Interpreting and Explaining Historical Texts – Is it Possible?

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With reference to particular problems of interpretations that radio listeners of today are likely to encounter when listening to a Norwegian radio reportage from the 1930s, this article discusses the question of whether it is possible for present-day readers/viewers/ listeners or text analysts to understand texts from the past in the way that they were originally meant to be understood. It is argued that we need to gain some kind of access to the contexts that once engendered the texts if we are to arrive at historically acceptable interpretations and explanations of them. The article suggests a solution to the problem of historical text analysis, namely historical context reconstruction. This solution is concretised in terms of a specific methodology, which has here been used for research on the formation and first development of the genre system of Norwegian radio. This methodology involves the application of three different text-context models for discourse-analytical purposes:

1. Halliday’s structural correlation model

2. The multistratal realisation model developed within social semiotics

3. Goffman’s frame model.

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