The Effect of Cohesive Ties on Language Comprehension

March 9th, 2014

Language cohesion is an unsung aspect of writing, but is one of the most crucial aspects of anything you’ll read.

The Effect of Cohesive Ties on Language Comprehension  | One Hour Translation

I am often quite surprised at the lack of thought people put into language in general. While I’m perfectly aware that my work in language translation means I think about language a lot more than most people, and it’s unreasonable to expect anyone else to share my enthusiasm (just as I don’t share the enthusiasm of a mechanic or a brain surgeon for the arcana of their fields), on the other hand everyone speaks a language – at least one. For something as immersive and prevalent and shared as our experience with language, you’d think people would think about it more and discuss it more.

Or maybe I only think that because of my work in translation services, where everything seems like an opportunity to research a language or dig into the etymology of a word. But this would benefit everyone, especially if everyone paused just long enough to consider one aspect of the languages they read and speak: It’s cohesion.

Language and Cohesion

What is cohesion and why should you care? In some ways, cohesion is the most important aspect of any language, no matter its age or origins. Words, after all, have defined meanings, but their communicative capabilities are often limited. The word red, after all, means a colour on the spectrum. But if you simply write the word red on a piece of paper, what in the world are you trying to say?

So, words work in tandem with other words and rules of grammar to convey increasingly complex concepts. That’s all well and good, but we’ve all witnessed writing where the words are all spelled correctly and the rules of grammar appear to be at least superficially obeyed, and yet it means nothing. In fact, you can generate academic papers like this over at the Postmodernism Generator (http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo) – some people have actually handed in these papers in school and received passing grades! And yet every paper generated there is meaningless.

What gives language flexible and complex meaning is the cohesion of the text.

Links and Threads

Cohesion is, simply, the relationship between concepts and sentences in a written text. Let’s take an example sentence as a very short text:

Lisa purchased a red apple. She ate it with her lunch.

Reading that it’s very simple to understand that she refers to Lisa and it refers to the apple – because the text has cohesion. It refers back to itself in an easily understandable way. Now consider this sentence:

Lisa purchase a red apple. The inspector said nothing and looked grim.

What’s going on in that text? Much more difficult to figure out, because there’s very little cohesion. Any time cohesion is stretched thin in a text, you will have difficulty understanding what’s being said – and as a translator, I will have difficulty figuring out how to render your thoughts in another language.

Image courtesy learningmadeeasy.wordpress.com

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