Text & Intertextuality

Text & Intertextuality are interrelated concepts that are best understood in relation to one another.

A text is

  • anything that can be read or interpreted
  • a signifier, an effort to embody thought via some sort of sign
  • a dynamic, networked, socio-cultural-historical artifact.

Intertextuality is

  • the network of relations among texts and textual interpretations
  • the ways relationships among texts influence (1) the production and (2) the interpretation of texts.

Key Words: Intertextuality; Communication; Semiotics, Textual Research; Textual Analysis; Symbol Analyst.


When you first consider what text means, you probably think about books and magazines. Or maybe you think about text messages. And that’s certainly correct. Historically, text refers to literary products such as The Holy Bible, The Holy Quran, The Talmud.

Text is derived from textus, Medieval Latin for “the Scriptures, texts, treatsie.” To this day, text denotes written discourse, such as books, magazines, newspaper articles, or online text messages.

Over time, however, the denotation of text has broadened to reference much more than writing. For example, in contemporary discourse, a text can be pictures, recordings, a mathematical equation, computer code, painting, sculpture, sign language, body language/nonverbal language, a style of clothing—and so on.

In workplace and school contexts, a text is anything that can be read or interpreted to mean something. In this way, the term text is synonymous to sign, a term used in semiotics, a linguistic theory, to describe the intersection between thought and language.

Examples of Texts
eventsan event like Christmas day can be read as a text that conveys information about a culture’s history, religious traditions, gift-giving rituals, socioeconomics—and more.
physical spacephysical space between people can be interpreted as a measure of different cultures: researchers have found Romanians like 140.2cm space between themselves and strangers whereas Americans are okay with 94.5c.m; Argentinians, 76.2c.m. (Erickson 2017).

In summary, texts (and signs) are the embodiment of thought and language. Texts (and signs) are the shape of content.


People who study communication and research methodologies tend to think of texts as socio-cultural-historical, networked artifacts. This conception of texts is tied to the epistemological assumption that meaning doesn’t reside in an individual texts but rather in the relationship a text has with past texts. Linguists and scholars in the humanities refer to this concept as intertextuality.

Scholars don’t really think of texts as isolated from other texts. Rather, they see texts as being conceptually networked to other texts—as one instance of an ongoing conversation. Of course this is obvious when an author quotes, paraphrases, summarizes, translates, and/or satirizes other texts. But texts can also be influenced by other texts in more subtle ways.

Writers, speakers, symbol analysts—and so on—cannot but help be influenced by what they’ve read. That’s natural. We filter our interpretation of texts based on our observations and past experiences as readers. We use our past knowledge of genre to understand and compose texts.

Works Cited

Erickson, A. (2017, April 24). What ‘personal space’ looks like around the world. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/04/24/how-close-is-too-close-depends-on-where-you-live/?utm_term=.137d9248a29d