What makes a Text a Text?

Term Paper, 2022

14 Pages, Grade: 1.0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definitions of Text and Textuality
2.1 Text
2.2 Textuality

3. Seven Criteria of Textuality
3.1 Cohesion
3.2 Coherence
3.3 Intentionality
3.4 Acceptability
3.5 Informativity
3.6 Situationality
3.7 Intertextuality

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Every day, tens of thousands of texts are produced: newspaper articles, business reports and poems, to mention some examples. One might have no issue acknowledging newspaper articles as texts, but would one also agree that “Fisches Nachtgesang”, which consists only of signs, is a text? The question “What makes a text a text?” is the topic of this assignment.

The definition of text has been discussed extensively among linguists. They have taken different approaches to define what makes a text a text. Although some were similar, no consensus on a definition has been reached yet.1 The question is particularly interesting in regard to text production. This assignment is therefore of interest to text producers and those who analyse texts. Texts serve the purpose of conveying a message or information. More literally, their purpose is to communicate with the recipient.2 Thus, to produce meaningful and comprehensible texts, a basic understanding of the criteria for textuality is essential.

This assignment and its results are based on an extensive literature research of books, scientific journals, and the internet. The assignment begins by exploring the definition of “text” and “textuality”. Both concepts are defined, and some linguistic issues are discussed. The work of De Beaugrande and Dressler often serves as a point of reference when discussing this topic. They defined seven criteria for textuality to distinguish texts from non-texts. These criteria are examined and defined in the third section, and examples of each criterion are given. Excerpts are taken from the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. The aim is to determine whether this speech can be regarded as a text based on the criteria of De Beaugrande and Dressler. The assignment ends with a critical discussion and conclusion.

2. Definitions of Text and Textuality

2.1 Text

It is essential to determine what a text is. Agreement on a definition has not yet been reached among linguists, however. This section discusses the different points of view. The linguists Schwarz-Friesel and Consten once asked their students what characteristics texts should possess. The students replied that a text is a structure consisting of various logically entwined sentences, it is in a written form, and it has a specific function.3 Even though this statement is not based on scientific research, it is used to derive the definition of “text” for this assignment. It is useful to discuss the common understanding of the term as well as the scientific view. The first part of this statement is especially interesting, because the word “text” originates from the Latin word “textum”. “Texere”, which is the verb, means “to weave or to braid”.4 The students stated that the sentences of a text should be logically connected, which means that the text follows a certain logical pattern. One can see logical, recurring patterns in woven or braided structures too. Grammatical and semantic structures undoubtedly play an important role in text production. This was not the students’ only point, however. What they were referring to were the criteria of cohesion and coherence, which are discussed in the following sections.

The second claim of the students ­– that texts occur only in written form – is untenable. A speech or a presentation does not necessarily have to be available in writing. On the contrary, most presentations in professional life are delivered orally without a written counterpart. According to the author Zdzilaw Wawrzyniak, texts can be in written and oral forms. Furthermore, he claims that the length of texts varies enormously – from a one-word sentence to an entire book.5 The linguists Halliday and Hasan state that a text is “used in linguistics to refer to any passage, spoken or written, of whatever length, that does form a unified whole”.6 The students also stated that a text should serve a function. The function is to communicate with the recipients. According to the authors Fix, Poethe and Yos, this insight is rather recent. Only in the late 1960s did a change of paradigms take place – the so-called pragmatic shift. The focus turned to a more communication-oriented view of texts. In other words, not only was the grammatical structure analysed, but the influence of semantic elements and syntax was also taken into account. Thus, textuality, which is the topic of the next section, became an increasing part of linguists’ investigations.7 An equally significant aspect of the discussion about the definition of “text” should also be mentioned: some linguists define a text as all communicative signals which occur within a communicative situation. Thus, facial expressions and gestures would count as texts.8 Furthermore, the discussion around whether pictures can be seen as texts is another example of how extensive the debate about the definition of “text” was.9 Even though body language and pictograms, among other signs, are important parts of communication, the focus in this assignment is limited to texts in written or oral form. In summary, the students’ statement about the definition of “text” can be seen as a common understanding among non-linguists. Texts first serve a communicative purpose. Second, they take different forms: written, oral, pictographic and so on. Third, according to De Beaugrande and Dressler, they should follow a certain structure so that the recipient can comprehend the meaning of the text, the so-called textuality. The following section examines the term “textuality” further.

2.2 Textuality

The observations of De Beaugrande and Dressler focused on what criteria must be fulfilled by a piece of writing for it to be accepted as a text. Thus, their focus was not only on the grammatical structure of sentences, but also, in a deeper sense, on the communicational aspects of texts. They describe texts as “communicative occurrences”, which means that a text is a statement in a certain situation.10,11 This description makes it clear that their examinations went beyond the grammatical aspects, as is clear from their seven criteria of textuality discussed in Section 3. Moreover, the work of De Beaugrande and Dressler can be seen as an attempt to summarize all the important criteria of texts. They claim that all the criteria of textuality – cohesion, coherence, intentionality, acceptability, informativity, situationality and intertextuality – must be present in a text for it to be recognized as such. However, their seven criteria of textuality are viewed as too strict by other linguists. For instance, Vater criticized the approach of De Beaugrande and Dressler as difficult to realize. His point was that the absence of one of the criteria would make a piece of writing a so-called non-text.12 Despite the criticism, De Beaugrande and Dressler’s work still serves as basis and point of reference for linguists. Given the discussion above, “textuality” can be defined as all the characteristics that a piece of writing needs to be seen as a text.13

3. Seven Criteria of Textuality

3.1 Cohesion

De Beaugrande and Dressler describe cohesion as “all functions which can be used to indicate relations between surface elements within a text”.14 In other words, this criterion describes how text components relate to each other through grammatical forms. Halliday and Hasan describe the relation between text elements as follows: “Cohesive relations are relations between two or more elements in a text that are independent of the structure; for example, between a personal pronoun and an antecedent proper name, such as John…he.”15 The following passage from King’s speech provides further clarification: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” At the beginning of the sentence, he speaks about “the architects of our public”. In the second part, he uses the personal pronoun “they” to refer to these “architects”. Thus, these two parts are logically connected without re-using the word “architect”. Cohesion can be formed in different ways.16 Schwarz-Friesel and Consten identify recurrence and junctions as types of cohesion.17 Recurrence involves a main theme in a text being repeated, even though different words may serve as substitutes, a phenomenon called partial recurrence.18 An illustration can be given from King’s speech. He starts with the words “Constitution” and “the Declaration of independence”. As the speech progresses, he uses different words to describe those documents, such as “promissory note”, “sacred obligation” and “promises of democracy”. Another type of cohesion is conjunctions. These are words such as “and”, “but” and “however”.19 They link either parts of sentences or whole sentences.

Thus, cohesion can be understood as the structure of grammatical elements which connect the subsequent sentences logically, thus enabling the recipient to develop a sense of coherence (meaning) and an impression of the text as a unified whole.20

3.2 Coherence

In contrast to cohesion, which refers to the grammatical level, coherence refers to the context of meaning. According to Dressler, semantic coherence distinguishes texts from non-texts, such as dictionaries or collections of citations.21 Admittedly, those types of writing do have meaning, but every citation or entry in a dictionary stands by itself. A deeper meaning or a constant flow of interwoven information is missing. Coherence is what happens when the recipient reads the text. The recipient can find a causal connection between what is written and their existing knowledge. For example, in his speech King describes the injustices that people of colour still experienced at the time, namely segregation, poverty and a ban on voting in several US states:

“We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: ‘For Whites Only’. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” In those sentences he gives examples of the grievances that people of colour were experiencing. Later, he says “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” This sentence is particularly interesting, because it not only refers (again) to problems such as segregation and discrimination, but also mentions “the American dream”. In a broader sense, this could also refer to the Declaration of Independence and the following sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This sentence basically describes the American Dream – that everyone can live the life he or she wants. Due to the previous knowledge, namely the knowledge about the American Dream, his recipients have, can connect the words with the meaning, namely “difficulties” with segregation, discrimination and injustice, and “the American Dream” with the rights granted in the Declaration of Independence. Thus, coherence can be seen as the connection between the text and the previous knowledge of the recipient. Moreover, through this interaction, the recipient perceives the text as a logical unit, even though connections are not mentioned explicitly.22

3.3 Intentionality

According to Vater, intentionality is a user-centred criterion. The intention of the producer of the text is to produce a cohesive and coherent text to reach a certain outcome.23 The goal may be to spread information or knowledge, for example.24 Thus, intentionality can be seen as the author’s attempt of transmitting the information or knowledge to the target recipient in a comprehensible way so that they are able to understand the message.


1 Comp. to Heinemann/Viehweger (1991) p.13

2 Comp. to Fix/ Poethe/Yos (2014) p. 11

3 Comp. to Schwarz-Friesel/Consten (2014) p.13

4 universal_lexikon.de (2022): Text- . (Accessed 14.05.2022)

5 Comp. to Warwrzyniak (1980) p. 7

6 Comp. to Halliday/ Hasan (1976) p. 1

7 Comp. to Fix/Poethe/Yos (2014) p.14

8 Comp. to Heinemann/Viehweger (1978) p.16

9 Comp. to Vater (2001) p.22

10 Comp. to DeBeaugrande/Dressler (1981) p.3

11 Comp. to Schwarz-Friesel/Consten (2014) p.19

12 Comp to. Vater (2001) p.28

13 Comp. to Vater (2001) p.28

14 De Beaugrande/ Dressler (1981) p.4

15 Halliday/Hasan (1976) p.4

16 Comp. to Vater (2001) p.31

17 Comp. to Schwarz-Friesel/Consten (2014) p.76

18 Comp. to Schwarz-Friesel/Consten (2014) p.77

19 Comp. to Schwarz-Friesel/Consten (2014) p.77

20 Comp. to Schwarz-Friesel/Consten (2014) p.78

21 Comp. to De Beaugrande/Dressler (1981) p.17

22 Comp. to Schwarz-Friesel/ Consten (2014) p.95

23 Comp. to Vater (2001) p.43

24 Comp. to De Beaugrande/Dressler (1981) p. 8

Excerpt out of 14 pages


What makes a Text a Text?
AKAD University of Applied Sciences Stuttgart
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
what, text, makes a linguistics de Beaugrande Dressler
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2022, What makes a Text a Text?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1253792


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