chapter  9
31 Pages

Comprehension of Discourse

Once a reader has parsed and interpreted a sentence, his or her work is probably not done. The reader must understand the text that includes the sentence; the meaning of a coherent text is more than the sum of the individual sentence meanings. The reader must knit the sentences together so that the propositions they contain can be combined as the writer intended. The reader must make inferences to fi ll in material that is only implicit in the text itself, and in doing this the reader often has to appeal to knowledge about the world, including the rest of the discourse. Ideally, the reader will understand the text in the sense of knowing what kind of real-world situation it is describing, or knowing how to do what the text is instructing the reader to do, or believing (or disbelieving) the claims it contains, and so on. Sometimes, the reader’s prior knowledge distorts the text’s message (Bartlett, 1932); nonetheless, what stays with the reader is generally the “gist” of the text.