Verbal vs. Textual Understanding

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"'The meaning of a word sequence is directly imposed by the public norms of language, that the test as a 'piece of language' is a public object whose character is defined by public norms'" (Hirsch 19).

When reading a poem or story, most people usually interpret the text in different ways. This may include relating to the text through emotion or simply connecting with the text based on the author’s writing style. Hirsch states a very complex issue about "textual meaning." If word sequence relates to the norms of a language, then it seems as though the author did this intentionally.

There are so many ways to understand what a text means, but many cultural influences affect that reading. While reading this text, I wondered how other countries or cultures understand a piece of literature that is designed for a specific "public norm." It seems that, as a reader, we may not ever fully understand or know what the author's intent was.

Hirsch mentioned the verification process which has specific criterion. They include "legitimacy," "correspondence," and "generic appropriateness" (Hirsch 24). These critical words are very essential in determining what type of reading people will understand.

Overall, the point that I am trying to make is every public has specific norms that determine how a piece of literature is interpreted.

A question that I thought of was what if the reader only understands that textual meaning and does not understand the verbal meaning? Will this put a negative view on how the reader portrays a certain text?

Click here for the course web page devoted to Hirsch

4 Comments

Your entry, as always, made me think. This time, I thought simply of our language. Our verbal language has many ambiguities. i think that the best example of this is with the swear words. Many of them, literally interpreted, mean nothing, but don't try to say them to your mother or anyone else because they find them offensive. I'll use a relatively harmless example. If you call a girl a "b!+(#" they will take it as an insult when literally it is just a female dog. I know that calling someone a dog means that they're ugly but in my opinion, dogs are much cuter than a lot of people. Comparing a person to a dog isn't really that big of an insult when you think about it.

By the way, my favorite thing that people say is "It's cold as hell." I don't think I need to explain myself.

Just the other day, I brought up this idea concerning people who speak foreign languages and the fact that they may have trouble understanding what the word even sounds like, let alone its meaning and the author's intent (I can't remember which blog I made the comment on). The meaning derived from any set of words, whether it is fictional or non-fictional, definitely depends on the culture, language, and experiences of the person who reads it.

Also, I just wanted to tell you, Angela, that I love your comment. I hate when people swear in general because, as you mention most swear words are only offensive because of the stigma they have gained over the years, which makes swearing pointless, and if a word is actually offensive, why should anyone want to use it? I do, however, always laugh inside when people use the ironic phrase you mentioned because they probably don't even realize that what they are saying is so ridiculous.

Thanks to both of you for these interesting and entertaining comments.

Derek, I like your perspective on public norm. Different cultures would interpret texts differently compared to their public norm. Just think about your own experiences reading works for other countries. We tend to interpret them based on our experiences. The intention of an author is mostly likely a secret.

I think Hirsch provoked a lot of responses form our class on what it means to understand a text. His article was difficult to read because he had such an intricate idea. Hirsch thinks the text is the bottom line when it comes to comprehension and we must understand that text first. But you are right about public norms and interpretation. Who's to say the two people in two very different places are ever going to draw the same conclusions about what the text means?

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This page contains a single entry by Derek Tickle published on January 28, 2009 10:40 AM.

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