[Dialogism 2 (1999) 60-86

Bakhtin and Halliday: A Case of Misrepresentation
Sunny Tan Siew Bek
A number of discourse stylisticians have drawn parallels between the
Bakhtin Circle's social theory of language and Halliday's socio-semi-
otic functional model of language. Fowler et al., in arguing for a
'literary-theoretical paradigm' that 'should regard linguistic struc-
tures as functionally motivated' and focus especially 'on those that
function interpersonally', cite the work of Halliday and Bakhtin as
reflecting such concerns.
White draws our attention to the fact that
Bakhtin is the precursor of much of what socio-semioticians like
Halliday have expounded in their functional models of language.
Indeed, while Frow credits the Bakhtin Circle for its prescience in
preparing 'the ground for a unitary theory of discourse' that relates
the production of meaning to the 'semiotic constraints of the speech
situation', he highlights the fact that it was left to Halliday to fully
develop the ideas of Bakhtin, as evidenced in 'Halliday's development
of the concept of register' .
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that
Bakhtin has proved attractive to discourse stylisticians who have
adopted Halliday's functional descriptive framework for a number of
studies in literary stylistics. But more pertinently, prevailing critical
opinion seems to encourage the view that Halliday's systemic func-
tional linguistics is compatible with Bakhtinian ideas on language.
The implication is that there is a similarity between Hallidayan lin-
guistics and the linguistic-literary theory of the Bakhtin Circle. If such
is the case, the exact nature of the contribution and argument for an
incorporation of Bakhtinian ideas into discourse stylistics fails to be
articulated by linguists who have made such claims.
1. E. Fowler, H. Kress and T. Trew, Language and Control (London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 3-21.
2. A. White, 'Bakhtin, Sociolinguistics and Deconstruction', in F. Gloversmith
(ed.), The Theory of Reading (Brighton: Harvester Press), pp. 123-45.
3. J. Frow, 'Discourse Genre', Journal of Literary Semantics 9.2 (1980), pp. 73-81
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 61
More seriously, one could ask: why mobilize the Bakhtin Circle,
when to all intents and purposes its ideas are already reflected in an
existing framework? Any reference or allusion to Bakhtinian ideas
then becomes merely 'academic', for no pnncipled attempt is made to
engage with the Bakhtin Circle on its own terms, which leads to the
danger of the ad hoc appropriation of Bakhtinian ideas. In this regard
it is pertinent to note Lynne Pearce's critique of Bedient's work on
Eliot's The Wasteland:
Bedient's use of the terms 'polyphony' , 'heteroglossia' ... is supremely
nonchalant: they are merely part of a large poststructuralist arsenal of
key concepts and theoretical frameworks to be deployed where and
when appropriate.
Pearce's point underscores her contention that the 'dialogic vocabu-
lary' has become commonplace and symptomatic of the larger prob-
lem surrounding the multifarious interpretations and appropriations
of Bakhtinian dialogic theory.
To this end, she sets out to provide a
systematic account of the Bakhtin Circle's dialogic theory in relation
to its key texts and, in the process, identify the key concepts and
explore the implications of using them for literary criticism. However,
although Pearce's work is commendable, tht.•re is no attempt on her
part to engage with the specific issues rais•!d in relation to thl· appro-
priation of Bakhtinian ideas by discourse stylisticians, especially the
perceived compatibility of the Bakhtin Circle's social theory of lan-
guage with I-lalliday's framework.
What, then, are the salient features of Halliday's socio-semiotic
model of language, and why is it that this model cannot articulate
fully the complexity of Bakhtinian ideas?
Halliday's Socio-Semiotic Model of Language
First, it must be acknowledged that Halliday's deliberations on lan-
guage are extensive and complex, span a considerable number of
years, and appear in a number of texts. However, one could say that,
if there is a general concern that underlies his deliberations, then it is
a concern to develop a socio-functional model of language, and this is
reflected in Halliday's consideration of whv the linguistic resources at
hand are patterned into the particular structures manifested in our
language, as presented in Language as Social Semiotic (1978) and Lan-
guage, Context and Text: Aspects of Language i11 a Social-Semiotic Perspec-
tive (1985). In these two works Halliday offers a comprehensive
4. L. Pearce, R!'ading Dialogics (London: Edwa1d Arnold, 1994>, pp. 87, 6.
62 Dialogism
account of the nature of language use and text construction, one that
takes in the interrelationship between language, situation and cul-
ture-the three components of a functional theory. And it is this
model of language that discourse stylisticians have cited as compati-
ble with Bakhtinian ideas on language, specifically in relation to Hall-
iday's concept of 'register'.
The Hallidayan Concept of Register
According to Halliday a socio-semiotic theory of language correlates
the use of language by individuals to the larger patterns of behaviour
that govern the lives of such individuals. Hence the use of language is
linked to the social system within which it functions, and language is
viewed as a social-functional activity that operates as an inter-organ-
ism as opposed to an intra-organism phenomenon: 'we take account
of the elementary fact that people talk to each other'.
It takes into
account the participants involved in the communicative act and the
way the relationship that obtains between the participants influences
the patterning of the language. Thus, Halliday's functional model of
language looks at language function from a linguistic, as well as a
non-linguistic perspective. Both perspectives are not autonomous, but
neither are they placed on a hierarchical plane; rather, the view is that
in any investigation of language function both perspectives have to be
taken into consideration. As Halliday explains:
Types of linguistic situation differ from one another, broadly speaking,
in three respects: first, what is actually taking place; secondly, who is
taking part; and thirdly, what part the language is playing. These three
variables taken together determine the range within which meanings
are selected and the forms which are used for their expression. In other
words, they determine the 'register' (LSS, p. 32).
The three 'variables' that make up 'register' are defined by Halliday
as 'the three sociosemantic variables of field, tenor and mode' (LSS, p.
122). 'Field' refers to the content, subject or 'ideational component',
'tenor' to the social dynamics that obtain between participants, that is
the 'interpersonal component,' and 'mode' to the 'textual component'
(p. 123). All these components are 'encoded linguistically' (p. 123),
which means that the selection of a particular word or structure indi-
cates a particular meaning associated with one of the three compo-
nents. All these meanings then taken together constitute the 'situation
5. M.A.K. Halliday, Language as Social Semiotic (London: Edward Arnold,
1978), p. 2 (hereafter LSS).
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 63
of context' (p. 143). Thus 'register' consists of a combination of mean-
ings, which are selected from the semanhc options available in the
linguistic system to create a 'semantic configuration which then
defines that configuration as a situation type, a register' (p. 145).
It is the configuration of meanings that characterizes a register as a
text variety, because a text is an instance 'of linguistic interaction in
which people actually engage: whatever is said, or written, in an
operational context ... ' (pp. 108-109). And in Hallidayan terms the
meaning of a text can be realized and negotiated because, given the
necessary information regarding context, one should be able to ascer-
tain the sort of meaning/s attached to texts associated with that con-
text. Halliday's concept of register, therefore, is useful in explaining
how texts are structured according to the interrelationships that
obtain between language users. It also has important pedagogical
value, in that it can be used to correlate re<:tder expectations in textual
analysis, because these expectations are normally realized thmugh the
notion of 'register'.
However, while one would not wish to diminish the significance of
Halliday's functional model of language, his notion of register as a
combination of meanings that are selected from the semantic options
available in the linguistic system means that meanings and semantic
options remain 'system' properties. As will subsequently be argued,
this has important implications when Halliday's model is employed
for the stylistic analysis of literary texts, because the sort of analysis
that is offered does not reflect or offer the sort of options that a
Bakhtinian sociological poetics does and, hence, discourse stylisticians
are remiss in interpreting Bakhtinian ideas in terms of Halliday's
Shortcomings of Hallidays Model
First, for Halliday to argue that the selection of particular words and
structures constitutes the selection of 'semantic options' available
implies that meaning is already inscribed in the grammar and
vocabulary. All that language users do is select the 'semantic options'
that are already inscribed in the linguistic :.;ystem that corresponds to
the context in which the text is to function. [n other words, Halliday's
model represents a codification of context and meaning. As he stresses,
'the linguistic system ... is organized in such a way that the social con-
text is predictive of the text'. Thus, given the social context, one is able
to predict the 'meanings that are being exchanged in any situation'
(LSS, p. 189). If such is the case, it means that context, and hence the
corresponding meaning, is iterable, as is suggested in the following
If we drop in on a gathering, we are able to tune in very quickly,
because we size up the field, tenor and mode of the situation and at
once form an idea of what is likely to be being meant (p. 189).
In real life, most sentences that are uttered are not uttered for the first
time. A great deal of discourse is more or less routinized; we tell the
same stories and express the same opinions over and over again (p. 4).
While one may concede that Halliday's model does address the rela-
tionship between text and context, that context is, nevertheless, a
codified context, one that is an intrinsic part of the linguistic system.
In such a model meaning is stable and retrievable because it is already
codified into the grammar and vocabulary. Language use becomes a
matter of the exchange of meanings, with social meanings already
given via linguistic forms.
Second, Halliday's model represents a rather idealistic and narrow
interpretation of the social dimension of language use. The social is
conceived as though it consists of a homogeneous, undifferentiated
mass of individuals, who merely invoke codes and conventions in
order to encode and decode the meanings of texts. Granted, individ-
uals are social beings, but at the same time they are also individuals in
their own right. The specificities of their enactment of elements of
sociality in the process of language use are erased in Halliday's
model. In his account the individual is subsumed in an undifferenti-
ated, hypostatized sociality. A normative, rather than a creative view
of language use and meaning production is put forth.
The Bakhtin Circle, by contrast, categorically argues against the
notion of a codifiable context and, hence, the iterability of meanings.
The Bakhtinian approach conceptualizes communication, not as the
exchange of codes, but as an event, a process that unfolds in relation
to the spatial, temporal, material dimensions in which texts are pro-
duced, on the one hand, and received, on the other. Meanings and
texts are not products but processes that are created 'in the process of
Therefore, communication cannot entail only the
exchange of codes, because, like signals, codes are 'stable and always
6. M. Bakhtin, 'From Notes Made in 1970-71', in Speech Genres and Other Late
Essays (ed. C. Emerson and M. Holquist; trans. V.W. McGee; Austin: University of
Texas Press), pp. 133-58 (hereafter N70).
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 65
self-equivalent'? This stability and this self-equivalence are contin-
gent on a notion of context that is fixed, or what Bakhtin calls a 'killed
context' (N70, p. 147).
For the Bakhtin Circle the linguistic form is not a signal or code, but
a sign that functions simultaneously in all the diverse areas of social
and ideological activity. Not only does the same linguistic form take
on different meanings in different contexts, but, when context
includes the spatial, temporal and material dimensions of readers, as
in the case of the Bakhtin Circle's model, then whatever meaning is
made to emerge depends on who receives the text and when the text
is received. The word as sign is 'multiaccentual' (MPL, p. 21) and as
such is not fixed or stable in relation to the sociaL Rather, it is plurally
read in relation to context. And this context is invoked by rPaders in
relation to their spatio-temporal and material specificities.
Thus, while the text is made up of the materiality of the sign
system, in its reception by particular social beings in particular
spatial, temporal and material contexts it is subfcctivized differently
because non-linguistic factors determine the way users as producers
and recipients evaluate the same linguistic forms. This means that the
subjectification, especially in the case of literary texts, is influenced by
who the reader is and where the reader is sited socially, historically
and culturally in relation to the text. Thus the entire complex of non-
linguistic factors that accompanies the of texts works to
suppress particular meanings while making others emerge, depend-
ing on their contexts of reception. As Voloshinov points out, meaning
does not reside in the word per se. Rather, meaning is generated out of
the social interaction between participanis (MPL, p. 102). It follows
that meaning is not the sole property of the speaker /writer. The
word as sign is not only part of a code, but, rather, a dynamic social
sign capable of taking on different meanings and connotations for
different social classes in different societies and historical contexts.
each word ... is a little arena for the clash and criss-crossing of differ-
ently oriented social accents. A word in the mouth of a particular indi-
vidual person is a product of the living intE·raction of social forces (\1PL,
p. 4]).
In terms of the literary text this means that, while the word of an
author or poet bears a particular social evaluation, the same word,
7. V.N. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philos(lphlf of Language (trans. L. Matejka
and l.R. Titunik; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), p. 68 (hereafter
66 Dialogism
when received by a reader located in a different spatial, temporal and
cultural context, could conceivably be evaluated differently. Such a
view is argued for by Bakhtin when he states that:
the word cannot be assigned to a single speaker. The author (speaker)
has his own inalienable right to the word, but the listener also has his
rights, and those whose voices are heard in the word before the author
comes upon it.
This does not mean that meaning is not generated; rather, the mean-
ing generated depends on the author's and reader's material siting in
relation to each other. This is evident when Bakhtin says that
the text-printed, written, or orally recorded-is not equal to the work
as a whole. The work also includes its necessary extratextual context.
The work ... is enveloped in the ... intonational-evaluative context in
which it is understood and evaluated (of course this context changes in
the various epochs in which it is perceived, which creates a new reso-
nance in the work.
Bakhtin is suggesting that there cannot be a 'unified (single) contex-
tual meaning'. In this sense every reading constitutes a new reading, a
new meaning, a 'creative understanding that supplements the text'
(N70, p. 142). Therefore, it is not surprising that Bakhtin should argue
that there can be neither a 'first nor a last word' (MHS, p. 170); rather,
it is the case that a meaning always exists in the company of other
possible meanings. Which meaning prevails depends on the material
contexts in which producers and receivers are sited.
Thus the Bakhtin Circle is more interested in the process of meaning
construction than in the exchange of meanings. This is evident when
Voloshinov stresses that 'in essence, meaning belongs to a word in its
position between speakers; that is, meaning is realized only in the
process of active, responsive understanding' (MPL, p. 102), or when
Bakhtin remarks that the 'true essence' of a text 'always develops on
the boundary between two consciousnesses, two subjects' (PT, p. 106).
The notion of the text as a boundary phenomenon involving two con-
sciousnesses tellingly captures the sense of the 'other', not as some
idealized, abstract entity, but as a living, social force in the person of
the reader /listener who actively participates in the generation of
8. Bakhtin, 'The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology and the Human
Sciences: An Experiment in Philosophical Analysis', in Speech Genres, pp. 103-31
(121) (hereafter PT).
9. M. Bakhtin, 'Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences', in Speech
Genres, pp. 159-72 (166-67) (hereafter MHS).
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 67
Furthermore, the notion that the word is already saturated with the
'voices' of others when we appropriate and receive it suggests that
texts are invested with an intertextual dimension. Therefore, to sug-
gest, as Halliday does, that 'social context is predictive of the text'
(LSS, p. 189) is to obscure the fact that a text comes to us already con-
textualized, already saturated with potenhal, multiple meanings, the
generation of which is open to readers as they interact with the text.
It follows that when the Hallidayan model is adopted in the stylistic
analysis of literary texts, it proceeds to prescribe a neat fit between
language and meaning as encoded in the grammar. And to graft such
an approach onto the Bakhtin Circle, some discourse stylisticians
do when they interpret Bakhtinian ideas in terms of Halliday's model,
is a misplaced ambition. The specificities of the social contexts of
individuals and their enactment of this sociality in their interaction
with the text are written out of Halliday's model. Halliday's account
of registers promotes the codification of context, which represents 'the
semiotic encounter through which the meanings that constitute the
social system are exchanged'. Consequently Halliday's argument that
'the exchange of meanings is an interacttve process and text is the
means of exchange' (LSS, p. 139) cannot be equated to the Bakhtin
Circle's notion of how meaning is produced. Hence, Halliday's notion
of 'interactive process' is a misnomer because, as he himself states, 'in
order for the meanings which constitute the social system to be
exchanged between members they must f:rst be represented in some
exchangeable symbolic form', that is, in language. Consequently, the
'meanings are encoded in (and through) the semantic system and
given the form of text' (pp. 139-40).
Furthermore, Halliday undermines his entire project when, on the
one hand, he argues for the 'dynamic, indeterminate nature of mean-
ing', yet equally states that 'the context of situation', that is the semi-
otic construct, 'can be treated as a constant for the text as a whole'
(LSS, p. 139). If, as he has argued, the semiotic structure constitutes
the aggregate of meanings that are encoded in the three variables of
field, tenor and mode that then a situation type, it follows
that Halliday's claim for the dynamism and indeterminacy of mean-
ing is considerably weakened. In such a model meaning and context
are viewed as givens, stable in the process •>f language use. Readers or
listeners are thus passive participants, in that meaning is already
inscribed in the grammar of the text and all they have to do is
evoke the relevant social context. From the Bakhtinian point of view
such a move, as Medvedev points out, presupposes 'a completely
ready and static intercourse and communication that is just as
68 Dialogism
static', which Bakhtin describes as the 'graphic-schematic' model of
However, it could equally be argued that Halliday's model does
account for the individual creative use of language, in that language
users actively choose among the available 'semantic options' in the
linguistic system when constructing their texts. But it nevertheless
focuses on the producer of the text and not the receiver. The emphasis
is on the 'semantic options' that have been chosen by the speaker or
The Focus on Author-Initiated Effects
Even if any recognition is accorded to individual creativity, Halliday's
model privileges the author or speaker, since analysis focuses on the
selection of 'semantic options' from their perspective. Indeed, he
emphasizes that this creative use of language 'embodies the writer's
individual explorations of the functional diversity of language'.
such is the case, then we have not gone very far from the problem of
literary stylistics that tends to focus on the author's creative use of
Similarly, Birch, while acknowledging that Halliday's
analysis of The Inheritors marks a significant shift from Halliday's ear-
lier applications of linguistics to literary analysis, nevertheless con-
cedes that Halliday focuses on meanings that are selected by the
Halliday's model does not confront the issue of readers or listeners
as autonomous social beings who bring with them particular socio-
cultural factors that may influence their reading of the texts above and
beyond what is already encoded. This is especially pertinent in the
case of literary texts, since they are received across a broad spectrum
10. P.N. Medvedev, The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship: A Critical Intro-
duction to Sociological Poetics (trans. A.J. Wehrle; The Goucher College Series; Balti-
more: Johns Hopkins University Press), p. 152 (hereafter FM); Bakhtin, The Prob-
lems of Speech Genres', in Speech Genres, pp. 60-102 (68) (hereafter PSG); see also
MPL,p. 7.
11. M.A.K. Halliday, 'Linguistic Function and Literary Style: An Inquiry into
the Language of William Golding's The Inheritors', in D.C. Freeman (ed.), Essays in
Modem Stylistics (London: Methuen, 1981), pp. 325-60 (355) (hereafter LFLS).
12. R. Carter and P. Simpson 'Introduction', in idem (eds.), Language, Discourse
and Literature: An Introductory Reader in Discourse Stylistics (London: Unwin
Hyman, 1989), pp. 1-20 (7).
13. D. Birch, Language, Literature and Critical Practice (London: Routledge and
KeganPaul, 1989),p.144.
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 69
of readers, who bring to their interaction with and interpretation of
the text particular non-linguistic social factors not encoded in the
grammar. Halliday's approach presupposes a generalized reading or
listening public. And his methodology can only work if the individual
reader effaces his/her own socio-cultural and historical make-up and
assumes the persona of the generalized reader.
If, as discourse stylisticians argue, analysis should focus on literary
discourse as a social practice, then how is the role of readers theorized
in such a project? Can readers assert their individuality above and
beyond the generalized sociality? Or are readers merely consumers
who invoke the relevant codes and conventions and retrieve the
appropriate meanings intended by the author? It is arguably the case
that Halliday's model favours this last understanding. On the other
hand, it should be noted that Halliday's model does have the advan-
tage of systematizing readings. In this sense it has pedagogical value.
It promotes a generalized understanding •Jf the relationship between
linguistic structures as social structures, and of their role in the con-
struction of texts. And the ensuing reading of the text is predicated on
this generality.
However, it is still the case that in the social practice of language
use what matters is the instantiation and n·ception by particular social
beings in particular social environments of these linguistic structures.
When such factors are taken into consideration, then the meanings
that are assigned to the ideational, interpersonal and textual functions
exceed their generalized linguistic function, or 'system' properties.
And if discourse stylisticians wish to theorize readers as actively
involved in the production of social meaning,
then, first, the notion
of a generalized reading and, secondly, the valorization of authorial
meaning have to be challenged.
The question, therefore, is: do discourse stylisticians raise similar
objections to Halliday's model? And if they do, how then do they the-
orize the role of the reader? It also that, if they do raise such
objections, then on the basis of the arguments presented thus far one
would expect them not to interpret Bakhtinian ideas in of Hall-
iday's model. But before this issue is takt·n up it would be pertinent to
exemplify the points and objections raist•d above by examining Halli-
day's stylistic analysis of a literary text. In the process it will be
demonstrated how a Bakhtinian reading would not only question the
sort of reading Halliday offers, but also demonstrate that meanings
14. Carter and Simpson, 'Introduction', pp. 14- l7; R. Fowler, Linguistic Criticism
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 233-53 (hereafter LC).
70 Dialogism
are not inherently 'system' properties, but rather generated out of the
assumptions and evaluations that are brought to bear in the reading
A Hallidayan Stylistic Analysis of a Literary Text
When Halliday's model is appropriated for the purposes of stylistic
... the emphasis is on the study of the text, and again there is a func-
tional basis to this. We are interested in what a particular writer has
written, against the background of what he might have written
-including comparatively, against the background of other things he
has written, or that other people have written. If we are interested in
what it is about the language of a particular work of literature that has
its effect on us as readers, then we shall want to look not simply at the
effects of linguistic prominence, which by themselves are rather trivial,
but effects of linguistic prominence in respect of those functions of lan-
guage which are highlighted in the particular work (LSS, pp. 57-58).
It should be noted that Halliday's notion of 'linguistic prominence' is
not equivalent to the Formalist notion of 'foregrounding,' which, as
Mukafovsky states, is the process of exploiting language aesthetically
in poetry through the systematic distortion of the norms derived from
ordinary or standard language, in order to defamiliarize the linguistic
code which is taken for granted in standard language.
This has the
effect of promoting the 'poetic effect' at the expense of the commu-
nicative function of ordinary language use. By contrast, Halliday
argues that the process of foregrounding involves the choice and
selection made by language users of the 'meaning potential' inherent
in the linguistic elements, seen as semiotic structures. This derives
from Halliday's notion that language functions 'to serve certain uni-
versal types of demand' (LFLS, p. 326) that is, the ideational, interper-
sonal and textual functions. Thus, through the particular selection of
'semantic options' available in the linguistic system, language users
are able to foreground the ideational, interpersonal or textual
Halliday's stylistic analysis of William Golding's The Inheritors
(1971) is often regarded as the seminal work in the application of sys-
temic functional linguistics to the stylistic analysis of a literary text.
15. See J. Mukarovsky, 'Standard Language and Poetic Language', in A Prague
School Reader on Esthetics, Literary Structure and Style (ed. and trans. P.L. Garvin;
Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1964), pp. 17-30.
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 71
He demonstrates how the author has deployed and foregrounded cer-
tain 'semantic options' to represent events and the participatory roles
of people. As Halliday contends, this is reflected in the 'transitivity'
element in the clause (LSS, p. 116). According to Halliday, the promi-
nent features of foregrounding that characterize the literary style of
Golding's text 'are largely syntactic' (LFlS p. 345), and the syntactic
structure realizes the subject-matter. In other words, it represents the
linguistic choices that Golding makes in order to represent content. In
Golding's text this syntactic feature manifests itself in the prominence
of the element of transitivity patterning. Foregrounding in this sense,
therefore, represents a motivation on the part of Golding to present
content in a particular way. This is realized through the selection of
particular syntactic features that contribute to the overall meaning of
the work (p. 334). As Halliday states elsewhere:
I have tried to illustrate this in my (1971) study of the language of
Golding's The Inheritors, where it is very dearly the transitivity system
that is at work. There is a highlighting of man's interpretation of the
processes of the external world; and therefore it is no accident that there
is a highlighting in the language, in the gra:nmar, of certain aspects of
the transitivity system ... the text is seen as dn actualization of the total
potential, in the context of a functional theory for the interpretation of
the potential (LSS, p. 58)
For Halliday, the foregrounded transitivity system contributes to
the overall meaning of Golding's work and his representation of
Neanderthal man in The Inheritors:
In The /nhaitors, Golding is offering a ' particular way of looking at
experience' , a vision of things which he ascribes to Neanderthal man;
and he conveys this by syntactic prominence, by the frequency with
which lw selects certain key syntactic options. It is their frequency
which establishes the clause types in question (LFLS, p. 342).
The clause types are 'particular patterns or transitivity' (p. 342). Halli-
day uses a complex of factors to determint· the nature and selection of
these patterns of transitivity. This results from the fact that, when lan-
guage users partake in the ideational function of language, they have
to decide how to present events and situations with regard to the
people and things involved in them. ThE·se events or situations can be
divided into four main types of process: material, mental, verbal and
relational. The choice of process depends <lll the nature of the event or
experience. But within each process there are further choices that onEc'
could make. For instance, the choice of tense, lexical items. adverbs
and prepositions and nominal groups. The choices that one makes
72 Dialogism
depend on how one wishes to present the events or participants
involved. To illustrate the point, let us take two sentences: (i) John
baked the cake; and (ii) The baking of the cake was carried out by
John. Although both sentences can be argued to represent the same
physical process, the way that the process has been presented is
arguably different. In the second instance the process is realized in
nominalized form. This difference in presentation of a physical pro-
cess can be argued to reflect on the speaker's or writer's relationship
to the agent (John) as well as his assessment of the relative importance
of the event. In (i) the agent is the focus, whereas in (ii) the emphasis
is on the actual process or action rather than on the agent.
The above process obtains equally in Golding's case. Here the
choice manifests itself in Golding's predominant use of transitive and
intransitive verbs to present events and the people involved in them.
Halliday argues that such choices 'establish certain regular patterns'
and 'represent ... a world view, a structuring of experience that is
But Halliday's analysis is predicated on meanings
already encoded in the grammar and, furthermore, it betrays a bias
towards authorial intentions. Nor does it confront the problem, or
possibility, of a plurality of readings. What is needed, but not under-
taken, is a consideration of the fact that in the actual process of read-
ing one should pay attention equally to the subjectivizing of the
'objective' descriptive methodology of grammatical analysis by read-
ers, something that a Bakhtinian approach does, with its emphasis on
'creative understanding,' 're-accentuation' and plurality of reading
positions contingent on the assumptions and evaluations readers
bring to their interaction with the text.
Golding's text concerns two groups of people-the Neanderthals
and their adversaries, a more advanced and sophisticated tribe, who
eventually become the 'inheritors' of the land. According to Halliday,
Golding's selection of transitivity clauses, and their consequent fore-
grounding, is motivated by the need to highlight the differences
between the two groups, which Halliday argues manifests itself in the
language of the text, that is, Language A and Language C respectively
(LFLS, p. 344). Golding's description of Neanderthal man, with spe-
cial reference to the principal protagonist Lok, is characterized by the
prominent use of intransitive clauses to describe the actions and
movements of Lok and his people. An example of a passage analyzed
by Halliday is the following (passage A):
16. M.A.K. Halliday, Exploration in the Functions of a n ; ~ u a ; ~ e (London: Edward
Arnold, 1973), pp. 103-43 (122).
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday
The bushes twitched again. Lok steadied by the tree and gazed. A head
and chest faced him, half-hidden. There were white bone things behind
the leaves and hair. The man had white bone things above his eyes and
under the mouth so that his face was longer than a face should be. The
man turned sideways in the bushes and looked at Lok along his shoul-
der. A stick rose upright and there was a lump of bone in the middle.
Lok peered at the stick and the lump of bone and the small eyes in the
bone things over the face. Suddenly Lok understood that the man was
holding the stick out to him but neither he nor Lok could reach across
the river. He would have laughed if it w t ~ r e not for the echo nf the
screaming in his head. The stick began to grow shorter at both ends.
Then it shot out to full length again. The dead tree by Lok's ear acquired
a voice. 'Clop!' ... (LFLS, p. 355).
Halliday notes that this description represents a world view, that of
Golding, that characterizes Neanderthal men as ineffectual, passive
people who have little effect on their environment. For example, Hall-
iday argues that 'almost all of the action clauses ... describe simple
movements (turn, rise, hold, reach ... etc); and the majority ... are
intransitive' (p. 355). The prominence ol such transitivity patterns,
which occur in almost 90 per cent of the book, results in 'a pic-
ture ... in which people act, but they do not act on things; they move,
but they move only themselves, not other objects' (pp. 343-45).
In contrast, Language C, the language of the superior tribe, that of
'homo sapiens' is characterized by the prominence of transitive
clauses, in which human agents act on external objects (LFLS, pp. 350-
51). Thus, whereas the language and actions of Neanderthal man 'are
encoded in terms of the world-view of tht' people', and are character-
ized by the 'predominance of intransitivt clauses', the language and
actions of modern man are 'encoded in terms of the world-view' of
homo sapiens, and 'transitive structures predominate' (pp. 351-52).
The argument, therefore, is that the predominance of intransitive
clauses, and more importantly, their function as manifested in the
syntax directs the reader to a particular inlerpretation of the text.
Halliday interprets this functional use of language to back up his
argument that the predominance of intransitive clauses functions to
represent a view of prehistoric man as ineffectual, victimized, subor-
dinated people. Similarly, transitive clauses are interpreted as func-
tioning to present a view of man as actively ordering and shaping his
environment. Such interpretations are warranted, argues Halliday,
because the meanings are already encoded in the grammar of the text;
Golding chose the transitivity syntactical patterns because they
allowed him to express these meanings.
But, as the Bakhtin Circle argues, linguistic forms in themselves do
not have any value or meaning (FM, pp. 122-23).1t is only in the social
practice of language use, when these linguistic forms are instantiated
in the form of utterances by social beings in particular social contexts,
that these linguistic forms acquire meaning and hence value. As
Voloshinov maintains, the word as sign is a socio-ideological con-
struct that reflects and refracts the diversity of human existence; the
same linguistic form is accorded a different value and meaning
according to the contexts of usage and the prevailing social dynamics
between the participants involved (MPL, pp. 22-24). Similarly,
Medvedev stresses that 'social evaluation ... mediates between lan-
guage as an abstract system of possibilities and the concrete reality of
language' (FM, p. 125).
In such a view the 'meaning potential', which Hallidayan systemic
functional linguistics sees as already encoded in the linguistic forms,
represents the abstract possibilities that can only be activated through
dialogic interaction between text and reader. Thus Fish aptly points
out in his critique of Halliday that, while he has no quarrel with the
fact that the syntactical patterns that Halliday identifies are meaning-
ful, Halliday is nevertheless wrong to view meaning as already being
determinate in syntactical patterns which function to assign a particu-
lar meaning. Rather, as Fish argues, it is not 'the capacity of syntax to
express it, but the ability of the reader to confer it'. The ascription and
conferment of meaning and value to linguistic form, as Fish argues,
arises out of 'their reception and negotiation by a reader'. This means
that meaning or value is not located in the linguistic form itself, nor
can it be attributed solely to the author. As Fish aptly puts it, 'the
focus of attention is shifted from the spatial context of a page and its
observable regularities to the temporal context of a mind and its
However, while Fish's conceptualization might be seen to reflect
the Bakhtinian view that meaning is always socially produced and
arises between speakers ('meaning belongs to a word in its position
between speakers' [MPL, p. 102]), or, as Bakhtin puts it, 'the second
consciousness, the consciousness of the perceiver, can in no way be
eliminated or neutralized' [PT, p. 107]), he theorizes the reader as sub-
sumed under the protocols of an interpretive community. Therefore,
the 'temporal context of a mind and its experiences' equates to that of
an interpretive community rather than of the individual reader. The
Bakhtin Circle's theorization, by contrast, posits the notion of a
17. S. Fish, Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), p. 83.
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 75
variety of reading protocols, ranging from that of an interpretive
community, in the sense of readers of scientific texts who bring to
their reading particular reading protocols and expectations that allow
them to interpret the text as scientific, to individual readers of literary
texts who interact with the language from their particular spatio-
temporal and material dimensions, which underscores the Bakhtinian
notion of 'creative understanding' and 'reaccentuation'.
With reference to the literary text the 'second consciousness' that
Bakhtin refers to can be conceived as the concrete, historically situated
reader, who subjectifies the objective enunciated utterance in order to
make sense of it. Furthermore, since social beings are not a homoge-
neous mass but, as the Bakhtin Circle has argued, stratified and dif-
ferentiated by socio-economic factors such as class and profession, it
follows that the subjectification of the text is influenced by these non-
linguistic factors.
Furthermore, one could argue that Halliday's
reading of Golding's text, and the ideational and ideological content
that he sees manifest in Golding's selection of transitive and intransi-
tive clauses to portray inertia, on the om hand, and activity, on the
other, represents a particularly Western world-view, with its empha-
sis on logic, reason and a desire to order and tame the surroundings.
More than that, such an interpretation illustrates vividly what the
Bakhtin Circle means by the centripetal forces of language that work
to 'unify and centralize the verbal-ideological world'.
But if we take the Bakhtinian view that the centripetal forces of lan-
guage always operate in the midst of the centrifugal forces, because
language as a social practice is always subject to different social eval-
uations and assumptions and, hence, heteroglossic, then the transitiv-
ity patterns can be evaluated differentl.y. depending on the sort of
evaluations that are brought to the reading process. It is in the
interaction between reader and text that linguistic forms are evaluated
and assigned value. But in the case of Halliday's analysis only
one social value is awarded agency through transitivity syntactical
pattern: transitivity equals power, action and superiority, whereas
intransitivity equals passivity, weakness and inferiority. Such an
assignation of social value is determinate and presents a unitary,
18. See MPL, p. 23; see also V.N. Voloshinov. Freudianism: A Marxist Critique
(trans. I.R. Titunik; New York: Academic Press. 1976), p. 15, and 'Literary Stylis-
tics', in Bakhtin School Papers (ed. A. Shukman; Russian Poetics in Translation, 10;
Oxford: RPT Publications), pp. 93-152 (144-47).
19. M. Bakhtin, 'Discourse in the Novel', in Tlz, Dialogic imagination: Four Essays
by M.M. Baklztin (ed. M. Holquist; trans. C. Emerson and M. Holquist; Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1981), pp. 259-422 (270) (hereafter DN).
centralized view via the grammar, and, hence, makes it 'centripetal' .
By contrast, in the case of a Bakhtinian reading value and meaning do
not come from the linguistic form alone. The linguistic form has only
the potential to mean, and this potential is activated only through the
assumptions and evaluations that the reader brings to his/her
Therefore even a reading consonant with Halliday's does not come
directly from the transitivity patterns themselves. Rather, it comes via
the assumptions of a reader, who assigns value and meaning to the
transitivity patterns. In this instance transitivity equals agency equals
effectivity in the world. Readers who position themselves in this way
would support Halliday's own evaluations. On the other hand,
readers who have different assumptions and evaluations may assign a
different value and meaning to the transitivity patterning. This is a
pertinent point when seen in relation to the Bakhtinian concept of
'creative understanding', whereby, in order to enrich textual meaning,
readers should invoke their 'outsideness'.
This means that non-
Western readers might assign a negative value to the transitivity pat-
terning, in the sense that they might equate it with power and
destructiveness. Evaluated thus Language C, that is the language of
'homo sapiens,' would be associated with a particular socio-cultural
Just because the representatives of homo sapiens in Golding's text
are described as doers and movers does not necessarily imply that
they are superior. One could ask: to what purpose are their actions
directed? Even if they are superior, they destroy the other tribe which,
therefore, taints their superiority, especially as Neanderthal man in
Golding's text does not pose a threat to homo sapiens. Readers who
assign such a value and meaning to the transitivity patterns would
position themselves differently to Halliday. But Halliday's analysis
does not make available such a reading, because he assigns only one
social value via the grammar of the text. In the Bakhtinian framework
transitivity patterns per se cannot be interpreted as indicators of two
opposite states or conditions. For example, one could argue that
Neanderthal man does not impose his will on his surroundings pre-
cisely because he wants to live in harmony with Nature, and such a
reading may be consistent with the assumptions of readers who come
from a culture different to Halliday's and Golding's. For example,
readers from Eastern cultures would not necessarily interpret or use
20. See Bakhtin, N70, pp. 141-42, and 'Response to a Question from the Navy
Mir Editorial Staff', in Speech Genres, pp. 1-9 (7).
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 77
intransitive clauses pejoratively or to denote impotence. These readers
could view intransitivity as indicative of a higher state of being,
whereby individuals opt out of confrontational behaviour.
The point, therefore, is that Halliday's stylistic analysis of Golding's
text is only one of many available. But his model does not allow for
the other readings to be articulated, precibely because transitivity and
intransitivity patterns are seen as already encoded in the grammar in
terms of action and passivity. Halliday's methodology offers a coded,
generalized reading derived from the grammar. In Bakhtinian terms it
is a 'linguistic understanding', not a pragmatic one (ON, p. 281; PT,
p. 107). Furthermore, the interpretation privileges a generalized read-
ership which here, is basically an Anglo-Saxon one.
To the Bakhtin Circle what matters is not 'linguistic understanding',
and its corresponding generalized meanings, but their subjectification
by individuals. As Emerson aptly notes, 'the social self is not the gen-
eralized self'.
And subjectification is a dynamic process, rather than
a stable, static one, and becomes increasingly complex in the case of
literary texts, because the readership is heterogeneous and the text is
received within a broad spatia-temporal context. For example, while
it is the case that literary texts may have their intended readers, the
fact remains that actual readers, whether I hey fall within the category
of intended audience or not, continue to subjectify the text from their
particular reading positions. If one's reading position coincides with
that of the intended audience in terms o:Jf one's socio-cultural and
historical orientations, then one's reading and subjectification of the
text could be said to coincide with the author's. But the gulf between
readers and the 'common ground' bec,_)mes wider, and at times
unbridgeable, given the fact that literary texts are received by a cross-
section of readers whose spatia-temporal and material context neces-
sarily cannot coincide with that of the text and its author. This is a
point confronted by the Bakhtin Circle, who argue that in the reading
process a number of protocols come into play and, indeed, that in the
case of the literary text its reception in the here and now by the real-
world reader is privileged (FM, p. 122).
Thus, a social-semiotic model of language, as presented by Halliday
and when deployed in the stylistic analysis of a literary text, first,
treats the language of the text as author-initiated and, second, pre-
cludes the possibility of a plurality of readings by theorizing the
reader as a generalized social entity. Even if one were to argue that
21. C. Emerson, 'Problems with Bakhtin' s Poetics', Slavic and East European
fourna/32.4 (1988), pp. 503-25 (505).
the reader in Halliday's model is indeed a concrete reader, one would
have to concede that this reader shares the same socio-cultural back-
ground as Halliday (and Golding). Given these shortcomings of Hall-
iday's model, it behoves one to ask, in the light of current work in dis-
course stylistics that increasingly places a premium on reader interac-
tion with text, whether discourse stylisticians have raised similar
objections to Halliday's model. And more pertinently, do they put
forth a case against the tendency to subsume Bakhtinian ideas under
Halliday's model of language?
Critical Linguistics vis-a-vis the Bakhtin Circle
Roger Fowler's project for a 'critical linguistics' shares with the
Bakhtin Circle a concern for treating literary texts as social discourse
whose meaning is socially engendered and produced. Indeed, in
arguing against the traditional Formalist notion of literary texts as
'verbal icons', Fowler proposes that literary texts be viewed in terms
of their dialogic dimension, that 'they do participate in society's
communicative practices' (LC, p. 130). To this end, Fowler cites the
Bakhtinian concepts of dialogism, multiaccentuality and heteroglossia
as providing valuable insights (p. 149). Second, Fowler emphasizes
that his approach gives 'a privileged position to the reader' (p. 247). It
would appear that in Fowler's 'critical linguistics' we have a possible
corrective to the Hallidayan position. In fact the following statement
from Language as Social Discourse comes close to echoing the senti-
ments of the Bakhtin Circle itself:
There is a dialectical interrelationship between language and social
structure: the varieties of linguistic usage are both products of socio-
economic forces and institutions-reflexes of such factors as power
relations, occupation roles, social stratifications, etc.-and practices
which are instrumental in forming and legitimating these same social
forces and institutions. The New Critics and Formalists vehemently
denied that 'literature' had social determinants and social conse-
quences, but a sociolinguistic theory ... will show that all discourse is
part of social structure and enters into ... effected and effecting
relationships ...
Taking up the Bakhtin Circle's notion of the multiaccentuality of the
sign, Fowler argues that a 'critical and creative practice can restore
multiaccentuality' to the tendency to reduce or resolve meaning 'in
only one direction' (LC, p. 149). This can be achieved through what
22. R. Fowler, Language as Social Discourse (London: Batsford, 1981), p. 21.
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 79
Fowler calls the technique of 'extra structure'. He argues that in the
social practice of language use it is not only important to produce
well-structured texts that are coherent; attention must also be paid to
the way we configure the structure of te:ds to meet the communica-
tive needs and contexts of use. This conftguration is the 'extra struc-
ture' that adds 'extra meaning' to the text (LC, pp. 92-93). For
example, the choice and combination of linguistic structures reflects a
multitude of purposes, attitudes and relationships between
speaker /writer and listener /reader. To illustrate the point, one could
say that the consistent use of the impersonal pronoun 'one' may be
construed as reflecting the speaker's or writer's wish either to remain
anonymous or aloof.
It is clear that Fowler's position is similar to that of the members of
the Bakhtin Circle when, in their critique of Saussurean linguistics,
they argue that, while we need linguistic structures to construct our
utterances, in the actual social practice of language use it is the forms
of combinations of these structures that matter (see MPL, p. 83; PSG,
p. 81). This also explains what Voloshinov means when he says that
the utterance is 'determined equally by whose word it is and for whom
it is meant' (MPL, p. 86).
Furthermore, Fowler's notion of a critical and creative use of lan-
guage also reflects the Bakhtinian concept of speech genre. This views
language as containing a variety of generic forms for different spheres
of communication. However, it is also pertinent to note that while the
normative and mandatory role assigned to speech genres by Bakhtin
tends to suppress the creative use of language, he reinstates the indi-
vidual creative use of language when he argues that in any given
situation the individual can choose from a number of generic forms
(PSG, pp. 78-80). More crucially, individuals can 'reaccentuate'
generic forms.
While Fowler emphasizes the multiaccentual nature of language
use, he does not go on to address the notion of 'reaccentuation', as
argued for by the Bakhtin Circle. For example, in the process of sub-
jectification the word of another can be 'reaccentuated', that is given a
value different from or conflicting with that imputed by the speaker
or writer. Therefore, while Hodge rightly points out that '"one" is a
formal use, marking the speaker as of high status ... or the context as
formal' in contrast to "T' which is direct and relatively informal',
one might add that the use of the pronoun 'one' could be deployed
for purposes other than to signal one's status. For example, the usage
23. R. Hodge, Literature as Discourse (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), pp. 5-6.
80 Dialogism
of 'one' could be deployed to parody or mock its pomposity and those
who use it, or could be read as such by a reader or listener. This illus-
trates the Bakhtinian notion of 'reaccentuation'.
Furthermore, the Bakhtin Circle's social theory of language cannot
be equated with Halliday's socio-semiotic model of language, specifi-
cally in relation to his concept of register. And this is where Fowler's
appropriation of Bakhtinian ideas becomes questionable. For, picking
up on the Bakhtinian notion of heteroglossia, which argues that texts
are constructed out of a plurality of 'languages', an argument best
exemplified by Bakhtin's conceptualization of novelistic discourse
(see DN, pp. 262-63), Fowler goes on to utilize Halliday's concept of
register to interpret and 'clarify Bakhtin's views' (LC, p. 151).
Critical Linguistics vis-a-vis The Bakhtinian Concept of Heteroglossia
According to Fowler a 'text containing a mix of registers, dialects, and
sociolects' can be termed heteroglossic, following 'Bakhtin's dialogic
theory of literature'. And a heteroglossic text poses a challenge to
readers, because, unlike texts that are composed of just one register
and, hence, present few problems in their processing, heteroglossic
texts are more indeterminate and demand that readers work out the
association between these 'languages,' as they often illustrate 'a dia-
logue between the world views implicit' in the juxtaposition of
different registers within a text. In other words, when faced with a
heteroglossic text, readers 'cannot rest in a state of untroubled
certainty', because they have to work out the function of the different
registers within the text. And Halliday's concept of register is seen as
an appropriate analytical tool to ascertain the nature of this dialogue
and, hence, the heteroglossic nature of the text, because it allows us to
identify a situation type. And situation type corresponds to a 'voice'
or class of person. In other words, Halliday's concept of register will
allow the reader to work out the 'critical relationship' between these
'voices', as manifested in their registerial characteristics (see LC, pp.
Fowler's distinction between texts that are written in just one regis-
ter (what he calls 'hegemonic text'), and those that contain more than
one register, that is heteroglossic texts, implies that two different
types of processing are demanded of readers. But, in fact, the process-
ing is based on the same methodology: a study of the registerial
properties of the text following the principles laid down in Halliday's
concept of register. For example, Fowler argues that in the processing
of hegemonic texts, 'listing the linguistic features associated with the
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 81
field, tenor, and mode of a text is an easy and organized way of char-
acterizing the register'. This means that: a text has linguistic features
that act to prompt the reader into interpreting the text as belonging to
a particular register: 'the textual signals or cues bring the register to
awareness, to tacit recognition' (LC, p. 196). Similarly, in heteroglossic
texts 'significant details of structure ... encourage readers to construct
a fuller picture of each whole variety' (p. 197). Therefore, in process-
ing hegemonic, as well as heteroglossic texts, readers depend on lin-
guistic cues or textual structure. And these 'cues' are intrinsic proper-
ties of registers. At this level of processing there is no difference
between the two types of reading. More significantly, since 'textual
cues' determine processing and, hence, interpretation and meaning,
the role of the reader is reduced to decoding the linguistic form or
structure, which does not allow for the sort of reading the Bakhtin
Circle argues for, whereby readers can subvert or transgress generic
forms through 're-accentuation.'
While 'textual cues' do indeed act as primers, their meaning or
function is not determinate or stable, for in their subjectification dif-
ferent values could be assigned to one and the same linguistic form.
Furthermore, in the social theory of language espoused by the Bakhtin
Circle, the words that make up poetic texts are already contextualized,
they have accrued meanings from a vCtriety of contextual usage,
which are all 'condensed' into the poetic utterance. Therefore, even if
textual cues act to prompt readers to identify registerial features, one
could ask: features of which particular regish:'r, since by virhte of their
'condensed' nature, poetic utterances are the site of innumerable
'contexts' or 'situations'. Fowler's use of Halliday's concept of register
does not take into account the 'condensed nature of poetic utterances
and its implications for the reading process. Consequently, these
wider implications are not articulated bv Fowler in his analysis of
Fleur Adcock's poem Street Song (see appendix 1)-a direct conse-
quence of interpreting Bakhtinian ideas in terms of Hallidayan
linguistics. Fowler argues that the text is heteroglossic because while
the 'poem voices a familiar theme of modern feminism, the threat
men pose to women and the need for vigilance', this feminist voice in
fact surfaces only at the end of the text, while the 'main body of the
text is registered in a range of other voices' (LC, p. 202). Fowler is
implying that in the text there is a chorus of different 'voices' whose
different 'world views' contribute to a central theme.
The task of the reader, therefore, is to identify these 'voices' and
analyze how they contribute to the overall theme of the text. The
reader needs to work out the different regrsterial characteristics of the
82 Dialogism
text. And this is what Fowler proceeds to do in his analysis. Accord-
ing to Fowler stanza 1 recalls the register of nursery rhymes and
children's voices at play. A number of registerial features point to
such an interpretation. First, Fowler draws attention to the 'feature of
mode': the metrical patterning of the lines reminds one of 'oral
verse ... particularly, verse for children'. When this is interpreted in
relation to 'games' in line 4 and the street names, they all add up to
'reinforce the suggestion of a register of childhood' (LC, p. 202). But
the point is that, when seen in the context of the poem, there is an
added twist to the play situation depicted in stanza 1, because
the play situation evokes danger: it is not safe for children to play in the
street.' Waiting', 'hiding', and' games' have thus a double meaning: the
game is not only hide-and-seek, but the perverse ('peculiar' ) sexual
play of the adult predator (p. 203).
According to Fowler, this theme of sexual perversion and threat is
reinforced throughout the poem by the deployment of different regis-
ters. For instance, the word 'loitering' in stanza 2 comes from the
'register of police observation' (p. 203) and reinforces the notion of a
sinister presence that lurks waiting to commit some sexual crime.
Words like 'stalking', 'Hunter's Road' and 'raring to go' remind one
of 'animals and 'hunting', while words like the 'Ripper', 'cobbles',
'Back', 'Monk', 'Friars' are 'sinister or medieval'. The point Fowler is
making is that these different registerial characteristics all add up to
the overall theme of sexual perversion and the threat men pose to
While one would not dispute the validity of Fowler's interpretation,
one could query nevertheless whether it does not seek to unify the
text within a single overall reading, since, in the final analysis, it is the
feminist 'voice' that prevails. Moreover, Fowler's reading seems to
imply that only women are the victims of sexual perversion. The sub-
ject of address is seen as already positioned by the discourse struc-
ture. For example, in the text two predominant subject positions are
used, that of 'I' and 'he'. In fact 'I' occurs only once, in the first stanza,
and in Fowler's reading this subject position appears to be occupied
by a female addressor. While Fowler does indeed privilege the reader
in his reading, only one level of dialogic activity is analyzed, or at
least the problem of sexual perversion is seen as affecting only a
particular section of society. While Fowler's reading is insightful, it
could have been broadened. For if we take into consideration the
Bakhtinian position that readers subjectify texts according to their
own socio-semiotic and ideological space, then the problem of sexual
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 83
perversion could arguably be a problem that affects readers other
than female ones. In this instance, the 'I' in stanza 1 could be occupied
by a male, and it is arguably the case that men are also sexually vic-
timized by other males. In which case the rather aggressive tone
towards the male in the text could be challenged as being biased.
Fowler's interpretation overlooks the possibility of such a reading,
since the subject positions available in 'I' are not confronted, perhaps
because of the reading of 'sisters' as 'a powerful lexical cue to a regis-
ter of feminism' (LC, p. 202). But 'sisters' could also function in
relation to the register of familial kinship. In this instance, the text
could be interpreted in terms of a dialogue between actual sisters.
Or in relation to the sub-culture of alternative sexuality, one could
read the word 'sisters' as 'a powerful lexical cue to a register' of
It is rather unsatisfactory, therefore, that while Fowler claims the
text 'is registered in a range of other voices' (LC, p. 202), in the final
analysis the positioning of these 'voices' and the different levels of
addressivity that they can set up with the reader are left unexplored.
Furthermore, while Fowler is right to claim that 'shifts in register'
are observable, one might add that they are so because of the value
that is assigned to the linguistic form and not because it is
'objectively' there. To illustrate his claim he points to the 'vernacular,
colloquial mode' of stanza 3 and contrasts it with the 'elevated tone of
the street names in stanza 4' (LC, p. 203). To deploy Halliday's con-
cept of register as a criterion to argue that stanza 3 is 'vernacular and
colloquial' is acceptable; but it involves mvoking the correct social
context, in this instance, the British context. Non-British or non-native
speakers of English may not be able to invoke this context and inter-
pret the expressions as colloquial or vernacular. They might interpret
them as standard British English. Similarly the assignation of an
'elevated tone' to the street names in stanza 4 such that they are
indicative of a '"better class" residential area' (p. 203), is contingent
on certain positive assumptions and values that are held regarding
these names. Not all readers, even within the same community, will
necessarily hold such assumptions. For example, if we take the
Bakhtinian concept of 'outsideness' to signify class divisions within a
society, leading to the 'culture' of the underdogs, the oppressed, the
underprivileged, then readers who come from poorer residential
areas would conceivably attach a 'derisiv.::>' or 'negative' overtone to
the street names. Fowler's reading attaches only one expressive tone,
and fails to explore the possibility that different readers even within
the same cultural and social context may mvoke conflicting assump-
tions and evaluations which then determine the expressive tone they
attach to the words.
Fowler's reader is also different from the Bakhtin Circle's, notwith-
standing his claim that in his approach the reader is privileged. Even
if the reader is indeed privileged, it is a particular type of reader: the
reader who is part of Fowler's socio-cultural, literary tradition. This is
apparent when Fowler stresses that he does not mean to 'advocate a
purely subjective, individualistic notion of the reader' who is 'licensed
to respond to and interpret texts according to their personal fancies'.
Rather readers interpret texts intersubjectively, which is predicated on
the individual functioning and working within 'a community' (LC, p.
247). It is only through being a member of this 'community' that the
reader engages in the act of interpretation. Consequently, it is not
surprising that Fowler claims that 'the practice of literary criticism is
to engage in discussion towards agreement on interpretation',
because the individual here is theorized as part of an overarching
sociality as represented by the 'community'. While claiming to privi-
lege the reader, such a theorization in fact places the community or
social above the individual. As Fowler stresses, 'critical response
is ... something worked out within a community' and '"the reader"
whom I have invoked is a participant in and representative of this
process ... and is therefore genuinely "we"' (p. 247; emphasis added).
This illustrates the point that Fowler's reader is part of the Anglo-
Saxon community; hence he does not see any problem with his analy-
sis of Adcock's poem as patently heteroglossic. The underlying
assumption is that his readers belong to the same community as he
does, are part of the 'we'. Therefore, even if Fowler privileges the
reader, the reader is viewed as part of an interpretive community.
Given the fact that Fowler and others argue for a critical linguistics in
which interpretation involves 'the process of recovering the social
meanings expressed in discourse by analysing the linguistic structures
in the light of their interactional and wider social contexts',
choice of Halliday's model in the light of the shortcomings this article
has highlighted is questionable.
But does this mean that the Bakhtin Circle advocates an individual-
istic notion of readers who are licensed to interpret texts according to
their personal fancies? This is not the case because, like Fowler, the
Bakhtin Circle argues for the intersubjective production of meaning in
the reading process. However, as Voloshinov argues, individuals are
also social beings and belong to different communities and classes
24. Fowler et al, Language and Control, p. 196 (emphasis added).
Bek Bakhtin and Halliday 85
(MPL, p. 23). Thus while social meaning is intersubjectively produced,
if readers come from different socio-cultural and historical back-
grounds, the notion of a community must necessarily extend to
include not only other communities but also different social strata of
people within a community. The point is that, while Fowler stresses
that there is no 'single, universal, literary competence which is the
same for all readers in all periods' becausE" such competence depends
on 'literary education' which occurs 'within a precise social, eco-
nomic, and political context' (LC, p. 249), his own analysis of Adcock's
poem makes no concession to this caveat.
So, does Fowler's analysis of Adcock's poem 'clarify Bakhtin's
views' (LC, p. 151)? Evidently not. The critique of Fowler's analysis
also illustrates that discourse stylisticians do not do full justice to the
Bakhtin Circle's deliberations on language, because interpreting
Bakhtinian ideas in terms of Halliday's model prevents them from
exploiting the potential of a Bakhtinian discourse stylistics. Further-
more, Fowler's mobilization of Bakhtinian stylistic concepts demon-
strates that such concepts cannot be treated as stable or transparent.
Discourse stylisticians have not engaged in a principled, comprehen-
sive and systematic way with Bakhtinian ideas.
In this regard it is pertinent to note that Taylor and Toolan take
issue with Fowler's critical linguistics on the grounds that it suffers
from the 'problem of criteria! perspective', which is the 'Achilles' heel
of functional stylistics', in that function is read off from form, a criti-
cism which in fact could be levelled at Hallidayan linguistics too.
Accordingly Taylor and Toolan argue that Fowler is not able to 'avoid
the problem of identifying when a sentence or expression has a par-
ticular ideological function and when it bas not'. Their view is that,
Fowler needs a methodology that does not rely solely on formal
features as criteria! determinants, and they suggest that Fowler could
avoid this problem if 'ideology could be identified independently of
its linguistic expression'. However they fail to offer any pointers.
Rather they are unsure, as the following remark suggests: 'whether it
is possible is another matter'.
In fact the Bakhtin Circle's conceptu-
alization of consciousness as a socio-ideological product offers a solu-
tion. The crux of its argument rests on the fact that ideology manifests
itself in the dialectics between the social and the individual, between
the objective fact of the utterance and its subjectification by individu-
als. Conceptualized thus, the specificities that accompany readers'
25. T.J. Taylor and M. Toolan, 'Recent Trends in Stylistics', Journal of Literary
Semantics 13.1 (1984), pp. 57-79 (60, 62).
86 Dialogism
subjectification of the formal or linguistic features would count as the
'criteria! determinants'-for example, issues of race, culture, gender,
to name but a few. The irony in this instance is that Fowler has actu-
ally appropriated Bakhtinian ideas, but interpreted them in Balli-
dayan terms.
Pink Lane, Strawberry Lane, Pudding Chare:
Someone is waiting, I don' t know where;
hiding among the nursery names,
he wants to play peculiar games.
In Leazes Terrace or Leazes Park
someone is loitering in the dark'
feeling the giggles rise in his throat
and fingering something under his coat.
He could be sidling along Forth Lane
to stop some girl from catching her train
or stalking the grounds of the RVI
to see if a student nurse goes by.
In Belle Grove Terrace or Fountain Row
or Hunter's Road he's raring to go-
unless he's the quiet shape you'll meet
on the cobbles in Back Stowell Street.
Monk Street, Friars Street, Gallowgate
are better avoided when it's late.
Even in Sandhill and the Side
there are shadows where a man could hide.
So don' t go lightly along Darn Crook
because the Ripper's been brought to book.
Wear flat shoes, and be ready to run:
remember, sisters, there's more than one.
26. 'Street Song', in Fleur Adcock, Selected Poems (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1983). By permission of Oxford University Press.

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