Which cognitive processes occur during text production?

An overview of the most important processes.

Essay, 2018
13 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Psycholinguistic aspects of speech production
2.1 Description model by Kintsch
2.2 Story-Grammar model by Rummelhart

3. Stages of text production
3.1 Focus
3.2 Selection and linearization
3.3 Encoding

4. Writing Models
4.1 What is a model?
4.2 Text-oriented Model
4.3 Didactic process model
4.4 (Socio) cognitive models

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Within the field of linguistics there are several approaches to the consideration of texts. The conversational-analytic approach treats texts as a medium of linguistic interaction including description constructs from speech-act theory. In the text-linguistic approach, texts are analyzed and descripted under the aspect of structural- and shape-contrast. However, the psycholinguistic approach considers texts with regard to the speaker as language planners and producers, where knowledge requirements and text-specific process controlling factors play an important role (Stutterheim & Kohlmann 2003, 442f).

From a psycholinguistic point of view, there is not a single elaborate model for the entire text production process, so one can speak of a neglected field of psycholinguistics. At best, there are some studies on individual principles and processes of text production (Herrmann/Hoppe-Graff 1989, 146f.). Therefore, it is quite difficult to provide a comprehensive treatment of this sub-area.

The aim of this work is to clarify what kind of challenges arise for language producers when expressing complex language units, beyond word- and sentence planning. Questions like which cognitive processes take place in the planning of text production ? or which aspects play a role when it comes to target audience or coherence? are trying to be answer in this essay. In this context, there is no distinction between written or orally produced texts.

First of all, I would like to introduce a common language user model from a psycholinguistic point of view. Subsequently, the three basic cognitive processes of speech production: focusing, selection/linearization and encoding, are going to be analyzed more closely. Based on this, I will briefly focus on two descriptive models of cognitive aspects of text production, the description model by Kintsch and the Story-Grammar model by Rummelhart. Finally, I will shortly highlight influential model of writing and written text production in contemporary writing research and their strengths and shortcomings. These models influence writing research methodologies “and therefor specific conceptualizations of writing as an object of inquiry” (Jakobs & Perrin 2014: 69). Hereupon, follows my conclusion, or rather summary, and my references.

2. Psycholinguistic aspects of speech production

The language user model (Dijkstra/Kempen 1993) describes the cognitive processes of production and reception of language and includes a system of processing languages, the language processing units (Dijkstra/Kempen 1993: 14f). Each unit fulfills its own functions in language use. The language processing modules of speech reception are the speech recognition system, for detecting speech sounds, the word recognition system, for identifying words, the sentence analysis system, for the breakdown of statutes and the conceptual system, for the interpretation of utterance (ibid: 15).

The language processing modules of language production presented here are, so to speak, the mirror image of language reception, the conceptual system, in which thoughts and intentions are formed, the grammatical coding system, where these thoughts and intentions are transferred into syntactic units, the phonological coding system, where appropriate words are searched and subsequently declined or conjugated and finally the articulator, which is responsible for controlling the pronunciation of words and sentences (Dijkstra/Kempen 1993: 16, Sanders et. al. 2001; 2ff).

Speech production begins in the conceptual memory, where all knowledge about the world is stored. The activity taking place, the thinking, is not yet attributable to language use. This sets only in the mental lexicon, where information about words is stored, for pronunciation, part of speech and so forth, as well as a reference to the corresponding term in conceptual memory, where the properties and associations of the term are stored. Information and rules that must be kept for a longer time must be collected in the long-term memory (LTM). This includes information about words and related terms, that the components of the language use model each require. However, information which has just reached the language processing system is stored in short-term memory (STM), a kind of working memory, with which the newly received information is processed. This information is stored there for a couple of seconds and can be used again after some time, for example to resolve ambiguities. The monitor is responsible for the coordination and monitoring of language production and language processes, as well as for other cognitive activities. In this case, some kind of unconscious reflection takes place (Field 2003: 6f).

The individual language processing modules are not consecutive, but active at the same time and work in mutual dependence. This is especially evident in verbal language production in that not every single sentence is thought, constructed and finally spoken from beginning to end, but a sentence is begun without knowing exactly the concrete form of the completed sentence (Sanders et. al. 2001: 3f).

The language user model illustrates the cognitive processes which are involved in the word and sentence production but neglects the planning and production of texts as cross-linguistic units. Word, sentence and text production coincides in a number of aspects, such as processes of lexical access, the syntax-semantic interaction, access to morphology components or the entire articulation process. Simultaneously, processes in the planning of complex linguistic utterances take place, that go beyond word and sentence planning (Stutterheim & Kohlmann 2003: 443ff).

2.1 Description model by Kintsch

Depth structures of texts and their psychological effects have been described by Kintsch (1976). He assumes a propositional depth structure, where propositions form the (meaning) units, thus semantic structures, in which usually a predicate is linked by two or more arguments. At the surface of the text, a verb stands for every predicate and usually a noun for every argument. Structural coherence arises in the text through the overlapping of arguments of successive propositions and their hierarchical structure. In a text, there are several levels of hierarchy, that means, the individual propositions of a text are not equal, but earlier appearing propositions are superior to later occurring.

In a study by Knitsch and Keenan (1973) subjects were asked to read texts that differ in number of contained propositions but not in number of words. They notice that a text is read more slowly the more propositions it contains. In another investigation, where subjects should reproduce a read text, Kintsch et. al. (1975) found out that propositions of the supreme hierarchy level were remembered much more often than propositions of the lower hierarchical levels. Higher-ranking propositions are remembered way better because they are followed by propositions in which partly identical arguments recur, which then can be linked to existing superordinate propositions. The less propositions a text contains that cannot be subordinated to the dominating, the more likely the listener or reader will be to reconstruct the inner relationship within himself (Hörmann 1991: 88ff).

2.2 Story-Grammar model by Rummelhart

The story grammar model of Rummelhart (1975) is based on observations of Bartlett in the investigation of long-term retention, where he asked subjects to listen to fairy tails and retell them after a while. The reproductions characteristically differed from the originals in that they were more schematic and orderly, unusual things were left out and expected things were added. Out of these findings, Bartlett developed a memory theory, which states that remembering is a reconstruct according to certain schemes, which guide every single act of remembrance. From these observations, Rummelhart constructed the story-grammar model which states that text production follows certain schemes, such as for example, the scheme for telling a story (Hörmann 1991: 90ff).

3. Stages of text production

Herrmann and Hoppe-Graff (1989) assume that a general speech production model can also be used as a framework for the description of text production. They distinguish three different stages of text production: focusing, selection/linearization and encoding. As with speech production, there are temporal parallel processes that interact closely with each other (Herrmann and Hoppe Graff 1989: 147ff).

3.1 Focus

The focus of a text is the theme of the text, it consists of structured focus information. This information structure is an arrangement of propositions, for example of predicate argument relationships. (Herrmann & Hoppe-Graff 1989: 148). Focusing can be understood as the updating of knowledge by the text producer, by using the knowledge based in long-term memory, where his entire world knowledge is stored. In addition to all factual information and experiences, the knowledge base also includes social conventions, characteristics of partners and classes, communicative norms, routines of routine standard situations, for example prompts and can also determine whether language is actually produced and which aspects or components of world knowledge one refers to (Rickheit & Strohner 2008: 363f, Herrmann & Hoppe-Graff 1989: 149f).

Besides, on the basis of this knowledge base, an action goal (and possible sub-goals) of the utterance are to be produced as well as a target-means linkage are determined, in which the addressee and the situation play a decisive role. Some focus information is not simply retrieved provided knowledge but arise through amnesian reconstruction on the basis of still retrievable knowledge and conclusions (Herrmann & Hoppe-Graff 1989: 152f). A content can be verbalized more accurately and in more detail, if the perspective of the cognition situation coincides with the target- and partner specific perspective. For example, when asked about a person’s garden furnishing, one can describe them in more detail if he looks at them more closely, as if he just goes through without any specific attention. For the production of a standardized utterance, such as a solicitation, a schematic knowledge base or a cognitive scheme is available, whose variable sizes are specified in specific situations (Herrmann & Hoppe-Graff 1989: 154).

3.2 Selection and linearization

Not all the information the text producer focuses on is verbalized but selected individual components of the focus. This process is called selection: the selected information becomes the input of the made subsequent verbalization. In addition, several selected focus components in a specific order and linguistically encoded - this cognitive process is called input linearization situations (Herrmann & Hoppe-Graff 1989: 156f).

Certain selection criteria are necessary if the verbalization of the desired section from the own knowledge base of the respective objective is to be designed appropriately. Depending on the standardization of each produced text, the selection criteria can be more or less individual or be standardized (Stutterheim & Kohlmann 2003: 447f). A coherent, for the recipient comprehensible, produced message requires selected verbalized information, which is clearly structured. This structuring is based above all on the principles of coherence, which guarantees the content consistency of an information structure. Coherence production means, in terms of text production, producing schematics through coherence pattern, that enables the addressee to put together the individual information modules of a text to meaningful whole and thus get an idea of the reality constructed in the text. Coherence is the required relationship between the individual content components. Based on the intention, which defines the global framework of a text, the individual information should be arranged in such a way that meaningfulness arises both at the local level (between immediately adjacent utterances) as well as at the episode and text levels (Stutterheim & Kohlmann 2003: 448f).

Coherence is achieved, among other things, through linearization and referential movement. By linearization, the non-linear ordered structure of the verbalizing section from the knowledge base is transferred into a linear structure. This linearization criterion provides the common thread that covers the entire text. It is not just a criterion for accessing the knowledge base during the planning process, but also as a criterion for hierarchizing the information. Finally, a main structure-substructure structure is created, through the information which is not bound by the linearization criterion. This information is assigned to a secondary structure level by local coherence relations which allows the linkage of the primary level (Rickheit 2003: 231f).

Exemplary for the effect of a linearization criterion are narrative texts, in which time serves as a conceptual criterion for the sequencing of information, usually according to the principle of natural sequence (Stutterheim & Kohlmann 2003: 448f). Other such schematic linearization procedures are, for example, the description of spatial structures according to the scheme of a virtual apartment inspection or the recipe scheme for making a dish (ibid.). However, not every linearization of focus information is done strictly according to linearization schemes. Non-standard situations require a complex ad-hoc planning sequences of focus components. The best example for this is the c onstruction of an academic paper. It is hardly possible to write a paper without a specific planning and implementation in mind.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Which cognitive processes occur during text production?
An overview of the most important processes.
University of Hildesheim  (Institut für englische Sprache und Literatur)
M.Ed. Linguistics - Psycholinguistics
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Linguistics, Psycholinguistics, Cognitive, Cognitive processes, text production
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Anonymous, 2018, Which cognitive processes occur during text production?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/489448


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