The Problem of the ‘Sign Status’ of a Text. Can a Text be Considered a Language Sign?

The Problem of the ‘Sign Status’ of a Text. Can a Text be Considered a Language Sign?

To answer the question whether a text can be considered a language sign we should first resort to the main qualities of a language sign and see whether they are characteristic of a text.

A language sign is an ideal material formation (bilateral language unit), that represents an object, quality or relation of reality; in their unity language signs form a sign system of a particular kind -language. A sign of language is a unity of a certain cognitive content (the signified) and a chain of phonemically divided signs (signifying). The two sides of a language sign being related to each other through mind, form a stable (set) unity, that represents the meaning. Only in the unity and interrelation of the two sides of a language sign consciousness may “grasp and a sign may signify and express a certain ‘fragment of reality’, certain facts and events.

Thus, the quality of being bilateral may be considered a quality of language signs. The relation between material form (exponent) and content of a sign is stable. The stability of this relation is based on constant recurrence (repetitiveness) of language signs in numerous communicative acts. Besides, as Yu.S. Maslov sees it, “the relation between exponent and content, set for each sign, is conventional, based on social agreement”. As to the content of a sign, it is worth mentioning that its relation to the signified by the sign reality is, as Yu.S. Maslov puts it, of a different character. The content of a sign is a generalized and schematic reflection of objects, phenomena and situations of reality in the consciousness of the people using this sign.

According to Yu.S. Maslov’s conception, only two language units – a word and a morpheme – meet the presented above criteria of a language sign. A sentence as a higher language unit is a certain combination of language signs created according to a model in the process of an utterance production. The cases of one-word or even one-morpheme sentences do not prove there is no difference between a sentence and a word (morpheme).

The followers’ of this classical theory of language signs (expressed in Maslov’s conception) consider that a text may not have a status of a language sign. A text undoubtedly possesses both the plane of expression and the plane of content.

V.B. Kasevych considers a text a “constructive” unit and sees its particular status in the fact that such qualities (characteristics) of speech organization as integrity and connectedness are realized in the text proper. Formally a text has a beginning and,an ending, as well as other qualities indicating at existence of a text in time (if a text is read aloud).

Other linguists approach the problem of a sign status of a text in a different way. Thus, Metzler’s Linguistic Dictionary defines a language sign as an element of language system that can be singled out. According to this approach language signs are subdivided into distinctive (phonemes, graphemes) and significative. On the significative level language signs present a,conventional, unity of expression (sound or written form, the signified) and content (meaning, the signifying), as is the case with morphemes, composites, and phraseological units. Sentences and texts are also included into this group.

Such understanding of a sign status of a text may be explained by a peculiar approach of some scientists to the interpretation of a language sign. Language sign is sometimes treated as a unilateral entity. In R. Camap’s works, for example, the notion “sign” was transformed and adjusted to the needs of special field of knowledge, mainly, mathematics and physics.

Traditionally, a sign is treated as a bilateral entity, formed by the relation of the form of a sign and its meaning. In R. Camap’s theory a sign is considered equal to “language expression”, thus being reduced to the form of a sign, to a unilateral entity. In R. Camap’s interpretation the quality “to belong to the system” rather than, the quality “to substitute something” becomes the characteristic feature of a sign. According to this approach a text may also be considered a language unit, having the status of a language sign.

Some linguists consider that not only words and morphemes, but speech utterances as well are units that have two sides — the plane of expression and the plane of content. Other distinctive features of a language sign are not taken into consideration here. In such a case it is possible to consider a sentence and a text as language signs. Similar point of view is represented in the works of L. Hielmslev and his followers.