A Text and Its Meanings: Observations on How Readers Construe What Is Meant from What Is Written

Part of the Springer Series in Language and Communication book series (SSLAN, volume 23)


In his fascinating book Sound and Sentiment, the musical anthropologist Steven Feld (1982) reports on a study of the ethnography of sound of the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea. In Kaluli culture and folklore, birds play a prominent role, and to understand the expressive modalities of weeping, song, poetics, Feld felt the need to devote considerable energy to delineating the existing folk ornithology. After being exposed to extensive questioning on bird taxonomy, one of Feld’s informants obviously grew tired of the inquisitive Westerner. With the statement, “Listen — to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest” (p. 48), the informant expressed his disapproval of the premisses of the questioning and, at the same time, effectively demonstrated the ethnocentric nature of the undertaking of establishing a bird taxonomy according to the customary reductionistic strategy of Western analytical thinking. What Feld learned was that what we regard as distinctive characteristics by means of which species can be identified, do not form the most significant basis for distinguishing birds in the Kaluli “version of the world”, to borrow Goodman’s (1978) suggestive terminology. Instead of a static, taxonomic classification of birds, the expression “to me they are voices in the forest” implies both that “Kaluli recognize and acknowledge their existence primarily through sound” and that “there are many ways to think about birds, depending on the context in which knowledge is activated and social needs that are served” (loc. cit.).


Verbal Learning Classical Conditioning Previous Knowledge Literate Type Instrumental Conditioning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Berger, P., and Luckmann, T (1966). The social construction of reality. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
  2. Bieger, G. R., and Dunn, B. R. (1984). A comparison of the sensitivity of two prose analysis models to developmental differences in free recall of text. Discourse Processes, 7, 257–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bower, G., and Cirilo, R. (1985). Cognitive psychology and text processing. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.), Handbook of discourse analysis (Vol. 1 ) (pp. 71–105 ). London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  4. Calhoun, D. (1973). The intelligence of a people. Princeton N. J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Douglas, J. (1971). Understanding everyday life. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  6. Ebbinghaus, H. (1964). Memory. (H. A. Ruger and C. E. Bussenius, Trans.) New York: Dover. (Original work published 1885 )Google Scholar
  7. Edfeldt, A. (1982). Läsprocessen [The process of reading]. Stockholm: Liber.Google Scholar
  8. Feld, S. (1982). Sound and sentiment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  9. Fichtner, B. (1980). Lerninhalte in Bildungstheorie und Unterrichtsprozess [Contents of learning in educational theory and teaching process]. Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein.Google Scholar
  10. Francis, M. (1982). Learning to read. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  11. Giorgi, A. (1985). The phenomenological pshychology of learning and the verbal learning tradition. In A. Giorgi (Ed.), Phenomenology and psychological research. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Glaser, B. G., and Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine.Google Scholar
  13. Goodman, N. (1978). Ways of worldmaking. Hassocks, Sussex: The Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  14. Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hilgard, E. (1964). Introduction. In H. Ebbinghaus Memory. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  16. Hilgard, E. R., and Bower, G. H. (1966). Theories of learning. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  17. Hudson, L. (1978). Human beings. London: Triad Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kintsch, W. (1974). The representation of meaning in memory. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  19. Kintsch, W, and van Dijk, T. A. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  20. Leimar, U. (1974). Läsning pä talets grund [Reading on the basis of speech]. Lund: Gleerups.Google Scholar
  21. Luria, A. R. (1976). Cognitive development. Its cultural and social foundations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Markova, I. (1982). Paradigms, thought, and language. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  23. Marton, F. (1981). Phenomenography–Describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science, 10, 177–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Marton, F. ( 1984, September). Exploring the means through which learners arrive at differing meanings. Paper presented at the XXIIIrd International Congress of Psychology, Acapulco, Mexico.Google Scholar
  25. Meyer, B. (1975). The organization of prose and its effects on recall. Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  26. Morley, D. (1983). Cultural transformations: The politics of resistance. In H. Davis and P. Walton (Eds.), Language, image, media. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  27. Neisser, U. (1982). Memory: What are the important questions? In U. Neisser (Ed.), Memory observed (pp. 3–19 ). San Francisco: Freeman.Google Scholar
  28. Olson, D. (1977). The languages of instruction: On the literate bias of schooling. In R. C. Anderson, R. J. Spiro, and W. E. Montague (Eds.), Schooling and the acquistion of knowledge (pp. 65–89 ). Hillsdale, N. J.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  29. Ong, W. J. (1981). Oral remembering and narrative structures. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Analyzing discourse: Text and talk (pp. 12–24 ). Washington: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and literacy. The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Reichenbach, H. (1932). Experience and prediction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  32. Rommetveit, R. (1974). On message structure. London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  33. Säljö, R. (1982). Learning and understanding. Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.Google Scholar
  34. Säljö, R. (1984). Learning from reading. In F. Marton, D. Hounsell, and N. Entwistle (Eds.), The experience of learning (pp. 71–89 ). Edinburgh: Scottish University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Sanford, A. J., and Garrod, S. C. (1981). Understanding written language. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  36. Svensson, L. (1979). The context dependent meaning of learning. Reports from the Institute of Education, University of Göteborg, no. 2.Google Scholar
  37. Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1988

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations