Text World Theory: An Introduction

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Text World Theory: An Introduction

The aspects of cultural knowledge we shared helped us both to interpret this non-linguistic communication and to use it in the construal of meaning. However, when these expectations were not met, I did not simply abandon the conversation, but immediately began to accommodate the new experiences I was having, adjusting and expanding my existing knowledge structures in accordance with the developing discourse-world.

Crucially, I had never been in the sandwich shop before, while she had worked there for some length of time. Like the majority of human beings on the planet, however, I also have knowledge frames for US society and its population as the result of multiple exposures through films, television, literature and music, as well as in face-to-face situations in the real world.

Loved and missed by brother, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, his many friends far and wide and his community at Ealing Abbey.

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This part of the newspaper also includes announcements of births, deaths, marriages and anniversaries, all of which report the personal experiences of particular family and other small social groups in a public format. The Daily Telegraph is, of course, not the only newspaper to have a section for these kinds of announcements, and similar columns can be found in the majority of both national and local UK press.

They occupy a curious position in British society, where the details of otherwise private events, often concerning some of the most taboo areas of experience such as death and childbirth , are made available to complete strangers. The communicative act which such announcements constitute is all the more interesting from a Text World Theory point of view because, despite being publicly conducted, it often obscures the identities of the intended discourseworld participants.

As with the majority of written texts, the discourse-world of the above announcement is split, with the participants occupying separate spatial and temporal locations. Discourse-worlds can be split for a number of other reasons too. In telephone conversations, for example, the participants are communicating at the same temporal point but are normally at some physical distance from one another.

In the majority of written communication, a similar disjunction means that certain comprehension aids available to the participants in the here and now of face-to-face communication, such as the intonation and gestures used in the sandwich shop, are either inaccessible or irrelevant.

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Commonly in written communication the immediate material environment of the discourse becomes of secondary importance to the textual elements which form the main point of contact between the participants. Some written texts, particularly those with an instructive function such as recipe books or car manuals , will of course make reference to elements within the immediate vicinity of the reader.

On the whole, however, the impingement of an object or other physical discourse-world element on the discourse itself becomes less likely in split discourse-worlds, since such elements cease to be mutually perceivable by the participants. Only the text remains as a source of information from which knowledge can be incremented. The discourse-world of the Daily Telegraph announcement is split specifically between the spatio-temporal environment of its author and the spatio-temporal environment of its reader.

As already mentioned, the wide distribution of the newspaper means that there are many possible readers of the text and thus many possible environments on the readerly side of the equation. My only access to my co-participant is through the text of the announcement, which I am able to read thanks to the linguistic knowledge structures we share. However, once again, the assumption of wilfulness which motivates my participation in this discourse does not make the language at hand any easier to understand. Despite its position as a public announcement in a national newspaper, my incrementation of knowledge from this text is by no means straightforward.

A number of features of the announcement create obstacles to my understanding. I have no real idea who my co-participant is in advance of my active participation in the discourse process. This is due in part to the split nature of the discourse-world, in which I do not have access to the perceptual knowledge which might normally impact upon my understanding of a discourse in a face-to-face situation. I do not know what my co-participant looks like, what gender or age they are, even if I may have already met them in another situation.

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All of these real-world factors might ordinarily influence my understanding of the discourse-world, and my subsequent behaviour within it, before any language has even been exchanged. In written communication, however, such perceptual cues are generally reduced and the text becomes the main focus of the communicative act.


This particular text further complicates my incrementation of knowledge by not providing even a name for its author, as one would expect in a news report or piece of literary fiction, for example. This may seem a minor omission, but names can communicate a great deal of information in discourse. We may be familiar with the author named, either through personal contact, through exposure to their previous written work, or just through their reputation in the wider community. Varying degrees of this kind of experiential knowledge carry with them similarly varying expectations of how a new contact with the writer concerned is likely to develop.

Here, as in many announcements made in similar circumstances and concerning similar events, no such external clues are given and the knowledgeincrementation base is narrowed yet further to the words which make up the announcement itself. However, the author is not the only discourse-world participant to be obscured in this announcement.

The second major obstacle to my understanding of the discourse occurs when trying to deduce whether or not I am part of its intended audience. Since no direct address is made, no coparticipant is specified. Of course, I already have some ideas about the author of this text and its intended readers before I even open my copy of the Daily Telegraph. In British culture, your choice of newspaper can signify a great deal to other people and is one of the ways in which many people perceive our society to be divided politically and socially.

For me, parting with 60p for my copy of the Daily Telegraph was a somewhat painful experience, since I perceive the newspaper to represent social and political opinions which I find objectionable on the whole. I assume the authors of its contents to be similarly opposed to my left-wing political ideals and I carry a stereotype of them in my mind as right-wing, predominantly male, predominantly white, and predominantly middle-aged. These kinds of pre-conceived stereotypes may or may not be accurate, but the important point is that most of us harbour them about most national press in most cultural contexts.

A Guardian reader like me, then, is to some extent immediately alienated from the discourse-world of the Daily Telegraph and is thus positioned in rather an awkward participatory role as a kind of eavesdropper on the discourse. The wilful participation of regular Telegraph readers has the potential to extend beyond the simple comprehension of the text and into some degree of emotional involvement or identification with the events described in the newspaper.

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I am at least able to recognise these words as a name, due to my experiential knowledge of similar announcements in the press and the syntactic form they normally take in this genre of discourse. From these words I am able to infer that the named man belonged to the same national community as me. At this point in my processing of the text, my stereotyped image of a white, middle-class man with right-wing politics is also still running, since no information to the contrary has yet been presented to me.

I am processing the text according to the principle of minimal departure discussed in Chapter 1. The inference I draw from these letters is that Michael Hopley was a religious man of some standing in his community. Within the discourse-world, I perceive the black marks on the page of the newspaper while simultaneously recognising their membership of the linguistic knowledge frame I hold. I can identify the textual and generic conventions the announcement follows because of my experiences with similar texts in other contexts.

Indeed, my recognition of these significances is, in part, what defines me as a member of my cultural community in the first place. The process by which all our encounters with discourse activate selected areas of our existing knowledge is governed, in Text World Theory terms, by the principle of text-drivenness. This principle provides a manageable route into the systematic examination of context by acting as a control valve on the massive sum of personal knowledge which each participant carries with them to each discourse-world and which, in theory, has the potential to impact upon our production and reception of language in any number of ways.

The principle specifies that, from the vast store of knowledge and experience available to the participants, it is the text produced in the discourse-world that determines which areas are needed in order to process and understand the discourse at hand. My experiences of football matches, or my knowledge of how to reboot a computer remain redundant, since they are not specifically referred to in the course of the text.

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As those people who love and miss Dom. Michael Hopley O. B are listed, the focus of the discourse narrows to a precise group of people with direct real-world connections to the dead man. It is in this section of the text that the precise constitution of one side of the discourse-world relationship seems to become clearer. The list of Dom. I can now assume that the authorial participant in this communicative act is one among the listed close associates of the dead man and that the announcement itself is a means of forming a remote emotional connection with other relatives and friends on the anniversary of Dom.

Although those relatives and friends listed in the announcement are likely to have a far more detailed picture of the person who placed it than I am able to infer from the text alone, I am nevertheless only one among many unintended participants who will have become involved in this discourse-world through their reading of the Daily Telegraph.

What perhaps really makes these kinds of discourse-worlds an unsettling place to be for anyone who cannot identify themselves as a member of their intended audience is the presence, perhaps comforting for those who once knew them, of a further, rather ghostly discourse participant. The final participant involved in the discourse-world of the announcement above, then, might be Dom.

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B himself. Memories of dear Husband, Dad and Grandad. Your smile has gone forever, Your hand we cannot touch, Still we have memories, Of the one we loved so much, If tears could build a stairway, And memories a lane, We would walk right up to heaven, And bring you home again. From your loving wife Freda, son and daughter-in-law Paul and Penny and daughter and sonin-law Dawn and Graham, grandchildren Lyndsey, Kimberley, Kieran x x x Doncaster Free Press, 27 November Make a list of all the participants you think are involved in the discourseworld of this text.

Try to pinpoint which linguistic elements specify their inclusion in the discourse-world. What preconceived ideas do you have about the participants?

Text World Theory: An Introduction Text World Theory: An Introduction
Text World Theory: An Introduction Text World Theory: An Introduction
Text World Theory: An Introduction Text World Theory: An Introduction
Text World Theory: An Introduction Text World Theory: An Introduction
Text World Theory: An Introduction Text World Theory: An Introduction
Text World Theory: An Introduction Text World Theory: An Introduction
Text World Theory: An Introduction Text World Theory: An Introduction

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