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Kjell Lars Berge (Norway)

 

Kjell-Lars Berge[i] is professor of  Nordic Language  and Literature at the University of Oslo, Norway. His research interests range from textual science and discourse analysis, to writing research and semiotics. He is involved in a number of national and transnational research initiatives in Norway and other Scandinavian countries, amongst others the Norwegian Factual Prose Project (Norsk Saksprosaprosjekt), which is concerned with the development of a theoretical and empirical framework for the study of factual prose texts in Norwegian, and the KAL-project: which is an investigation into the quality of tenth grade student examination texts in Norwegian.

 

He has titled his contribution to this volume From Utterance to Text, Again: Theoretical Reflections on the Notion of ‘Text’ Based on Empirical Studies of Writing in Different Contexts. Taking as his point of departure the notion, with which doubtless all contributors to this volume would wholeheartedly agree,  that writing is first and foremost a way of making meaning – a form of mediation structured in a particular kind of way, negotiated and further developed in on-going interaction processes – he goes on to link up to the discussion of ephemerality in Maurizio Gnerre’s article, by postulating as a fundamental distinctive potential of writing its potential for persistency. Whether this potential is fulfilled in practice or not – e-mail messages and text files on computers can be after all deleted intentionally (or not), letters and books can be burned etc. – meaning-making through writing is essentially a way of leaving a trace in the world. As such it may be continually recontextualised. Each time a written text is recontextualised and reinterpreted, it comes to constitute a new trace created by the interpreter. The act of constructing a trace can also be considered as an utterance, a form of individual expression embedded in an intersubjective meaning-making process. Children are generally fascinated by writing as a way of leaving a trace, and their text-making as part of their play and identity work constantly reflects this fact. Kjell Lars lets us examine a number of texts made by children in pre-school and elementary school settings, as well as a fascinating text constructed by a North American Indian chief and members of his tribe to express their wish to develop a relationship of mutual respect with the president of the new United States of America. All these texts combine elements which cannot always be clearly categorised as either ‘writing’ or ‘drawing’, but which reflect the variety and mixity of graphical resources which authors may elect to use in order to make salient for others aspects of their experience which they consider pertinent.

 

From here, Kjell Lars goes on to develop a more theoretical discussion of the general notion of text, pointing out that it must also include forms of expression mediated as both writing and speech. He contests David Olsen’s (Olsen 1977) distinction between the utterance (informal oral statements) and text (written prose statements). His argument is that spoken utterances, as potentially ephemeral semiotic phenomena, may well be texts, but they NEED not be. In the same way, written utterances, as potentially persistent semiotic phenomena, may well be texts but they NEED not be. In terms of cultural semiotic theory (cf. Lotman 1990), to be CULTURALLY defined or classified as texts, spoken and written utterances need to be considered by the community in which they are circulated, read and interpreted, as culturally significant or valid in some larger sense. The hows and whys of processes of cultural evaluation and valorisation of utterances as texts (or not), the development of systems of social and cultural norms which explicitly define such processes, and how these norms come to change over time in response to internal and external cultural and social pressures are the really interesting meat on the bone of this particular discussion, but to get properly to grips with this particular meal we shall have to leave it for other places and times, which there hopefully will be plenty of in the not too distant future.

 



[i] Kjell-Lars Berge’s faculty homepage is at: http://www.hf.uio.no/inl/ansatte/kjellbe.html, and he can be contacted by e-mail at: <k.l.berge@inl.uio.no>

 


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