Background on Text No. 2

Message in Text, Part 2

Message permeates every layer of every text, and it does so whether the authors consciously design the text that way or not. Message will be there in everything you read, and it'll be there in everything you write, so it's not as if you needed to control Message while you wrote, or needed to perceive Message while you read for it to be there in a text. Message just is a feature of textual meaning. It's everywhere text is. For example,

 it's in cohesion across spans of text, by the use of such links as and, or, for example, however, therefore

 it's in grammatical subjects in sentences

 it's in metadiscoursal commentary, e.g., In this paper, we present...  and  The core idea of CLKSCREW is to...

 it's in text passages that progress through topics and arrive at some point, versus text passages that develop one particular topic and provide more detail, versus all the possible blends of these two text-passage types.

 it's in numbered section headings and numbered section subheadings and unnumbered section sub-subheadings

 it's in the arrangement of textual materials into paragraphs, and the arrangement of the paragraphs among themselves, and the arrangement of the text inside a paragraph.

These are not all the places that Message is found in text — just a first impression. Now, to get past first impressions, I'm going to need to complicate your notion of the sentence, because really the sentence is just a construct of print reality. In truth, the sentence is just a span of text that ends at a period. However, this'll hardly make for a stable basis on which to build your understanding of text. Very many of the sentences you see on a page may be redivided just by shifting the periods leftwards or rightwards and adjusting accordingly the capitalization. Therefore, you'll need something more fundamental in text than just the sentence, and that something is the clause.

First have a look at some clauses. Here's a paragraph from one of the Background sections I parsed in the previous post of Background on Text. The nesting braces mark off the clauses, and the boldfacing marks the verbs:

{ HTM allows for the efficient implementation of parallel algorithms [27]. }1  { It is commonly used { to elide expensive software synchronization mechanisms [16, 63] }2'. }2  { Informally, for a CPU thread { executing a hardware transaction }3', all other threads appear to be halted; }3  { whereas, from the outside, a transaction appears as an atomic operation. }4  { A transaction fails { if the CPU cannot provide this atomicity due to resource limitations or conflicting concurrent memory accesses }5'. }5  { In this case, all transactional changes need to be rolled back. }6  { { To be able to detect conflicts }7' { and revert transactions, }7' the CPU needs to keep track of transactional memory accesses. }7  { Therefore, transactional memory is typically divided into a read set and a write set. }8  { A transaction’s read set contains all read memory locations. }9  { Concurrent read accesses by other threads to the read set are generally allowed; }10  { however, concurrent writes are problematic }11  { and — depending on the actual HTM implementation and circumstances — likely lead to transactional aborts. }11'  { Further, any concurrent accesses to the write set necessarily lead to a transactional abort. }12

SOURCE: Strong and Efficient Cache Side-Channel Protection Using Hardware Transactional Memory (2017 USENIX) 

Now, I admit, that looks a bit challenging. But really, it's not.

The thing to focus on here is the boldfacing, because the short definition of a clause is, it's a verb. That's really the extent of the matter. So for now, if it's a span of text which contains a verb, call it a clause.

But why should it be that the verb proves so essential to textual meaning? That is a good question, one definitely worth answering, even though it'll slow us up here in getting to the main topic of Message.

Verbs perform a very specific linguistic function in relation to reality. Basically, you can say that verbs exist in order to import chunks of reality into the grammar, and really, the chunks imported by verbs are the biggest sort of chunk that the grammar can fit: change. A verb stands in for some going-on, some change in the world as the constant change of reality unfolds from moment to moment. Because it's a fact of reality that nothing ever really stays the same. Well, that change is what the verb picks up on and imports into our language. Essentially, verbs give us the linguistic capacity to describe change.

Now, verbs can perform this critical linguistic function because verbs themselves are not the things they import into the grammar. For example, something happening around you is not the verb happens, nor is people either talking or moving or standing the verbs talk or move or stand. Furthermore, your perceiving of those people doing or that thing happening is not the verb perceive. Basically, processes really occur, while verbs represents those processes in mental format.

This is an important point, because if verbs really did equal the events or actions or sensing which the verbs represent, then our language would in fact be our reality. But that's not how it is. There is language, and in particular, there are verbs; but prior to verbs, there is the world outside of language, and that world includes, as well, your own inner mind where you sense things and think things.

Language and the world do not match up, not even close. I mean, just consider for a moment your daily trip to work. While you travel from your house to your workplace, you experience a lot — it's all busy flow and constant change out there in the world around you, and as well in here in the world of your mind. Just on your way to work, the amounts and kinds of data reaching your experience are just far too much to be sorted and handled by language. Reality, you might say, simply overwhelms our language capacity. We couldn't hope to verbalize even a tiny fraction of all that is and all that happens. But we make a brave attempt at it, and the name given by linguists to that brave attempt is, again, the clause.

Picture the clause as your linguistic screenshot of the massive processor that is reality. Your clausal screenshot is a disappointingly reductive view on the real computing going on out there, but on the other hand, that screenshot is all you've got to go on. Besides, this screenshot is not so terribly reductive that the information it puts on display isn't accurate or true or useful. On the contrary, one single screenshot contains about as much as our language-brains can process at any given moment, and now add to that the next screenshot and the next and the next — well, adding all your clauses together, you really do end up with an decent approximation of the processor processing.

So, that's it for this week. Read more about Message in the next post on Background in Text.

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 The content of the paper has not been changed, only enhanced in order to demonstrate just how that content is communicated.