Talking about text complexity in my last post, I did not realize how important it is to take the framework of text linguistics into account. This branch of linguistics is well-known in Germany but is not really meant as a topic by itself elsewhere. Most of the time, no one makes a distinction between text linguistics and discourse analysis, although the background is not necessarily the same.

I saw a presentation by Jean-Michel Adam last week, who describes himself as the “last of the Mohicans” to use this framework in French research. He drew a comprehensive picture of its origin and its developments which I am going to try and sum up.

This field started to become popular in the ‘70s with books by Eugenio Coseriu, Harald Weinrich (in Germany), Frantisek Danek (and the Functional Sentence Perspective Framework) or MAK Halliday who was a lot more read in English-speaking countries. Text linguistics is not a grammatical description of language, nor is it bound to a particular language. It is a science of the texts, a theory which comes on top of several levels such as semantics or structure analysis. It enables to distinguish several classes of texts at a global level.

This goes towards a sequence theory, which encompasses text genres as a dynamic model to form a typology where a given text is always linked to other texts, intertextual references or various steps of the edition of it. These “textual states” are to be considered, as they build a text object. The “co-texts” are also to be thought of as a whole : for instance in the tales of Charles Perrault, where adding or leaving behind a tale changes the structure of the whole. It is the same when an editor modifies the primitive order of the tales, because they were written by Perrault with a deep insight of indirect references between the characters and the scenes of the whole book.

Thus, discourse and text are to be integrated in a frame where the text is seen from a technical and methodological point of view, for instance to analyze linguistic phenomena like the organization of verbal units, but also from a philological point of view, as a material or an object which is built by the analysis that one makes of it.

As a conclusion, Jean-Michel Adam said that literary texts are not to be studied apart from all other text genres, since things have to be seen as a whole where the nearest text to a literary one might be a text from another field. The existence of an isolated literary field is a consequence of a historical and ideological move. There is room for stylistic analysis (which is quite popular in France) AND for other approaches.

A few seminal references

  • F. Daneš, “Functional Sentence Perspective and the Organization of the Text”, Papers on Functional Sentence Perspective, pp. 100-128, 1974.
  • M. A. K. Halliday, “Functional Diversity in Language as seen from a consideration of modality and mood in English”, Foundations of language, vol. 6, iss. 3, pp. 322-361, 1970.
  • H. Isenberg, “Der Begriff “Text” in der Sprachtheorie”, Arbeitsstelle für strukturelle Grammatik, pp. 1-21, 1970.
  • H. Weinrich, “Textlinguistik : Zur Syntax des Artikels in der Deutschen Sprache”, Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik, vol. 1, pp. 61-74, 1969.
  • M. A. K. Halliday, “Notes on transitivity and theme in English”, Journal of Linguistics, vol. 3, iss. 02, pp. 199-244, 1967.
  • H. Weinrich, Tempus: besprochene und erzählte Welt, Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1964.
  • E. Coseriu, “Determinacion y entorno. De los problemas de una linguistica del hablar”, Romanistisches Jahrbuch, vol. 7, pp. 29-54, 1956.