Text – how to understand it

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Text – definition

text Text literally means ‘a piece of writing’.

redbtn It has now acquired the meaning ‘the object being studied’.


Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House is a text.
A letter from the Gas Board is a text.
The caption to a picture is a text.
A painting by Picasso can be a text.


redbtn The term is most used in literary studies, where it was originally used as a synonym for ‘book’.

redbtn But it could just as easily be a poem, a letter, or a diary.

redbtn It is now in general use in other branches of the humanities such as cultural studies and film studies – where its meaning becomes ‘the thing being studied’.

redbtn So — in these other fields it could also be a video film, an advertisement, a painting, or a music score.

redbtn It is used so as to concentrate attention on the object being studied, rather than its author.

redbtn The term ‘text’ is most likely to mean a piece of writing which is the subject of study.

redbtn It is important to remember those elements which are the substance of textual analysis.

redbtn These are all relevant to analysing a text or piece of writing.

audience form function genre
layout subject structure style
syntax tone vocabulary

redbtn The term ‘text’ is used in other areas of enquiry to mean ‘the item being studied’.

redbtn This contemporary usage reflects a concentration on the object of study, rather than on its author.

redbtn This is another point at which the study of language blends into literary studies or ‘critical theory’.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2004

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