What makes a text a text? Criteria for text functionality

Essay, 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 What is meant by the terms text and textuality?

3 Key Criteria for Text
3.1 Cohesion
3.2 Coherence
3.3 Informativity
3.4 Intentionality
3.5 Acceptability
3.6 Situationality
3.7 Intertextuality

4 Conclusion



1 Introduction

Can sentences or words that express statements or questions by any means be accepted as a text? Must a text be informative and well-intended to its recipients to be valued as textual, or does it solely need to be meaningful and suitable for the context? Furthermore, what exactly does the word ‘text’ or ‘textual’ even mean? Although one may have an intuitive understanding of what a text is, it can be necessary to establish a clear distinction between a text and a non-text. The understanding of what makes a text a text is particularly interesting, not only for translators, interpreters or linguists, to mention only a few, but also for anyone who aims to produce comprehensible texts. The knowledge helps to produce texts, where clear references of textuality can be made visible. Thus, leading further as to the understanding of what makes a text a text, is the question: how is the impression of textuality provoked by the recipient? This assignment deals with the seven key criteria for ensuring that a text functions as a text. It aims to define the criteria and is split into three chapters. Firstly, the terms text and textuality are defined. The second chapter states the seven functions of text in detail by analyzing a sample text. For this purpose, a speech from Emma Watson has been chosen. It is illustrated how each criterion contributes to making a text a text, and how it fulfils its textual function. After having examined each criterion, there is a critical reflection on all thoughts in the conclusion in chapter three.

2 What is meant by the terms text and textuality?

In order to comprehensively analyze textual functions, it is essential to understand the basic terms. According to the Oxford Dictionary a text is defined as “the main printed part of a book or magazine”, “any form of written material” and as “the written form of a speech, a play, an article”1. In contemporary language the term “text” includes everything that is written, and in textual theory the word is defined differently depending on the individual research approach. Looking at the roots, the word “text” derives from the Latin word “textus” which means tissue. “Textus” is derived from “texere” meaning to weave. In this sense a text is about choosing the right words and bringing them together into a woven composition. It suggests that words can be woven into a fabric like threads. Claiming that a text is a sequence of sentences related in meaning, stating the connection to each other2.

Once the term text itself is defined, further questions arise. What creates the impression of textuality during reading and what exactly does textuality imply? Different criteria of textuality and what differentiates a text from a non-text shall be discussed. It is essential to determine whether sentences or words are understood as a text or simply as a random sequence that make no sense to the reader. What determines if an accumulation of linguistic manifestations is perceived as a text? The most known approach to this subject must be from R.-A. de Beaugrande and W. U. Dressler who list seven criteria for textuality which all must be met. These standards include cohesion, coherence, intentionality, acceptability, informativity, situationality, and intertextuality. If any of these standards do not appear to be fulfilled, the text is treated as non- communicative and thus as non-text.3 The seven standards are presented individually and more extensively through using examples of Emma Watson's speech ’’Gender equality is your issue too”. The relevant parts of the original speech are enclosed at the end of this assignment.

3 Key Criteria for Text

3.1 Cohesion

The first criterion to be examined is called cohesion. Cohesion plays a central role in text linguistics as it serves to present a text as a comprehensible unit. It refers to the way in which words, sentences, and phrases are linked to each other to build a structured and meaningful text that flows logically and holds the whole text together. This also appears in the Latin original meaning of “cohesion” (cohaerere) which stands for “cling or stick together”.4 The following devices to structure cohesive relationships in a text exist: repetition, reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical cohesion. The first one, repetition, means a similar or identical word, phrase, or clause is repeated once or a couple of times. The words “gender” and “equality” are mentioned seven times in the example text, and the word “feminism” three times. The second device, reference, can include personal references (not exclusively referring to a person) for example referred to as “they”, “my”, “this”, “then”, “same”, “similar” or "otherwise”. Several elements can be found in the following section of the text: “This is the first campaign of its kind at the UN: we want to try and galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. And we don't just want to talk about it, but make sure it is tangible.” These words show that Watson is referring to preceding parts of the speech. It would not be clear what campaign (HeForShe) she is mentioning and why she is trying to galvanize men and boys to be advocates for gender equality: “because I need your help”. The third device, substitution, does not create relations between elements but replaces a word or a whole phrase in the same grammatical slot. Watson makes use of substitution in her text to state her plan and herewith avoids using repetitions: “We want to end gender inequality, and to do this, we need everyone involved.” With the words “do this” she substitutes repeating “end gender equality”. The device of ellipsis repeats a pattern and its content but leaves out some of the surface expressions that are predictable. There is no need to repeat “expressions are seen as” with every listed adjective in the text following example: “Apparently, I'm among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men. Unattractive, even.” The conjunction links multiple sentences or elements within a sentence by means of a vast variety of distinctive conjunctions defining their relation towards each other. These relations can concern time, place, cause, contrast, and addition. For example, “furthermore”, “though”, “therefore” or “from now on”. A good example in the text is: “When I was 8, [...] because I wanted to [...]. When at 14[...]. When at 15, [...] because they didn’t want to [...]. When at 18, [...]. The last structuring device is lexical cohesion which refers to the way related words are chosen to string elements of a text together. Lexical cohesion can be split into two groups: repetition and partial repetition. Repetition uses the same lexical item, synonyms, antonyms, hyponym or hypernym. The partial repetition, on the other side, changes a previously used word to another form, e.g. the verb “study” to the noun “student”. It uses the same word but in a different word class.5 Good examples are using “male counterparts” and “men” synonymously for repetition and the words “equal” and “equality” for a partial repetition. It can be said that cohesion links the different items within a text, which is regarded as an endophoric reference, and those textual items to the extralinguistic world of the text's recipient, called exophoric reference.6 Cohesion makes coherence linguistically evident, as discussed in the next chapter.

3.2 Coherence

Coherence includes the layout and ordering of the concepts and relations of a text which are caught on by the surface text. Some authors do not differentiate between cohesion and coherence.

However, this is considered as problematic. Although there is a connection between the grammatical relations on the surface text and the content-based relations, they still need to be treated separately. Coherence is based on the logic of ideas and how they are presented. If a text is coherent, its parts are connected and heading in the same direction. Cohesion helps the writer to put various linguistic entities to form a united whole; therefore, cohesion guarantees coherence which makes the text logical and meaningful. A presented text needs to be organized in a coherent way, making it easier for a reader to follow, appreciate, and make sense of it. A lack of this continuity of senses confuses the reader and interrupts the communication intent of the text.7 The following section of Watson's speech illustrates her creation of coherence. She starts the paragraph with a declarative sentence: “I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago.” The following sentences in the paragraph are tied back to the statement in the beginning: “When I was 8,1 was confused for being called bossy [...]. When at 14,1 started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media. When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams [...]. When at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings.” Watson mentions the occurrences in her life that drove her to start questioning gender-based assumptions. The term “When.” appears repeatedly as a key term and signals that the whole section is about the chronologically connected elements which present the text as very structured and effective. The audience is prepared for the purpose of her speech and what is about to come. It makes the text understandable and easy to follow as she connects information elements with a logical structure. Cohesion and coherence are text-centered notions. The other following standards of textuality are user-centered standards.

3.3 Informativity

The next standard of textuality is called informativity and can be defined as “the extent to which the occurrences of the presented text are expected vs. unexpected or known vs. unknown. [...] Every text is at least somewhat informative.” A text has information potential, although the amount of information can vary. A text is informative, if it brings new information for the recipient. A text without or with only very low value of new information can unintentionally be irritating. Subsequently it can cause boredom and lead to a lack of interest and rejection of the text.8 Watson said: “In 1997, Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women's rights. Sadly, many of the things that she wanted to change are still true today. But what stood out for me the most was that less than thirty percent of the audience were male. ” The fact that Clinton hold this speech in that exact year and in that part of the world may not be known by the audience and adds informative value to Watson's speech. Watson also stated how many percent of the audience were male and that “[...] in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49”. However, this standard of textuality treats a very subjective characteristic of textuality, and due to different aspects, might only be valid to a limited extent. The information is not as interesting or important for all readers or listeners. The text may be new for one person, but for another it may be old and not include any new information.

3.4 Intentionality

The purpose of intentionality is to take the text producer's intention into account, concerning his pursued goals or desired effects, which his cohesive and coherent text would accomplish.9 A text producer has a specific cause or goal in mind. The criteria of intentionality is meant to sensitize the reader to the correlation between intentions and texts. The producer intends the text to be cohesive and coherent. From the reader's point of view, intentionality relates to relevance, a measure of importance he or she attaches to the information. However, this intention is not always clearly identifiable, as with diary entries or monologues.10 The following part of the sample text meets these requirements: “All I know is that I care about this problem, and I want to make it better. And, having seen what I've seen, and given the chance, I feel it is my responsibility to say something. ” The part shows how linguistic expressions are actions connected to intentions. It is important to state, that communication does not work by realizing the writer's real intention. But rather implying an active interpretive power to the reader, as the text is processed in his situational and contextual reality.


1 Oxford Dictionary (2000), 6. Ed., s.v. “text”, p. 1343.

2 Gansel/Jürgens (2009), p. 13.

3 Beaugrande/Dressler (1981), p. 3.

4 WordSense Online (2020), “Cohaerere“, Accessed 08.09.20.

5 Korte/Müller/Schmied (2004), p. 56-57.

6 Esser (2009), p. 35.

7 Gansel/Jürgens (2009), p. 25.

8 Beaugrande/Dressler (1981), p. 10-11.

9 Beaugrande/Dressler (1981), p. 7.

10 Dipper/Klabunde/Mihatsch (2018), p. 148.

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What makes a text a text? Criteria for text functionality
AKAD University of Applied Sciences Stuttgart
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#textuality #coherence #cohesion #dressler #debeaugrande, #linguistics #textlinguistic, #text #sprachwissenschaften #textanalysis #textproduction
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Anonymous, 2020, What makes a text a text? Criteria for text functionality, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/937932


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