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Key Terms in Bakhtin's Theory The Utterance or Word In Bakhtin's view, an expression in a living context of exchange--termed a "word" or "utterance"--is the main unit of meaning (not abstract sentences out of context), and is formed through a speaker's relation to Otherness (other people, others' words and expressions, and the lived cultural world in time and place). A "word" is therefore always already embedded in a history of expressions by others in a chain of ongoing cultural and political moments. An utterance/word is marked by what Bakhtin terms "Addressivity" and "Answerability" (it is always addressed to someone and anticipates, can generate, a response, anticipates an answer).Discourse (chains or strings of utterances) is thus fundamentally dialogic and historicallycontingent (positioned within, and inseparable from, a community, a history, a place). "I live in a world of others' words." (Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, 143) "Any understanding of live speech, a live utterance, is inherently responsive... Any utterance is a link in the chain of communication." (Speech Genres, 68, 84) "The word lives, as it were, on the boundary between its own context and another, alien, context." (Dialogic Imagination, 284). Heteroglossia and Polyphony Speech and complex cultural discourse in all our genres (novels, scientific descriptions, art works, philosophical arguments, for example) is mixed through and through with heteroglossia (an other's speech, and many others' words, appropriated "own"). expressions) and are necessarily polyphonic("many-voiced," incorporating many voices, styles, references, and assumptions not a speaker's
that is. 1986. composition. or style. Selections from Writings From Mikhail Bakhtin. dictionary form. And the speaker himself is oriented precisely toward such an actively responsive understanding. we by no means always take them from the system of language in their neutral. Any understanding of live speech. objection. is inherently responsive. we read them in particular individual works. (p. all real and integral understanding is actively responsive.Dialogue/Dialogic/Dialogism Every level of expression from live conversational dialog to complex cultural expression in other genres and art works is an ongoing chain or network of statements and responses.. TX: U niversity of Texas Press. sympathy.87) The words of a language belong to nobody. but still we hear those words only in particular individual utterances. (p. which is determined by the unrepeatable individual context of the utterance. a live utterance.. and in such cases the words already have not only a typical. Trans.. and so forth (with various speech genres presupposing various integral orientations and speech plans on the part of speakers or writers) (p. so to speak. (p. execution. in theme. but also (depending on the genre) a more or less clearly reflected individual expression. We usually take them from other utterances.. the speaker talks with an expectation of a response. McGee. and mainly from utterances that are kindred to ours in genre. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays . in which new statements presuppose earlier statements and anticipate future responses. but the use of words in live speech communication is always individual and contextual in nature. Any understanding is imbued with response and necessarily elicits it in one form or another: the listener becomes the speaker. Vern W.88) . Austin.68) Thus. Neutral dictionary meanings of the words of a language ensure their common features and guarantee that all speakers of a given language will understand one another.. and constitutes nothing more than the initial preparatory stage of a response (in what ever form it may be actualized). He does not expect passive understanding that.. Rather. agreement.69) When we select words in the process of constructing an utterance. repetitions and quotations. only duplicates his or her own idea in someone else's mind.
it is actually created. their own evaluative tone. Therefore. The entire utterance is constructed. and this defines it as a genre.. in essence. rework..This is why the unique speech experience of each individual is shaped and developed in continuous and constant interaction with others' individual utterances. our thought itself -philosophical. But the utterance is related not only to preceding.92). The utterance is filled with dialogic overtones. the speaker expects a response from them. is filled with others' words. Our speech.. Every utterance must be regarded as primarily a response to preceding utterances of the given sphere (we understand the word 'response' here in the broadest sense). But from the very beginning.91). scientific... the utterance is constructed while taking into account possible responsive reactions. the role of the others for whom the utterance is constructed is extremely great.. (p.95).is born and shaped in the process of interaction and struggle with others' thought. its addressivity .89) Any concrete utterance is a link in the chain of speech communication of a particular sphere. in anticipation of encountering this response. for whose sake. and they must be taken into account in order to fully understand the style of the utterance. is located outside the soul of the speaker and does not belong only to . Utterances are not indifferent to one another.These words of others carry with them their own expression. all our utterances (including our creative works). The very boundaries of the utterance are determined by a change of speech subjects. (p. (p. they are aware of and mutually reflect one another.. and somehow takes them into account. but also to subsequent links in the chain of speech communication. as it were. After all. Each utterance refutes affirms. and re-accentuate. Everything that is said. This experience can be characterized to some degree as the process of assimilation-more or less creative--of others' words (and not the words of a language). and relies upon the others..94) An essential (constitutive) marker of the utterance is its quality of being directed to someone. an active responsive understanding.. As we know. artistic -. each kind of utterance is filled with various kinds of responsive reactions to other utterances of the given sphere of speech communication.. presupposes them to be known. (p. that is.. (p.. Each speech genre in each area of speech communication has its own typical conception of the addressee. From the very beginning. expressed. and are not selfsufficient. varying degrees of otherness or varying degrees of "our-own-ness" .. and this cannot but be reflected in the forms that verbally express our thought as well. supplements. A word (or in general any sign) is interindividual. which we assimilate.
all given a bodily form. schools. 282) And finally. T he D ialog ic Imagination: Four Essays (Austin: U niversity of Texas Press. (pp. 291) . 279-80) Therefore his orientation toward the listener is an orientation toward a specific conceptual horizon. toward the specific world of the listener. The word in living conversation is directly. (pp. that various different points of view. blatantly. it is in this way. at any given moment. the word is at the same time determined by that which has not yet been said but which is needed and in fact anticipated by the answering word. and those whose voices are heard in the word before the author comes upon it also have their rights (after all. 1992). language is heteroglot from top to bottom: it represents the coexistence of socio-ideological contradictions between the present and the past. The orientation towards an answer is open.. oriented toward a future answer-word: it provokes an answer. (p. blatant and concrete. there are no words that belong to no one). The author (speaker) has his own inalienable right to the word. A word forms a concept of its own object in a dialogic way. between differing epochs of the past. Such is the situation with any living dialogue. the word is shaped in dialogic interaction with an alien word that is already in the object. anticipates it and structures itself in the answer's direction. But this does not exhaust the internal dialogism of the word. between tendencies. it introduces totally new elements into his discourse. after all. conceptual horizons. It encounters an alien word not only in the object itself: every word is directed toward an answer and cannot escape the profound influence of the answering word that it anticipates. (p.121-122) On Dialogism and Heteroglossia (the other(s)' word ) From Mikhail Bakhtin. languages of various epochs and periods of socioideological life cohabit with one another. Therefore languages do not exclude each other. various social "languages" come to interact with one another. systems for providing expressive accents. between different socio-ideological groups in the present. but the listener has his rights. Forming itself in an atmosphere of the already spoken... but rather intersect with each other in many different ways.him. Thus at any given moment of its historical existence. The word cannot be assigned to a single speaker. The word is born in a dialogue as a living rejoinder within it.. circles and so forth.
that is those born in the dialogue of past centuries..they will always change (be renewed) in the process of subsequent. for the individual consciousness. lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. Expropriating I. p. it is from there that one must take the word. Prior to this moment of appropriation. and make it one's own (p.170) Nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world.294) Dialogic expression is unfinalizable. The word in language is half someone else's.. adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention. it is populated –overpopulated– with the intentions of others..Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker's intentions. It becomes one’s "own" only when the speaker populates it with his own intentions. the ultimate word of the world and about the world has not yet been spoken. Even past meanings. There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and boundless future).. in other people's contexts.. is a difficult and complicated process. language. (Speech Genres. the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language. ended once and for all) . his own accent. always incomplete. future development of the dialogue.. socio-ideological concrete thing. can never be stable (finalized. As a living. and productive of further chains of responses: meaning is never closed and always oriented toward the fut ure. but at certain moments of the dialogue's subsequent development along the way they are recalled and invigorated in renewed form (in a new context). (Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. forcing it to submit to one's own intentions and accents. as heteroglot opinion. serving other people's intentions. but rather it exists in other people's mouths. when he appropriates the word. At any moment in the development of the dialogue there are immense. the world is open and free. everything is still in the future and will always be in the future. boundless masses of forgotten contextual meanings. 166) .
1992. MA: Harvard University Press. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. MN: University of Minnesota Press. 1990. Martin Irvine Communication. Medvedev. Cited and quoted works are the property of the respective owners. and P. -----. Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle. TX: University of Texas Press. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Translated by Helene Iswolsky." Critical Inquiry10 (1983): 307-319. Holquist. Culture & Technology Program (CCT) Georgetown University irvinem@georgetown. N. N. All educational uses permitted with attribution and link to this page. M. Volosinov. and Mikhail Bakhtin.References & Bibliography Bakhtin. Rabelais and his World. V. Austin: University of Texas Press. Michael. -----. Bloomington. Mikhail. . IN: Indiana University Press. Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays. 1990. Austin.0 United States License. Minneapolis. -----. "Answering as Authoring: Mikhail Bakhtin's Trans- Linguistics. Bakhtin.edu © 2004-2012 Bakhtin: Main Theories by Martin Irvine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. 1978. -----. The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship: A Critical Introduction to Sociological Poetics. Minneapolis. 1984. 1986. McGee. MN: University of Minnesota Press. London. Todorov. M. Edited by Caryl Emerson. -----. 1986. Cambridge. Translated by Vern W. 1st ed. 1984. Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. New York: Routledge. Translated by Wlad Godzich. 1984. Tzvetan. Edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Dialogism: Bakhtin and his World. Austin: University of Texas Press.
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