What is a TEXT?

Seminar Paper, 2001

16 Pages, Grade: 2,5 (B)



Text Linguistics

What is a TEXT?
The Term TEXT and Scholars
The Concept of TEXT
Text or Part of a Text?
Word Processing
Text Analysis

Text Sorts
Text Production & Text Topic
Text Mood & Interpretation Levels


Text Linguistics

With all the books and writings so manyfolded and spread across the world, has anybody ever wondered what a text is? Early on children start reading and writing. At school they call it text reading or text comprehension, which everybody accepts but nobody ever questions. I did not either, until April 2001. Within the course Linguistics and Poetics I chose to talk about the definition of text and suddenly I wondered what that was - four letters forming the one word, TEXT.[1]

In this paper I want to go where several scholars have gone before. I want to discuss questions like: What part of linguistics devotes time and effort to text definitions? Where lie its origins? What is a text, and last but not least, what do people do with a text? Books to answer these questions are available at large by now and a chosen number of twelve shall help me to uncover the answers to those aforementioned questions as I go along.

This paper is to be written within the framework of linguistics, a field analyzing specific language structures such as phonemes, morphemes and words. Apart from those, though, it also covers syntactic (e.g. noun- or verb phrases) and semantic structures (e.g. sememes). When working on textual structures, scholars enter the field of text linguistics. For Teun van Dijk this means: "any work in language science devoted to the text as the primary object of inquiry." (De Beaugrande 1981: 14)

The origins of text linguistics lie in Ancient Greece and Rome. Back then it was called rhetorics. Its focus was, for instance, on how ideas could be arranged and with which appropriate expressions. In the 1960s, a text was regarded as one unit larger than a sentence, and in the '70s different types of text structures were discovered and classified. Those were the days when only few researchers were familiar with text studies, whereas nowadays a large number of works is available. Today a text is more likely to be seen as something that consists of well-formed sentences in sequence.

There are oral and written texts. They are produced for different reasons and purposes, are made of elements possible to be identified or combined differently. Consequently, their analysis and reception can be different, too. It is important to recognize relationships between language and settings of communication, because once a communication, a discourse, is established, major factors of textuality become visible: First, texts are cohesive when they share surface structures; secondly, they show coherence when attention is paid to the overall discourse; thirdly, they are intentional in their goal-direction; fourthly, they identify as acceptable when the immediate feedback is evaluated and finally, their whole organization visualizes intertextuality in operation. Thus, apart from wanting to define the word text, text linguistics also aim at solving problems of text semantics (the meaning and subject of texts), text grammar (the means connecting form and structure), and text pragmatics (the aspects referring to the communication, to how texts are produced and to the kind of reaction they provoke).

What is a TEXT?

The Term TEXT and Scholars

Before going into deep on what a text is, a few introductory remarks about the term should be granted. For many scholars its description has been very difficult. A possible approach was made by analyzing its parts. But can we say this or that is a part of a text when it is not clear what may be regarded as text ? Most scholars say it is a finite and in a certain way structured sequence of sentences in a language, to which there are three possible indicators: explicity, limitedness, and structure. What it means, is, that a text is fixed in certain characters and thus explicit, is limited and thus different from structures like natural speech and speech texts, but also is consistent of an inner organization thus making a structured whole out of it.[2][3]

Whenever hearing the word text, I always thought of something that was at least one paragraph long and that covered a certain topic linking its sentences and forming the aforementioned structured whole. Hard to believe that some scholars say there are texts of one sentence or even only one word. Therefore, the following question may be asked: How has a selection of scholars solved the problem of text definition? Are they uncertain or have they found a definition for themselves?

Roland Barthes was torn apart by the dilemma that on the one hand every text is unique but on the other it also belongs to a system. (see: Metzeltin 1983: 13) In contrast, Koch and Wolfgang Dressler found a definition for themselves because Koch said "any sequence of sentences temporally or spacially arranged in a way to suggest a whole" (Sitta 1973: 22) would be considered to be a text, and Dressler thought it was not only a language unit linguistically closed according to the intention of sender and recipient, but it was also formed according to the grammar rules of the used language. (see: Sitta 1973: 22)

Another example is given by W. Klein. In 1972 he pointed out that a text should not only be understood by its verbal expressions but also by its non-verbal signs, concluded from the fact that in a talk between two people much does not make sense without them. (see: Sitta 1973: 27-28) The problem with this definition is that the specifics of a verbal communication could be lost out of sight, or the definition would still be too narrow just because gestures or facial expressions should be taken into account when talking about face-to-face communications.


[1] see: Beckmann 1991: 2 & see: De Beaugrande 1981: 14-15, 19, 23 & see: Dressler 1978: 24 & see: Metzeltin 1983: 11.

[2] see: Beckmann 1991: 2 & see: Lotmann 1989: 81, 83-85 & see: Moser 1975: 61 & see: Sitta 1973: 12.

[3] see: Metzeltin 1983: 13 & see: Sitta 1973: 22, 27-28.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


What is a TEXT?
Dresden Technical University  (Institute for Anglistics/American Studies)
Seminar: Linguistics and Poetics
2,5 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
711 KB
Text, text linguistics, Sprachwissenschaft
Quote paper
Silke-Katrin Kunze (Author), 2001, What is a TEXT?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/4291


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