I haven't been able to find a clear and simple definition of "phenotext" and "genotext", both terms — I believe — were created by Julia Kristeva. All explanations are only pompous texts I have not had time to go through. Has anyone a definition for me?

4 Answers 4


The term "pheno-text" refers to the text as a "fact" or an "appearing" in its concrete manifestation or material form (communicative function). ...

The geno-text corresponds to the process of generating the signifying system (the production of signification). ... The geno-text is not a structure; it represents signifying infiniteness. The geno-text does not reveal a signifying process; it offers all possible signifying processes [signifiances].

Taken from http://www.signosemio.com/kristeva/a_semanalyse.asp. (Note also her note "The distinction between the terms "pheno-text" and "geno-text" was borrowed from Šaumjan Soboleva.")

I don't know semiotics, but based on my biology background and extrapolating from the difference between phenotype and genotype, plus given the definitions above, I'd hazard:

Pheno-text: the physical text, that which is expressed, contained in language or other signifiers

Geno-text: the creative means by which the physical text comes into being (not language, but the means of producing language in a biological and somatic sense, as it is constrained by social interaction)

If that doesn't help, you might want to provide some quotations from some pompous papers.


In a much simpler way, I as a commoner, would understand the terms something like this:

Pheno-text is the what of it. Geno-text is the why of it.

Your phenotype says you have blue eyes (what do you have?). Your genotype determines if you will have the genes associated with blue eyes (why so?).

Likewise, language (as an example of text) as we experience it in its appearance/ as it sounds, is pheno-text (what is the word like?). The factors influencing the nature of the same is geno-text (why is it so?)

[Since how could be confused with how it looks which is 'what it looks like', I am avoiding that descriptor.]

The original work in this area is attributed to Julia Kristeva I believe, thanks to @Kith.


on the second last page of Roland Barthes' The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes refers to pheno-text as "the regular code of communication", and to geno-text as "significance."


On pg 16 of The Pleasure of the Text (Hill and Wang, 1975) Barthes writes: "this is the text of grammarians, critics, commentators, philologists (the pheno-text)." This might help to contextualize (and temporalize) the term.

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