text (language studies)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Novelist and critic Umberto Eco describes texts as "lazy machineries that ask someone to do part of their job" (The Role of the Reader, 1979). (Giuseppe Ceschi/Getty Images)


In linguistics, the term text refers to:

(1) The original words of something written, printed, or spoken, in contrast to a summary or paraphrase.

(2) A coherent stretch of language that may be regarded as an object of critical analysis.

Text linguistics is a variety of discourse analysis that's concerned with the description and analysis of extended texts (those beyond the level of the sentence) in communicative contexts.

As discussed in Texting (and as mentioned below by Barton and Lee), in recent years the notion of text has been altered by the dynamics of social media. 

See the observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "texture, context, weave"


  • "Text. A stretch of language, either in speech or in writing, that is semantically and pragmatically coherent in its real-world context. A text can range from just one word (e.g. a SLOW sign on the road) to a sequence of utterances or sentences in a speech, a letter, a novel, etc."
    (Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • Coherence and Cohesion
    "On the one hand, TEXT may be defined as 'any sequence of sentences having a certain coherence,' and in this weak sense of the term each folk-tale is a text. On the other hand text may be defined more rigorously as 'any unchangeable sequence of sentences which has a strong cohesion and the unchangeable character of which is related to a value system of some sort.'"
    (Thomas G. Pavel, "Some Remarks on Narrative Grammars," in Linguistic Perspectives on Literature, ed. by M. K. L. Ching et al. Taylor & Francis, 1980)
  • Macrostructure
    "As a result of a communicative act, a text may be defined as a relatively independent and hierarchically structured linguistic unit (macrostructure) which reflects a complex state of affairs and has a specific communicative intention. The state of affairs may refer to the real world or to the world of imagination and fiction."
    (Rosemarie Glaser, "A Plea for Phraseo-Stylistics," in Linguistics Across Historical and Geographical Boundaries, ed. by Dieter Kastovsky and A. J. Szwedek. Walter de Gruyter, 1986)

  • Online Texts
    "For linguistics and the study of language more broadly, a set of stable concepts that have been developed in the past few decades are now overturned. The word 'text' is an example. First of all, texts can no longer be thought of as relatively fixed and stable. They are more fluid with the changing affordances of new media. In addition, they are becoming increasingly multimodal and interactive. Links between texts are complex online, and intertextuality is common in online texts as people draw upon and play with other texts available on the web. . . .

    "A simple Twitter post on a screen is a short text. It is located within a set of messages or tweets earlier and later. At the same time, it is located within a page of other writing. A tweet on a page may be an original post of the author or it can be a reposting of a tweet (a 'retweet') written by another member of Twitter. These relationships between texts are particular to Twitter and on other sites such as Facebook, weblogs, or Wikipedia, there will be different relationships between texts."
    (David Barton and Carmen Lee, Language Online: Investigating Digital Texts and Practices. Routledge, 2013)


Pronunciation: TEKST