Traditional interpretation of the notion “text”

Traditional interpretation of the notion “text”

It is really difficult to find another term in the field of linguistics that would be used so often, but at the same time would be as ambiguous as the term “text”. Similar problem is faced with hundreds of sentence definitions. They don’t reveal the essence of the term, but only demonstrate the complexity of the defined object, reflecting different approaches to its description. In the same way an enormous amount of miscellaneous text definitions that pretend to be full and objective can not elucidate all aspects of the given phenomenon. These definitions reflect various authors’ approaches to the nature, characteristics and analysis of a text, A number of factors stipulate the difficulty of interpretation of the notion “text”. Let us give some of them a closer consideration.

Modern reference books give several meanings of the word “text”. Compare, for instance:


1) the author’s composition or a document reproduced in a written (typed) form;

2) the main part of the printed matter – without pictures, draughts, footnotes, etc.;

3) lyrics for a musical composition (opera, song, etc.); music text – musical body of a composition presented in notes;

4) typographical print the size of which is equal to 20 points (7,52 mm);

5) in semiotics and linguistics – succession of signs (in language or other system of signs) that makes up a single entity and constitutes the object of a specific science – Text Linguistics.

Let us add two more meanings to the five mentioned above- text as an original and text as canonical text, of the holly script (in theology). Thus, polysemy of the word “text” is confirmed by lexicographical sources.

Let us choose one highly significant definition of a text out of many existing. “The Concise Dictionary of Linguistic Terms” defines a text as “a meaningful succession of verbal signs characterized by coherence and unity and also by impossibility of deriving the general sense out of the sum of the constituent meanings”. In the general semiotic sense the text is understood as any organized totality of signs developing in time and space, for instance’ ceremony as a text, culture as a text, dance as a text.

Generally speaking, the simultaneous functioning of the word “text” as a language unit and as a scientific term doesn’t contribute to its monosemantic interpretation. K.Ehilch considers it to be dangerous for science, “because the involvement of a term into the spoken language rarely takes place Without a loss in the ‘semantic exactness which is essential for the special terminology” .

Let us ignore the highly specialized interpretations of a text in printing, music, theology and address the two meanings: (1) concerning the everyday usage of this word; and (2) its use in the linguistic practice. Traditionally text: in everyday usage is treated as “any written work, its part or extract”.

Here the reference is intentionally made to one of the earlier editions of the Ozhegov Dictionary to emphasize once again the established tradition in understanding of this word. This tradition has been preserved up to the present days. In a later edition of Ozhegov Dictionary a text, in the same way, is understood as “any recorded speech (literary work, composition, document or its part or abstract)”.

This definition is literally reproduced in the fourth edition of the “Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language” of S.I. Ozhegov and N.Yu. Shvedova. Besides, this dictionary also gives a precise modern linguistic definition, according to which a text is interpreted as “an innerly organized sequence of segments of a written work, or recorded, or sounding speech, relatively complete in its content and structure”. However, in common human consciousness a text appears, first of all, as a speech product fixed in a written form.

In this respect the common understanding of a text is similar to its traditional scientific (to be precise, traditional philological) interpretation. Philology incorporating a number of the Humanities – general linguistics, literary criticism, textology, etc, studies the human spiritual culture through the linguistic and stylistic analysis of the written texts.

Actually, modern history of general linguistics is connected with the study of written texts. And here comes an inevitable contradiction. On the one hand, both in the mass consciousness and in the traditional scientific concepts, the word “text” is associated with the written form of communication, and on the other, the main part of any person’s speech activity consists, without any doubt, in communication that is represented by an immediately created oral speech unprepared in its form. Thus, notwithstanding the fact that terminology and methodology of modern linguistics was formed for the analysis of written speech forms, a scholar today must take into account oral speech forms as well since they are subject to linguistic description.