text definition by Henry Widdowson - What is text

Text definition by Henry Widdowson – What is text?!

Text definition? seriously?

Yes! In this article, I try to summarise and give you definition of text from Henry Widdowson’s view in his book entitled Text, Context, Pretext – Critical Issues in Discourse Analysis. Text definition is so important for us as students of translation studies, or better yet, who are involved in the act of translation. We should at least know one definition of what we work with every day! How do you define text from a translators point of view?

Henry Widdowson has an interesting way of text definition. Those who read the above-mentioned book completely know Henry’s solid and interesting writing style that without telling you anything, he tells you everything! After reading each chapter, you feel like you know everything in that matter but yet cannot make a definite conclusion! That’s the beauty. Of course, all these are my opinions.

Text definition, as opposed to discourse

Henry Widdowson in the first chapter called ‘Text and Discourse’ tries to make a distinction between text and discourse and in this process gives us a clear idea of what the text is. He starts the discussion by saying that there is a great deal of uncertainty about what discourse analysis is and suggests that mostly some scholars take it to be synonymous with the text.

Michael Stubbs is one of these scholars that defines discourse analysis as attempts to study the organization of language above sentence or clause and larger linguistic units. This definition is unclear, because looking at above sentence or above clause, is actually different. in this definition, there cannot be discourse below the sentence. He mostly considers written texts in discourse analysis and takes the text as written and synonymous with discourse.

Zellig Harris is another one who defines discourse as looking at how language is organized as connected discourses and how patterns of formal equivalences are stretched as morpheme sequences in texts. In this kind of analysis, on the basis of the environment, expressions become equivalents to each other and a kind of chain reaction gets created. Harris also takes equivalences based on underlying structural similarity by means of transformations, which Widdowson criticizes it by saying that they are not similar at all. This approach is limited because by finding underlying equivalences, we cannot tell what the text means. For Harris, the interpretation involves two factors: meaning of morphemes, and author’s intention.

Even Oxford International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, takes text and discourse as having similar meaning and both referring to units larger than a sentence.

From Henry Widdowson’s view, all these definitions are a matter of extending the scope of grammar and they take text and discourse as synonyms.

How Henry Widdowson views text?

As Henry Widdowson observes, we can see just one word, or even one letter can constitute a text. One good example is public signs, in which a letter like P can indicate a parking slot. Some take these to be just a shorthand versions of larger texts, but how the writers now that I get parking lot from the letter P? this depends on something outside of the text itself and that is context, and I get surrounding context when I socialize in a reality and I know how to use language indexically.

Texts can have any shapes and sizes, written or spoken, just a letter or just a word. But identifying a text is not the same as interpreting it. This is where discourse and text are different. The text itself does not have any meaning. The text is just an indexical usage of language, and through contextual connection, activates our extralinguistic reality, and this conversion of a symbol is called discourse. Discourse is the pragmatic process of a meaning negotiation, and text is its physical product.

So it is quite clear that text is a physical product and we get meaning from this text through a process called discourse.

Tell us about your ideas! What do you think a text means?

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