- Rossana De AngelisRossana De AngelisFaculty of Letters, Languages and Human Sciences, Paris-Est Créteil University
The concept of “text” is ambiguous: it can identify at the same time a concrete reality and an abstract one. Indeed, text presents itself both as an empirical object subject to analysis and an abstract object constructed by the analysis itself. This duplicity characterizes the development of the concept in the 20th century.
According to different theories of language, there are also different understandings of “text”: a restricted use as written text, an extensive use as written and spoken text, and an expanded use as any written, verbal, gestural, or visual manifestation. The concept of “text” also presupposes two other concepts: from a generative point of view, it involves a proceeding by which something becomes a text (textualization); from an interpretative point of view, it involves a proceeding by which something can be interpreted as a text (textuality).
In textual linguistics, “text” is considered at the same time as an abstract object, issued from a specific theoretical approach, and a concrete object, a linguistic phenomenon starting the process of analysis. In textual linguistics, textuality presents as a global quality of text issued from the interlacing of the sentences composing it.
In linguistics, the definition of textuality depends on the definition of text. For instance, M. A. K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan define textuality through the concepts of “cohesion” and “coherence.” Cohesion is a necessary condition of textuality, because it enables text to be perceived as a whole, but it’s not sufficient to explain it. In fact, to be interpreted as a whole, the elements composing the text need to be coherent to each other. But according to Robert-Alain De Beaugrande and Wolfgang Ulrich Dressler, cohesion and coherence are only two of the seven principles of textuality (the other five being intentionality, acceptability, informativity, situationality, and intertextuality).
Textual pragmatics deals with a more complex problem: that of the text conceived as an empirical object. Here the text is presented as a unit captured in a communication process, “a communicative unit.” Considered from a pragmatic point of view, every single unit composing a text constitutes an instruction for meaning. Since the 1970s, analyzing connections between texts and contexts, textual pragmatics, has been an important source of inspiration for textual semiotics.
In semiotics, the theory of language proposed by Louis T. Hjelmslev, the concept of “text” is conceived above all as a process and a “relational hierarchy.” Furthermore, according to Hjelmslev, textuality consists in the idea of “mutual dependencies,” composing a whole which makes the text an “absolute totality” to be interpreted by readers and analyzed by linguists. Since texts are composed of a network of connections at both local and global levels, their analyses depend on the possibility to reconstruct the relation between global and local dimensions.
For this reason, François Rastier suggests that in order to capture the meaning of a text, the semantic analysis must identify semantic forms at different semantic levels. So textuality comes from the articulation between the semantic and phemic forms (content and expression), and from the semantic and phemic roots from which the forms emerge. Textuality allows the reader to identify the interpretative paths through which to understand the text. This complex dynamic is at the foundation of this idea of textuality.
Now that digital texts are available, researchers have developed several methods and tools to exploit such digital texts and discourse, representing at the same time different approaches to meaning. Text Mining is based on a simple principle: the identification and processing of textual contents to extract knowledge. By using digital tools, the intra-textual and inter-textual links can be visualized on the screen, as lists or tables of results, which permits the analysis of the occurrences and frequency of certain textual elements composing the digital texts. So, another idea of text is visible to the linguist: not the classical one according to the culture of printed texts, but a new one typical of the culture of digital texts, and their textuality.