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COHESION, COHERENCE AND ABSURDITY: THE WE MAKE SENSE OUT OF TEXTS
Let us look at the following two groups of sentencesi.Sachin Tendulkar stared at yet another challenge when he left Mumbai on Saturday with wife Anjali for London. The maestro will be operated on his right shoulder by dr. Andrew Wallace on Monday. Since he needs around eight weeks to recover, Tendulkar has been ruled out of the ODI series against England. There is question mark about his availability for India’s tour of West Indies as well. (Hindu, 26/3/ 2006) ii .Indian democracy is in a very bad state. Cricket is a very interesting game. Sachin scored a century recently. Well, the summer is going to be very hot. Whereas i. above will be immediately recognized as a coherent text, ii. will be difficult to make sense of. The difference between the two is that i. is a text, where as ii. is merely a group of sentences put together without any logical or grammatical connection between the sentences. i. is ‘coherent’: ii. is absurd. Let us now look at the concepts of cohesion, coherence and absurdity keeping in mind the above two examples. We will be mainly asking ourselves what are the elements that make i. a meaningful text and ii. an absurd collage of sentences. To begin with, let us talk about textuality. Textuality is “---what enables the speaker or writer to construct ‘texts’, or connected passages of discourse that is

van also makes similar point when he says “ ----( cohesion is) the syntactic organization of discourse which can be recognized by the discourse receiver. we are lapsing into metaphor. Infact the domain of text and discourse linguistics is more congruent with that of rhetoric than with that of syntax” (1985: 13). Meaningful text manifests both cohesion and coherence. and the relation of each part of the discourse to the whole and to the setting” ( Halliday. For a long time the dominant trend in linguistics was to look at sentence as the basic unit of language.1980: 50). only bigger.” And they say “The semantic organization of discourse can to a large extent be characterized as a set of properties which we designate by the term ‘coherence” (Bublidge et al. As van Dijk says “Those syntactic relationships that have traditionally formed the core of grammar-hold only within the sentence. Velde D. 1999:5). Let us now see how intersentential relations lead to textuality. Bublidge et al use the term cohesion for “the syntactic organization of discourse which can be recognized by the discourse receiver.--The semantic . If we extend them to descriptions of intersentential relations. we will have to move beyond sentence. the development of discourse analysis lead to a study of the larger-than-sentence units and it was seen that textual organization is not a mere extension of syntactic organization. However.2 situationally relevant” and “--. it is something that differs from a sentence in kind” (1976: 2).it expresses the structure of information. The term cohesion is generally used to refer to the grammatical connectivity between the sentences of a discourse and coherence is used to refer to the semantic organization of the content. Halliday and Hasan make the same point when they say “A text is not something that differs from a sentence. ------. For example. as quoted in Joia and Stenton. It is clear that when talking about texts.

whereas coherence refers to the semantic connectedness. Broadly. To see how it shows cohesion. Sachin Tendulkar stared at yet another challenge when he left Mumbai on Saturday with wife Anjali for London. The famous first sentence of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ -It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man with good fortune is in need of a wifecan be an example of catophoric cohesion. Another broad category is catophoric and anaphoric. The maestro will be operated on his right shoulder by dr. Thus cohesion refers to the grammatical connectedness between sentences of a text. As they say “Cohesion occurs when the interpretation of some element in discourse is dependent on another” (1972:4). conjunction and lexical cohesion are the different types of cohesion in English. ellipsis. They say that in a text. if the interpretation depends on what is to follow. Andrew Wallace on Monday. we have exophoric cohesion. the cohesive ties can be either exophoric or endophoric. substitution. Halliday and Hasan further say that reference. When we have to go outside the text to interpret the tie. we have catophoric cohesion. Let us now look at the passage i. Tendulkar has been ruled out of the ODI . When the interpretation of a tie depends on what has preceded.3 organization of discourse can to a large extent characterized as a set of properties which we designate by the term ‘coherence’” (1984: 5). we have anaphoric cohesion. Halliday and Hasan(1976) make a detailed analysis of cohesion in English in their book ‘Cohesion on English’. Let us first look at the concept of cohesion. Since he needs around eight weeks to recover. the sentences are interconnected. There can be immediate ties and remote ties. There are ‘ties’ that bind the sentences together.

does not show any of these connectionsIndian democracy is in a very bad state. Let us see the different ways in which the sentences connect together. When connected with the second clause in the sentence (Since he needs around eight weeks to recover. The final sentence uses an additive conjunction in ‘as well’. There is no explicit grammatical connectivity among the different sentences of the passage. But text ii. However. the summer is going to be very hot. for example look at the word ‘maestro’ which is used to refer to Tendulkar. grammatical connectedness in itself can not fully account for the well formed ness of the texts. What makes us think that it is Tendulkar that we are . This is case of lexical cohesion that uses a general word. In the first sentence. Thus even a small passage like this shows many grammatical links among the sentences and these links make the passage a meaningful text. There is question mark about his availability for India’s tour of West Indies as well. Well. above. Sachin scored a century recently. The next sentence uses the personal pronoun ‘he’ and this is a personal reference.4 series against England. Cricket is a very interesting game. In the passage i. it can be seen as an example of catophoric cohesion. we have his name. There is lexical repetition in the repetition of the name Tendulkar. The second sentence uses the word ‘maestro’ to refer to him. The passage is about Tendulkar. Tendulkar has been ruled out of the ODI series against England ).

For example. it is possible to form a text that exhibits all grammatical connectedness. The maestro wanted to use his height for advantage. It even uses the word ‘maestro’ to refer to Tendulkar. 9246271113. but one which still can be called absurd. But to anyone who knows cricket. look at the following hypothetical textvi. Expert motor driving school for Ladies and gents 22 years of excellent Service branch road no. Sachin Tendulkar was batting on 50. The above is an advertisement for a driving school.Mart. He looked at the bowler who was getting ready to serve. We also can recognize whereto locate the school. but still we can not say that this is absurd. The passage exhibits all the cohesive ties that we saw in text i. Similarly. Sachin held his racket firmly and got ready for a forehand.5 talking about? If the word was used with respect to some other batsman (say. the text is absurd. Here is an example of a text which does not exhibit cohesion. could we have made the connection? And how does ‘yet another challenge’ make sense? Let us look at another exampleiii. Kaif). Those who know Tendulkar’s height will also wonder how he can make use of all his five foot four inch frame. though this is possible only if we are Hyderabadis. Thus cohesion in itself is not enough to account for the . Banjarahills. We make clear sense of the passage even when there is no clear and explicit cohesion.2. For example. we recognize the phone number even when the text has not mentioned that it is a phone number. Beside Q.

A coherent discourse has a high degree of --. We are talking about whether and how a discourse makes sense---” (Edmundson. ---. As Brown and Yule say “The reaction of some scholars to the question of ‘coherence’ is to search for cues to coherence within the text and this may indeed yield a descriptive account of the characteristics of some types of text. coherence is “The degree to which a piece of discourse makes sense.connectedness” (Trask. however. 1999: 252). It ignores. Lindemann expresses these levels in the following way- . For example. The usual definitions of coherence focus on the textual properties that can be determined linguistically and on the contextual properties that depend on the reader’s knowledge of the linguistic and non-linguistic facts of his culture.6 well-connectedness of a text. But it is necessary to point out that connectedness and ‘making sense’ are two different phenomena that require different strategies from the reader and there is a need to distinguish between the text-intrinsic and the text-extrinsic organization.”(1983:66) Broadly speaking. Coherence is something that can be analyzed at different levels. coherence refers to the strategies employed by the reader to make sense out of a text. The connectedness between the different units of a narrative is text-intrinsic whereas the superstructure and frame form the text extrinsic level of coherence. the fact that human beings do not require formal textual markers before they are prepared to interpret a text. We need to go beyond cohesion to coherence. And this coherence is not merely a formal textual feature. 2004:39) and “ To refer to the coherence of discourse is to refer to the ways in which its parts constitute a whole.

As Velde D. Such a micro. 1983: 29).structure manifests itself in terms of local coherence. This semantic connectedness can be seen as the connectedness between the propositions of each sentence. but also because the successive sentences refer to different and unconnected proposition.that is Tendulkar. we can also note the semantic connectedness between the successive sentences of text i. Here it is advisable to call the established semantic Linguistic vs. Let us look at each of these categories and try account for the coherence in some texts.7 1) Micro structure Text intrinsic 2) Macrostructure 3) Superstructure vs. is absurd not only because of the lack of cohesion. Micro-structure refers to the interconnectedness between the successive units of a text. This includes cohesion also. Each sentence of text i. Thus the coherence of any text is a matter of the micro-structure. Text ii. . refers to the same topic. We have already seen the role cohesion plays in text i. van says “In the case of local discourse processing. text extrinsic organization 4) Frame Non-linguistic organization (Lindemann. Van Dijk calls this argument repetition. But along with cohesion. inference-making processes concern only the sequential structure of propositions underlying adjacent utterances.

still they are linguistic features.” This coheres because it has a macrostructure “Susie went to Stockholm by train”.schemata for conventional text forms. 1983:54). propositions underlying separate utterances are integrated into the total semantic organization of discourse. She bought a ticket for Stockholm.“ One way of approaching text coherence (as opposed to the kind of overt textual cohesion that is marked by syntactically definable co-reference) is to look for such textual macrostructures as reveal a unifying underlying theme linking sentences to each other. as a group the propositions belong to some common field.8 connections by the term ‘local coherence’. But superstructures are text extrinsic properties of discourse. Super structure is defined as “--. (van Dijk 1977: 28).”(van Dijk. 1980: 15) This global coherence is a matter of the macro. van. remembering and reproducing macrostructures. That is. they are available in the text itself. Here it is justified to denote the emerging hierarchical structure by the term ‘global coherence’”(Velde. again- .structure.structure. Along with micro. That is. and climbed into a second class carriage. Let us look at the example iii. Micro-structure and macro-structure are text-intrinsic properties.D. Thus texts exhibit coherence through macro-structure also. In the case of global discourse processing. knowledge of these forms facilitates generating. waited for the train. We make sense out of a text not just on the basis of the connectedness between successive sentences or any other units of the text. “Susie went to the railway station. Van Dijk illustrates with the following example. texts also exhibit macro-structure. Though they are text extrinsic features. went out to the platform.

and the readers have to supply this missing link from their own knowledge.”(Van Dijk.2. He says “During comprehension. in a far off land-----” will make sense only if we are familiar with the superstructure of folk tales. We all have some . 9246271113 This text makes sense because we have a sense of the superstructure. Knowledge about them is often crucial for interpreting a text…. readers pull out from their general store of knowledge some particular packet of knowledge and use it provide a framework for the text they are reading. 1983:43).9 Expert motor driving school for Ladies and gents 22 years of excellent Service branch road no.Typically a text leaves some crucial causal relationship implicit. A story beginning with the sentence ‘ once upon a time.Mart. The super structure here belongs to the field of advertisement. Thus we enjoy stories where in the first line itself we hear that the protagonist has become a cockroach (Metamorphosis. The novels of James Joyce or Virginia Wolfe may not make sense to someone who is not familiar with modernism and its conventions. Beside Q. Sometimes superstructure plays such a strong role in determining coherence in literature that we accept as coherent even those things which our commonsense would think of as absurd. In literature the superstructure plays a very important role in determining coherence. Van Dijk uses the term knowledge structures to talk about frames. Banjarahills. Kafka)! The next level of coherence is the script or the frame.”(1983:43) “Causal relations exist between states and events in the physical world. This is a non-linguistic aspect of coherence.

Sachin held his racket firmly and got ready for a forehand. They took some honey. We are looking at the first paragraph from a poem by Edward LearThe owl and the Pussycat went to sea In a beautiful pea-green boat. macro-structure. Wrapped up in a five pound note.10 knowledge of the world and we have schemata in our minds. He looked at the bowler who was getting ready to serve. The maestro wanted to use his height for advantage. When we encounter a text. superstructure and frame are the different aspects of coherence. It is because it does not fit in with the script or the schemata of cricket. . micro-structure. A coherent text will be coherent if it satisfies our expectations from these different points of view. In terms of macro-structure. but the word ‘forehand’ used in the next sentence does not fit in with this schema. The owl looked up to the stars above. if it makes sense at all. To conclude. The super structure of the text is that of commentary. Thus cohesion.e. the text does not make sense. and plenty of Money. The text has cohesion and it also has micro-structure. the global theme of the text is ‘Sachin facing a bowler’. we try to fit it into one or the other schemata. Each sentence adds to the theme of the previous sentence. The first sentence by using the word batting introduces the scheme of cricket. In spite of all these. i. Let us look again at the hypothetical example that we discussed earlierSachin Tendulkar was batting on 50. let us look at a poem (a non-sense poem) to see how it makes sense.

you are. All cohesive ties are anaphoric. Thus the passage is coherent from all the intra-textual yardsticks. We have the pronoun ‘they’ referring to the owl and the pussy. All the sentences are semantically connected. In narrative we expect clear place and time indicators. But we know that this is a poem. A narrative that does not give it would not be coherent. the passage belongs to a type of literature called poetry. The passage exhibits cohesion very clearly. the pronoun ‘you’ referring to the pussy. Still we have found no reason to call it absurd.11 And sang to a small guitar. We have lexical repetition in ‘the owl’ and we have lexical substitution in ‘my love’. Each sentence deals with what the owl and the pussy cat did. Thus from the point of view of view of cohesion there is no reason to call this poem non-sense. The macro-theme of the passage can be said to be ‘The owl and the pussy cat went to a picnic and the owl sang a song’. Hence we do not worry that it has not begun with ‘ One day. the passage would not have been coherent. what a beautiful Pussy you are. a owl and a pussy cat------”. This is indicated by the typological shape and by the presence of rhyme. In terms of superstructure. What a beautiful Pussy you are!” Let us see why this poem is called a non-sense poem. This clearly shows that what is coherent for a particular kind of communication may not be coherent for a different kind of communication. the passage exhibits micro-structure. “O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love. If the super-structure was that of a narrative. We have macro-structure also. . Semantically. you are.

Thus. Almost all instances of language use have coherence. Taking money in a purse is in accordance with our schema. It is true that there are many things in the poem familiar to our experience of the world. Thus the poem is not coherent from the point of view of frame. But the absurdity of the poem lies in the participants in this activity. there are very few absurd texts. Or it can be absurd because it does not make sense: it does not fit in with any of our schemas. When you go to a picnic you take some thing to eat and when you court. We have the picnic frame and the courting frame. It can be absurd because there are no micro and macro connectedness between the different sentences.12 Why then is this poem called non-sense poem? The source of the absurdity of this poem does not lie in linguistic features. It lies in non-linguistic features. a given text may be absurd because of different reasons. But practically speaking. That is why people try to make sense out of Becket’s plays. but taking money and honey in a five pound note is not in accordance with any of our experience! And the owl falling in love with a cat is also not in any of our schemas. . it is very natural to play a guitar. It can be absurd because it lacks cohesion. That is why most of the examples for incoherence in this paper are hypothetical examples. That is why it is called a non-sense poem. The owl and pussy cat going to picnic does not fit in with any of our frames or schemas. It seems that we have a great ability to make sense of absurdity and we can say that very few authentic texts are absurd. The nonsense poem mentioned above can not be senseless if it has given joy to many people! We find some sense in a play or a poem which calls itself absurd. It can be absurd because it uses the wrong superstructure.

Discourse Analysis Cambridge University press. 1983.13 ReferencesBrown. Bubldge. Amsterdam/Philadelphia. Alex de and Adrian Stenton Terms in Systemic Linguistics: A Guide to Halliday. Text as process: An integrated view of a science of texts. Routledge. London.12. R. Academic press . pg. Edmondson. inc. Gillian and George Yule. Longman. John Benjamins publishing company: 1985. Dijk. M.L. van. John Benjamins publishing company. Willis J. 1999. 1980. Amsterdam/Philadelphia. Journal of Pragmatics. and Raqaiya Hasan. Cohesion in English. Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics. Lindemann. Ed. Uta Lenk and Eija Ventola. Wolferam. Teun A. Joia. 1983. Dijk. Then Where Doth Meaning Lie? in Coherence in Spoken and Written Discourse: How to Create It and How to Describe It. Coherence in Spoken and Written Discourse : How to Create It and How to Describe It. 250-265. B. Batsford Academic and Educational limited. London. 1976. Trask. Van and Walter kintsch Strategies of Discourse Comprehension .Y.1: 1983.5-41. no. . Florida. Halliday. Teun A. Discourse and Literature. If Coherence is Achieved.K. Orlando. vol. 2004. London.

Prolegomena to Inferential Discourse Processing Pragmatics and Beyond vol. 1984. . Van D. John Benjamins publishing company.14 Velde. Amsterdam/Philadelphia. 2.

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