Interpretation cannot be given a single model, because it is the work of
situated subjects (Rialle 1996), and because __
despite Grice, or Sperber and
the interpretive situation cannot be qualified in transcendental terms
IV. The issue of the text and of semiotic performances
Even if it is agreed that texts are the empirical objects and
at the same time the objects of knowledge of linguistics, to what extent are textual issues relevant to
the whole of semiotics, and not only to linguistics as defined as a semiotics of all natural
The text is merely a kind of semiotic performance.1 In the next section, we specify what the primacy of text and
semiotic performances owes to the primacy of practice in knowledge.
1. The semantic approaches to texts
Linguistic theories fall into five categories.2
a) Theories resulting from formal semantics, among which Kamp's is the best known. Their
technical complexity is remarkable. On the other hand, they do not lend themselves to a comparative
description of texts. For example, the concept of genre could not be reformulated within this
framework. Descriptions, in fact, do not extend beyond units larger than the paragraph.
b) Pragmatic-enunciative theories resulting from discourse analysis. They have attempted to
identify enunciative marks, such as pointers, to classify speech acts, to study the argumentative
structures of texts, when it can be done. Those theories lend themselves to the analysis of micro-sociological interactions, in particular to the study of conversations. They are related to certain oral
genres, but are not pliable enough to be the basis for a typology of texts, especially because they
assert a transcendental definition of communication (Grice refers to Kantism; Sperber and Wilson
petition the a priori principle of communicative relevance).
These the first two types of theories are compatible with one another, at least because
pragmatics and formal semantics are germane within logical positivism.
c) The semantic theories resulting from the Saussurian current (Coseriu, the first Greimas).
Their favourite haunting grounds are lexical semantics, isotopy theory and the analysis of narrative.
Within this general framework, the program of interpretive semantics aims at integrating the three
planes of linguistic description (word, sentence, text) as different stages of complexity, but
nonetheless describing them in terms of the same basic concepts, that of "seme"3 among them.
d) The material hermeneutics sketched by Schleiermacher in his time, whose
program was resumed by authors such as Szondi or Bollack: it is an ambitious form of philological
hermeneutics that has remained incomplete.
e) The "rhetorical" theories resulting from the study of specialized languages (Swales,
Bhatia). Most of them are tied to the anthropological tradition (Firth, then Halliday), they describe
in detail the diversity of texts in terms of socialized practices, and have accumulated invaluable
observations on the language of the law.
1. We would like to highlight some of the semes in the
word: "expertise", "completion", "public nature", and thereby designate the semiotic level of a social
practice. Performances are accomplished, because they correspond to practical sessions
(e.g. a sermon, a thesis assessment), whereas practices (like religious or academic
liturgies) have unspecified durations. Nonetheless, by virtue of this completedness, semiotic
performances do not become objects we can interpret in their own terms, without resorting to the
conditions of their production and interpretation. [RETURN]
2. In this section I am using elements from Rastier 1996b.
3. The reason why it is also qualified as
differential and unified, which characterize its method.
Interpretive refers to its epistemological prospect. [RETURN]