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Review of  Text Types and the History of English

Reviewer: Marina Santini
Book Title: Text Types and the History of English
Book Author: Manfred Görlach
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.3136

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Date: Mon, 01 Nov 2004 20:41:03 +0000
From: Marina Santini
Subject: Text Types and the History of English

AUTHOR: Görlach, Manfred
TITLE: Text Types and the History of English
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 139
YEAR: 2004
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter

Marina Santini, PhD Student, University of Brighton, UK


The volume "Text Types and the History of English" written by Manfred
Görlach includes a Foreword by Hans-Jürgen Diller, eleven chapters plus
tables of contents, indexes and a bibliography. Most of the chapters of
this book are revised and/or expanded versions of papers or articles
published by the author in different proceedings, journals or books. Only
Chapters 6 and 7 are declared to be written for the actual book "in order
to widen the base of text types characterized in more detail than just the
definition" (p. 163). For Chapter 8 the author does not say whether it is
an expansion or variation of a previous paper or whether it has been
written for the present book.

The book has three main foci: synchronic/diachronic genre analysis
(Chapters 2 and 3), diachronic qualitative analysis of specific genres
(from Chapter 4 to Chapter 8), cross-linguistic genre analysis (Chapters 9
and 10).

The interesting Foreword by Hans-Jürgen Diller sets Görlach in his
background and field of interest. Diller highlights what is special with
Görlach and which are his main contributions to the field, namely the
lexicon of text class names, the exemplary analysis of text classes, and
the development of text classes in the context of national varieties (p.

Chapter 1 is a short Preface, where the author declares his intention to
summarize his reflexions on what he sees as one of the most important and
most neglected topics of synchronic and diachronic linguistics, i.e. the
study of text types (p.1). The author's claim is that text typology and
the interpretation of individual texts over time and geographical space
yield insight into cultural history and linguistic variation. The Preface
ends with acknowledgements.

Chapter 2, "A history of text types: A componential analysis", describes
the development of text types within a culture, contains the componential
analysis and includes two lists of text types. The author starts giving a
diachronic interpretation of text type formation by pointing out that
after 1500 the decline of international languages (Latin in Western Europe
and French in many societies) foster many European national languages to
elaborate, regularize and refine their structure and lexicon. As for
English, three methods are mainly used in the process of standardization:
1) the continuation of an earlier type 2) the transfer of features from an
existing type to a new type 3) the borrowing of text types and their
concomitant features from another language and culture (p. 5).

In his componential analysis Görlach adopts a structuralist approach. He
selects 25 semantic/encyclopaedic components -- such as field, intention,
action, music, and illustration -- to build a grid that helps analyze text
types according to specific traits. The author realizes that a
classification for modern English using this grid might not be fully
manageable, nonetheless he expresses the hope that this approach will help
understand why certain linguistic features are preferred in individual
text types and not in others, thus complementing the research undertaken
by Biber (p. 21).A large part of this chapter is made up by extensive
lists, the first one comprising 2000 text types for modern English; the
second one containing 669 Old English text types. The author also suggests
some explanations for the formation of labels designating text types. The
various explanations he offers are: the labels can be totally new, they
can be existing terms applied to the new text-specific context, they can
be derived by metonymy, they can refer to the name of an activity, they
can take the name of a speech act.

In Chapter 3, "Text types and the linguistic history of modern English",
the author presents a short survey on existing research of text types,
explaining that the concept of text types is a "fairly recent addition to
the instrumentarium of synchronic and historical linguistics" (p. 102),
then gives his own definition of the term. He states that as we are now,
we don't know how many text types are used in a particular culture, nor
the distinctive features they bear. Only literary genres have been studied
in depth, but their functions are different from the functions of
instrumental texts. For Görlach a "text type is a specific linguistic
pattern in which formal/structural characteristics have been
conventionalized in a specific culture for certain well-defined and
standardized uses of language" (p. 105), so that a speaker/hearer or
writer/reader can judge the correct use of linguistic features obligatory
or expected in a specific text type, the adequate use of formulae, the
identification of mixed types, and the labels used to designate text
types. He acutely points out some problems, rarely taken into
consideration by other linguists, related to the delimitation of text
types. For example, a text type can be bound or free, it can be a
conglomerate including smaller types, and so on. Then he illustrates his
approach to text type analysis with an interesting diachronic pilot study
(carried out using non-quantificational methods) on a bound text type, the
dedicatory epistle.

Chapter 4, "Text types and language history: the cooking recipe", is
mainly dedicated to the "recipe", which represents a good example of how a
conventional text type emerges and relates to socio-historical changes.
The author provides a diachronic (Old English period, Middle English
period, period after 1500) and cross-cultural account (Scotland, India,
New Guinea) of this text type.

The main aim of Chapter 5, "A linguistic history of advertising", is to
explore the stages through which the modern commercial advertisement has
developed. The author concentrates on the time before 1900, and on
specimens in which texts predominate rather than illustrations. He uses
evidence both from social and cultural history as well as from
linguistics. Finally, he points out that advertising has been exported
into communities using English as a feature of newspapers and
radio/television, thus modifying existing traditions or creating a new

In Chapter 6, "The church hymn", the author investigates the historical
foundations of the church hymn and its features. The peculiar trait of the
hymn as a text type lies in "the degree of 'openness' of texts which made
it possible to adapt to the needs of individual denominations, dioceses or
even parishes, thus raising the difficult problem of identity of hymns
sometimes changed almost beyond recognition" (p. 173).

In Chapter 7, "Lexical entries", the lexical entry is analysed as a text
type. After having highlighted that lexical entries heavily depend of the
type of book they are found in, the compiler's intentions and other
factors, the author analyses entries in monolingual dictionaries of modern
English. He observes that entries tend to be quite narrative in style and
content in the early stages, while nowadays they are more formalized and

In Chapter 8, "Linguistic aspects of jokes", the author states that jokes
come in many different forms. As their effectiveness depends on many
different factors, it is difficult both to describe and categorize them.
The author provides a useful typology of texts that are similar to jokes.
Then he analyses only those jokes which rely on language for their

In Chapter 9, "Text types and the history of Scots", the author
concentrates on text types in Scots produced after 1700. He analyzes
formal texts (such as administrative texts), informal language (for
instance, private letters), and literary texts (like lyrical poems). His
conclusion is that Scots has undergone a functional reduction, and this
destandardization has been accompanied by the shrinking of the number of
text types in which the language is employed.

In Chapter 10, "Text types in Indian English", the author acutely points
out that a second language, like English in India, cannot be expected to
exhibit the full range of styles, domains and text types. In such a
situation, usually models and norms tend to be borrowed from outside.
After having carried out his own analysis on a collection of Indian texts
written in English, he reaches the conclusion that there is a need for
further studies on a larger corpus to show how much variation there is
within the individual text types, and how special are Indian texts written
in English.

Chapter 11, "Facsimiles", includes 34 original reproductions of texts that
support chapters 3, 4, 5 and 10. The source format, with original
typefaces and illustrations, has important semiotic functions, especially
for text types like advertisements. This section is an important
contribution because the original formats of the texts analysed in the
book give a better idea of the cultural context in which they have been


Overall, this book is a valuable contribution to the field of synchronic,
diachronic and cross-linguistic genre analysis. It is a useful point of
reference for all those dealing with genres and text types (the
problematic nature of these two terms will be discussed below).

One of the main strengths of the volume is the insight that Görlach
provides on how genres form and develop in a cultural context. Especially,
the introductory part of Chapter 2 is enlightening in this respect,
because it provides an overview of the development of text types over
time. Additionally, some specific issues are of great interest for genre
analysts, for instance the need for a label when text types become
conventionalized (p. 9 and p. 142), vagueness and elusiveness as necessary
conditions before a novel text type becomes formally and functionally
established (p. 108) and so on. This insight can be helpful in
neighbouring research fields, for instance it can help understand the
formation of electronic genres or Web genres, so pervasive in recent
years. The author is aware on the evolution of text types in relation to
Information Technology, and includes an electronic genre (e-mail) in his
extensive list of modern English text types (p. 40).

The book has also other strengths. I will focus on two of them. First, the
author provides two comprehensive lists, one of old English text types
(669 items) and one of modern English text types (2000 items). They are
useful repertoires, valuable in themselves and as starting points for
further studies. Second, the grid of 25 categories used for the
componential analysis helps the genre analyst reduce the individual text
types into clusters of semantic components and is a good conceptual tool.

An interesting point of reflexion the author makes is about German text
linguistics from the 1970s, which has not made its way into the Anglo-
Saxon tradition (p. 7). It would be great if English translations from
this branch of linguistics were published. Unfortunately, only few of
these linguists wrote in English, and most of them remain untranslated.

Despite of the many merits of the book, some points remain doubtful.

Although it is good that many different conference papers have been
brought together in one single volume, the book sometimes appears not to
be an organic whole. This becomes clear when it comes to the definition
of "text type", which is given as late as Chapter 3, p. 105. Such a
disputed term, instead, should be defined in the very first pages, in
order for the reader to understand the author's claims and stance.

Another perplexity arises from the fact that the author does not give the
definition of the term "genre" and its relation to the term "text type".
Some authors (such as Stubbs 1998: 11) state explicitly that they use the
two terms interchangeably. But Görlach does not specify his use of these
two terms. The reader tends to assume that the author makes no distinction
between them, because he refers to concepts that are usually related to
the definition of genre when he talks about text types, for example
writers' intentions, readers' expectations (p. 8) and conventions (p. 9).
But then on p. 102 there is a surprising differentiation between text
types and genres, when the author states that only literary genres have
been extensively studied, while text types have been neglected. The use of
Görlach's terminology becomes clear only if the reader knows that some
German-speaking text typologists have the tendency to attach a literary
connotation to the word "genre" and they prefer a different label to refer
to other types of texts (Diller 2001). Görlach's definition of text type,
however, does not explicitly mention any non-literary specialization of
the term "text type", and it remains hard to work out this distinction,
also because the term "genre" is used as synonym of "text type" in several
places in the book.

An additional source of confusion stems from Görlach's use of text type in
relation to other scholars' use of this term. Görlach states that his
research is going to complement the relevant research undertaken by Biber
who analyses "the patterning of a large set of linguistic features, their
frequencies and combinability in various text types (p. 21)". From this
sentence, the reader assumes that Biber and Görlach share the definition
of the term "text type". This is, however, not the case. While Görlach
lists 2000 text types for modern English, Biber 1989 suggests only eight
text types for English (Intimate personal interaction, Informational
interaction, Scientific exposition, Learned exposition, Imaginative
narrative, General narrative exposition, Situated reportage, Involved
persuasion), which are very different from Görlach's ones. Diller tries to
remedy this confusion in a footnote in the Foreword (p. xv, Note 1), but
it remains difficult to understand the analogy or the complementarity
between Görlach's text types and Biber's.

The relation with other text typologists remains unclear also when we move
from the Anglo-Saxon tradition to the German tradition. For example,
Werlich's text types (Werlich is one of the German linguists of the 70s
mentioned by Görlach on p. 7) are "idealized norm of distinctive text
structuring" (Werlich 1976: 39). In Werlich's view, the encoder has a
choice among five text types: description, narration, exposition,
argumentation, and instruction. Again, this text typology differs from
Görlach's text typology.

As Görlach himself points out, the study of text types is relatively new,
and probably text typologists must make the additional effort to describe
their position unambiguously within this novel discipline.

All these objections and points of discussion do not diminish the value of
the book, which remains an important work in genre analysis of English

Proofreading is nearly flawless. An erroneous reference is on p. 5 (the
history of Scots is in Chapter 9, not in Chapter 7). Figure 10 would need
additional explanation.


Biber, Douglas (1989) A typology of English texts, in Linguistics 27, 3-43.

Diller, Hans-Jürgen (2001) Genre in linguistic and related discourses, in
Diller, Hans-Jürgen and Görlach, Manfred (eds.), Towards a History of
English of English as a History of Genres, 2001, Winter, Heidelberg, pp. 3-

Stubbs M. (1998) Text and Corpus Analysis, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford
(first published in 1996).

Werlich E. (1976), A Text Grammar of English, Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg


Marina Santini is a PhD candidate in Computational Linguistics at ITRI
(Information Technology Research Institute), University of Brighton, UK.
Her general research interests include computational analysis of text
types and genres, and her specific research project focuses on automated
identification of Web genres.

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