On the so-called evaluative material in informative text

Rachel Giora*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study attempts to examine the function of digressive material in informative texts. Such material seems equivalent to non-narrative material in narratives of the kind Labov (1972) termed ‘evaluation ’. Like ‘evaluation, digressive material in informative texts is free’ in that it is not bound to the constrained set of relevant messages. Like ‘evaluation ’, it is comprised of analogy, metaphor, comparison, and the like. Two alternative theories Make claims about the possible function of such material in the literary text. More classical theories of the poetic text attribute a ‘poetic'function to ‘evaluation’ (Jakobson, 1960, inter alia). Later theories of narrative attribute a communicative function to ‘evaluation ’. Evaluation is claimed to be necessary, since it contributes to text understanding by facilitating it. It is both conducive to the narrative raison d’être (Labov, 1972; Polanyi, 1985, inter alia), and it helps establish the Discourse Topic of the story (for example, Reinhart, i.p.; Hunt and Vipond, 1986). In view of the similarity between narrative and informative texts, it makes sense to ascertain whether free’ material might be functional in informative text-processing. My findings do not show this to be the case. Rather, while digressive or meta-linguistic material may have an evaluative function in narratives, it does not have this function in informative text. On the contrary, what is termed evaluation does not improve understanding in informative texts. This, however, is not entirely unpredictable. Theories of text coherence show that the structure of coherent texts is not neutral to significance, but rather marks the Importance Hierarchy and makes clear the Discourse Topic (Giora 1985b, 1988, inter alia). Given the requirements for text wellformedness, digressions are not intended to participate in marking the Importance Hierarchy. So what are digressions for? The reactions of the subjects interviewed seem to weigh the evidence in favor of the ‘poetic’ function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-320
Number of pages22
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1990


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