, however, evolved from this approach to a point in which text is viewed in much broader terms that go beyond a mere extension of traditional grammar towards an entire text. Text linguistics takes into account the form of a text, but also its setting, i.e. the way in which it is situated in an interactional, communicative context. Both the author of a (written or spoken) text as well as itsaddressee are taken into consideration in their respective (social and/or institutional) roles in the specific communicative context. In general it is an application of discourse analysis[1] at the much broader level of text, rather than just a sentence or word.


A text is an extended structure of syntactic units [i.e. text as super-sentence] such as words, groups, and clauses and textual units that is marked by both coherence among the elements and completion ... [Whereas] A non-text consists of random sequences of linguistic units such as sentences, paragraphs, or sections in any temporal and/or spatial extension. (Werlich, 1976: 23)[3]

A naturally occurring manifestation of language, i.e. as a communicative language event in a context. The SURFACE TEXT is the set of expressions actually used; these expressions make some knowledge EXPLICIT, while other knowledge remains IMPLICIT, though still applied during processing. (Beaugrande and Dressler, 1981: 63)[4]

[A term] used in linguistics to refer to any passage- spoken or written, of whatever length, that does form a unified whole [….] A text is a unit of language in use. It is not a grammatical unit, like a clause or a sentence; and it is not defined by its size [….] A text is best regarded as a SEMANTIC unit; a unit not of form but of meaning. (Halliday and Hasan, 1976: 1–2)[5]

A text is made up of sentences, but there exist separate principles of text-construction, beyond the rules for making sentences. (Fowler, 1991: 59)[6]

[Text is] a set of mutually relevant communicative functions, structured in such a way as to achieve an overall rhetorical purpose. (Hatim and Mason, 1990)[7]

Text linguists generally agree that text is the natural domain of language, but they still differ in their perspectives of what constitutes a text. This variance is mainly due to the different methods of observations of different linguists, and as such, the definition of text is not yet concrete.[2]

Significance of contexts[edit]

There is a text and there is other text that accompanies it: text that is ‘with’, namely the con-text. This notion of what is ‘with the text’, however, goes beyond what is said and written: it includes other non-verbal signs-on-the total environment in which a text unfolds. (Halliday and Hasan, 1985: 5)[8]

According to Halliday, text is a sign representation of a socio-cultural event embedded in a context of situation. Context of situation is the semio-socio-cultural environment in which the text unfolds. Text and context are so intimately related that neither concept can be comprehended in the absence of the other.

Three features of context of situation[edit]

The field of disclosure – experiential meaning[edit]

This is the meaning that the social actions and the engagements of the participants are giving to the understanding of the text.[9]

The tenor of discourse – interpersonal meaning[edit]

This is the meaning that the roles of and relationships among participants give to the understanding of the text. These relationships may be permanent or temporary. The contribution to meaning by social statuses of the participants also fall within this feature.[9]

The mode of discourse – logical meaning[edit]

This is the meaning that the language, written or spoken, gives to the understanding of the text. This includes the symbolic organization of the text, as well as its intended function within the context.[9]


Texture is the basis for unity and semantic interdependence within text. Any text that lacks texture would simply be a bunch of isolated sentences that have no relationship to each other. (Crane, 1994)[10] A feature of texture is "sequential implicativeness", as suggested by Schegloff and Sacks (1974). This refers to the property of language such that each line in a text is linked from or links to the previous line. As such, language contains a linear sequence and this linear progression of text creates a context of meaning.[11] This contextual meaning, at the paragraph level is referred to as "coherence", while the internal properties of meaning is referred to as "cohesion". (Eggins, 1994: 85)[12] There are two aspects of coherence, namely, "situational" coherence and "generic" coherence. There is situational coherence when field, tenor, and mode can be identified for a certain group of clauses. On the other hand, there is generic coherence when the text can be recognized as belonging to a certain genre. Thereby, cohesion is the result of "semantic ties", which refers to the dependent links between items within a text. These ties come together to create meaning. Texture is, therefore, created within text when the properties of coherence and cohesion are present.

Text types[edit]

Most linguists agree on the classification into five text-types: narrative, descriptive, argumentative, instructive, and comparison/contrast. Some classifications divide the types of texts according to their function. Others differ because they take into consideration the topic of the texts, the producer and the addressee, or the style. Adam and Petitjean, (1989) proposed analyzing of overlaps of different text types with text sequences. Virtanen (1992) establishes a double classification (discourse type and text type) to be used when the Identification text-text type is not straightforward.[13]


As a science of text, text linguistics describes or explains among different types of text the:

· Shared features

· Distinct features

Text linguistics is the study of how texts function in human interaction. Beaugrande and Dressler define a text as a “communicative occurrence which meets seven standards of textuality” – Cohesion, Coherence, Intentionality, Acceptability, Informativity, Situationality and Intertextuality, without any of which the text will not be communicative. Non-communicative texts are treated as non-texts.[4]


Surface texts are the exact words that people see or hear. Cohesion concerns the ways in which the components of the surface text are connected within a sequence. Grammatical forms and conventions are adhered to by surface components and therefore cohesion rests upon grammatical dependencies. The grammatical dependencies in surface texts are major signals for sorting out meanings and uses. Cohesion encompasses all of the functions that can be used to signal relations among surface elements.


Such a text can be divided up into various dependencies. Someone might construe it as a notice about "slow cars" that are "held up', so that conclusions could be drawn about the need to drive fast to avoid being held up. However, it is more likely for one to divide the text into "slow" and "cars held up', so that drivers will drive slowly to avoid accidents or take alternative routes to avoid being caught in the slow traffic. A science of text should explain how ambiguities such as this are possible, as well as how they are precluded or resolved without much difficulty. For efficient communication to take place there must be interaction between cohesion and other standards of textuality because the surface alone is not decisive.


Coherence concerns the ways in which concepts and relations, which underlie the surface text, are linked, relevant and used, to achieve efficient communication.

· A concept is a cognitive content which can be retrieved or triggered with a high degree of consistency in the mind

· Relations are the links between concepts within a text, with each link identified with the concept that it connects to

Surface texts may not always express relations explicitly therefore people supply as many relations as are needed to make sense out of any particular text. In the example of the road sign "SLOW CARS HELD UP', "cars" is an object concept and "held up" an action concept, and the "cars" are the link to "held up'. Therefore, "slow" is more likely to be interpreted as a motion than as the speed at which cars are travelling. Types of relations include:


"Itsy Bitsy spider climbing up the spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out."

The event of "raining" causes the event of "washing the spider out" because it creates the necessary conditions for the latter; without the rain, the spider will not be washed out.


"Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall."

The action of sitting on the wall created the sufficient but not necessary conditions for the action of falling down. Sitting on a wall makes it possible but not obligatory for falling down to occur.


"Jack shall have but a penny a day because he can't work any faster."

In contrast to the rain which causes Itsy Bitsy spider to be washed out, the slow working does not actually cause or enable the low wage. Instead, the low wage is a reasonable outcome; "reason" is used to term actions that occur as a rational response to a previous event.


"Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone."

In contrast to Humpty Dumpty's action of sitting on the wall which enables the action of falling down, there is a plan involved here; Humpty Dumpty did not sit on the wall so that it could fall down but Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard so that she could get a bone. "Purpose" is used to term events that are planned to be made possible via a previous event.


"Cause", "enablement" and "reason" have forward directionality with the earlier event causing, enabling or providing reason for the later event. "Purpose', however, has a backward directionality as the later event provides the purpose for the earlier event. More than just a feature of texts, coherence is also the outcome of cognitive processes among text users. The nearness and proximity of events in a text will trigger operations which recover or create coherence relations.

"The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts;

The Knave of Hearts, he stole the tarts;
The King of Hearts, called for the tarts."

In the explicit text, there is a set of actions (making, stealing and calling); the only relations presented are the agent and the affected entity of each action. However, a text receiver is likely to assume that the locations of all three events are close to one another as well as occur in a continuous and relatively short time frame. One might also assume that the actions are meant to signal the attributes of the agents; the Queen is skilled in cooking, the Knave is dishonest and the King is authoritative. As such, coherence encompasses inferencing based on one's knowledge.

For a text to make sense, there has to be interaction between one's accumulated knowledge and the text-presented knowledge. Therefore, a science of texts is probabilistic instead of deterministic, that is, inferences by users of any particular text will be similar most of the time instead of all of the time. Most text users have a common core of cognitive composition, engagement and process such that their interpretations of texts through "sensing" are similar to what text senders intend them to be. Without cohesion and coherence, communication would be slowed down and could break down altogether. Cohesion and coherence are text-centred notions, designating operations directed at the text materials.


Intentionality concerns the text producer's attitude and intentions as the text producer uses cohesion and coherence to attain a goal specified in a plan. Without cohesion and coherence, intended goals may not be achieved due to a breakdown of communication. However, depending on the conditions and situations in which the text is used, the goal may still be attained even when cohesion and coherence are not upheld.

"'Want I carry you on my back?'"

Even though cohesion is not maintained in this example, the text producer still succeeds in achieving the goal of finding out if the text receiver wanted a piggyback.


Acceptability concerns the text receiver's attitude that the text should constitute useful or relevant details or information such that it is worth accepting. Text type, the desirability of goals and the political and sociocultural setting, as well as cohesion and coherence are important in influencing the acceptability of a text.

Text producers often speculate on the receiver's attitude of acceptability and present texts that maximizes the probability that the receivers will respond as desired by the producers. For example, texts that are open to a wide range of interpretations, such as "Call us before you dig. You may not be able to afterwards', require more inferences about the related consequences. This is more effective than an explicit version of the message that informs receivers the full consequences of digging without calling because receivers are left with a large amount of uncertainty as to the consequences that could result; this plays to the risk averseness of people.


Informativity concerns the extent to which the contents of a text are already known or expected as compared to unknown or unexpected. No matter how expected or predictable content may be, a text will always be informative at least to a certain degree due to unforeseen variability. The processing of highly informative text demands greater cognitive ability but at the same time is more interesting. The level of informativity should not exceed a point such that the text becomes too complicated and communication is endangered. Conversely, the level of informativity should also not be so low that it results in boredom and the rejection of the text.


Situationality concerns the factors which make a text relevant to a situation of occurrence. The situation in which a text is exchanged influences the comprehension of the text. There may be different interpretations with the road sign


However, the most likely interpretation of the text is obvious because the situation in which the text is presented provides the context which influences how text receivers interpret the text. The group of receivers (motorists) who are required to provide a particular action will find it more reasonable to assume that "slow" requires them to slow down rather than referring to the speed of the cars that are ahead. Pedestrians can tell easily that the text is not directed towards them because varying their speeds is inconsequential and irrelevant to the situation. In this way, the situation decides the sense and use of the text.

Situationality can affect the means of cohesion; less cohesive text may be more appropriate than more cohesive text depending on the situation. If the road sign was "Motorists should reduce their speed and proceed slowly because the vehicles ahead are held up by road works, therefore proceeding at too high a speed may result in an accident', every possible doubt of intended receivers and intention would be removed. However, motorists only have a very short amount of time and attention to focus on and react to road signs. Therefore, in such a case, economical use of text is much more effective and appropriate than a fully cohesive text.


Intertextuality concerns the factors which make the utilization of one text dependent upon knowledge of one or more previously encountered text. If a text receiver does not have prior knowledge of a relevant text, communication may break down because the understanding of the current text is obscured. Texts such as parodies, rebuttals, forums and classes in school, the text producer has to refer to prior texts while the text receivers have to have knowledge of the prior texts for communication to be efficient or even occur. In other text types such as puns, for example "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana', there is no need to refer to any other text.

Main contributors[edit]

Robert-Alain de Beaugrande[edit]

Robert-Alain de Beaugrande was a text linguists and a discourse analyst, one of the leading figures of the Continental tradition in the discipline. He was one of the developers of the Vienna School of Textlinguistik (Department of Linguistics at the University of Vienna), and published the seminal Introduction to Text Linguistics in 1981, with Wolfgang U. Dressler. He was also a major figure in the consolidation of critical discourse analysis.[14]

Application to language learning[edit]

Text linguistics stimulates reading by arousing interest in texts or novels. Increases background knowledge on literature and on different kinds of publications. Writing skills can be improved by familiarizing and duplicating specific text structures and the use of specialized vocabulary.[13]



Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech acttheory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, linguistics and anthropology.[1]Unlike semantics, which examines meaning that is conventional or "coded" in a given language, pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on structural and linguistic knowledge (e.g., grammar, lexicon, etc.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, any pre-existing knowledge about those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and other factors.[2] In this respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time etc. of an utterance.[1]

The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence.[3][4][5]


Main article: Ambiguity

The sentence "You have a green light" is ambiguous. Without knowing the context, the identity of the speaker, and his or her intent, it is difficult to infer the meaning with confidence. For example:

· It could mean that you have green ambient lighting.

· It could mean that you have a green light while driving your car.

· It could mean that you can go ahead with the project.

· It could mean that your body has a green glow.

· It could mean that you possess a light bulb that is tinted green.

Similarly, the sentence "Sherlock saw the man with binoculars" could mean that Sherlock observed the man by using binoculars, or it could mean that Sherlock observed a man who was holding binoculars (syntactic ambiguity).[6] The meaning of the sentence depends on an understanding of the context and the speaker's intent. As defined in linguistics, a sentence is an abstract entity — a string of words divorced from non-linguistic context — as opposed to an utterance, which is a concrete example of a speech act in a specific context. The closer conscious subjects stick to common words, idioms, phrasings, and topics, the more easily others can surmise their meaning; the further they stray from common expressions and topics, the wider the variations in interpretations. This suggests that sentences do not have meaning intrinsically; there is not a meaning associated with a sentence or word, they can only symbolically represent an idea. The cat sat on the mat is a sentence in English; if you say to your sister on Tuesday afternoon, "The cat sat on the mat," this is an example of an utterance. Thus, there is no such thing as a sentence, term, expression or word symbolically representing a single true meaning; it is underspecified (which cat sat on which mat?) and potentially ambiguous. The meaning of an utterance, on the other hand, is inferred based on linguistic knowledge and knowledge of the non-linguistic context of the utterance (which may or may not be sufficient to resolve ambiguity). In mathematics with Berry's paradox there arose a systematic ambiguity with the word "definable". The ambiguity with words shows that the descriptive power of any human language is limited.

Referential uses of language[edit]

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When we speak of the referential uses of language we are talking about how we use signs to refer to certain items. Below is an explanation of, first, what a sign is, second, how meanings are accomplished through its usage.

A sign is the link or relationship between a signified and the signifier as defined by Saussure and Huguenin. The signified is some entity or concept in the world. The signifier represents the signified. An example would be:
Signified: the concept cat
Signifier: the word "cat"

The relationship between the two gives the sign meaning. This relationship can be further explained by considering what we mean by "meaning." In pragmatics, there are two different types of meaning to consider: semantico-referential meaning and indexical meaning. Semantico-referential meaning refers to the aspect of meaning, which describes events in the world that are independent of the circumstance they are uttered in. An example would be propositions such as:

"Santa Claus eats cookies."

In this case, the proposition is describing that Santa Claus eats cookies. The meaning of this proposition does not rely on whether or not Santa Claus is eating cookies at the time of its utterance. Santa Claus could be eating cookies at any time and the meaning of the proposition would remain the same. The meaning is simply describing something that is the case in the world. In contrast, the proposition, "Santa Claus is eating a cookie right now," describes events that are happening at the time the proposition is uttered.

Semantico-referential meaning is also present in meta-semantical statements such as:

Tiger: carnivorous, a mammal

If someone were to say that a tiger is an carnivorous animal in one context and a mammal in another, the definition of tiger would still be the same. The meaning of the sign tiger is describing some animal in the world, which does not change in either circumstance.

Indexical meaning, on the other hand, is dependent on the context of the utterance and has rules of use. By rules of use, it is meant that indexicals can tell you when they are used, but not what they actually mean.

Example: "I"

Whom "I" refers to depends on the context and the person uttering it.

As mentioned, these meanings are brought about through the relationship between the signified and the signifier. One way to define the relationship is by placing signs in two categories:referential indexical signs, also called "shifters," and pure indexical signs.

Referential indexical signs are signs where the meaning shifts depending on the context hence the nickname "shifters." 'I' would be considered a referential indexical sign. The referential aspect of its meaning would be '1st person singular' while the indexical aspect would be the person who is speaking (refer above for definitions of semantico-referential and indexical meaning). Another example would be:

Referential: singular count
Indexical: Close by

A pure indexical sign does not contribute to the meaning of the propositions at all. It is an example of a ""non-referential use of language.""

A second way to define the signified and signifier relationship is C.S. Peirce's Peircean Trichotomy. The components of the trichotomy are the following:

1. Icon: the signified resembles the signifier (signified: a dog's barking noise, signifier: bow-wow)
2. Index: the signified and signifier are linked by proximity or the signifier has meaning only because it is pointing to the signified
3. Symbol: the signified and signifier are arbitrarily linked (signified: a cat, signifier: the word cat)

These relationships allow us to use signs to convey what we want to say. If two people were in a room and one of them wanted to refer to a characteristic of a chair in the room he would say "this chair has four legs" instead of "a chair has four legs." The former relies on context (indexical and referential meaning) by referring to a chair specifically in the room at that moment while the latter is independent of the context (semantico-referential meaning), meaning the concept chair.

Non-referential uses of language[edit]

Silverstein's "pure" indexes[edit]

Michael Silverstein has argued that "nonreferential" or "pure" indices do not contribute to an utterance's referential meaning but instead "signal some particular value of one or more contextual variables."[10] Although nonreferential indexes are devoid of semantico-referential meaning, they do encode "pragmatic" meaning.

The sorts of contexts that such indexes can mark are varied. Examples include:

· Sex indexes are affixes or inflections that index the sex of the speaker, e.g. the verb forms of female Koasati speakers take the suffix "-s".

· Deference indexes are words that signal social differences (usually related to status or age) between the speaker and the addressee. The most common example of a deference index is the V form in a language with a T-V distinction, the widespread phenomenon in which there are multiple second-person pronouns that correspond to the addressee's relative status or familiarity to the speaker. Honorifics are another common form of deference index and demonstrate the speaker's respect or esteem for the addressee via special forms of address and/or self-humbling first-person pronouns.

· An Affinal taboo index is an example of avoidance speech that produces and reinforces sociological distance, as seen in the Aboriginal Dyirbal language of Australia. In this language and some others, there is a social taboo against the use of the everyday lexicon in the presence of certain relatives (mother-in-law, child-in-law, paternal aunt's child, and maternal uncle's child). If any of those relatives are present, a Dyirbal speaker has to switch to a completely separate lexicon reserved for that purpose.

In all of these cases, the semantico-referential meaning of the utterances is unchanged from that of the other possible (but often impermissible) forms, but the pragmatic meaning is vastly different.

The performative[edit]

Main articles: Performative utterance and Speech act theory

J.L. Austin introduced the concept of the performative, contrasted in his writing with "constative" (i.e. descriptive) utterances. According to Austin's original formulation, a performative is a type of utterance characterized by two distinctive features:

· It is not truth-evaluable (i.e. it is neither true nor false)

· Its uttering performs an action rather than simply describing one

However, a performative utterance must also conform to a set of felicity conditions.


· "I hereby pronounce you man and wife."

· "I accept your apology."

· "This meeting is now adjourned."

Jakobson's six functions of language[edit]

Main article: Jakobson's functions of language

The six factors of an effective verbal communication. To each one corresponds a communication function (not displayed in this picture).[11]

Roman Jakobson, expanding on the work of Karl Bühler, described six "constitutive factors" of a speech event, each of which represents the privileging of a corresponding function, and only one of which is the referential (which corresponds to the context of the speech event). The six constitutive factors and their corresponding functions are diagrammed below.

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