You are on page 1of 15

Bakhtin and discourse

Marxism and the philosophy of language (chapter 1)

Valentin Nikolaevich Voloinov (Mikhail Bakhtin), 1929

At the outset of an investigation, it is not so much
the intellectual faculty for making formulas and
definitions that leads the way, but rather it is the
eyes and hands attempting to get the feel of the
actual presence of the subject matter. (BAKHTIN,
1973, P. 45)
In order to observe the phenomenon of language,
both the producer and the receiver of sound and
sound itself must be placed into the social
atmosphere. (BAKHTIN, 1973, P. 46)
Marxism and the philosophy of language
Marx and Engels wrote The German Ideology
(1846) in response to Young Hegelians
(Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer e Max
Stirner), whose arguments lacked socio-
historical relationship concreteness.

Their developments often observed men as

ideal, generalized and isolated from socio-
historical reality, whereas for Marx and Engels
the ideas of each historical period are fruits of
human material conditions of existence.
Marx and Bakhtin

Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical

consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that
reason alone it really exists for me personally as well;
language, like consciousness, only arises from the need,
the necessity, of intercourse with other men.
(MARX & ENGELS, The German Philosophy, 1845-6, p. 53)

For Bakhtin, the concrete existence of language is only possible in

the relationship between me and the other, which characterizes
language as a social product as much as consciousness is also a
social product, which can only be realized in and by language,
coming to existence for other men and, thus, for me.
The word is neutral
Bakhtin (1929 [1973], p. 14) argues that the
word is a neutral sign which can assume any
type of ideological function: aesthetic,
scientific, moral or religious.

bread and wine as products, as consumer
goods, are words or neutral signs
bread and wine as religious symbols, are
ideological signs
Two trends of thought in Philosophy of Language

1. Individualistic subjectivism: an ideal

(idealistic) perspective of the world

2. Abstract objectivism: a pseudo materialistic

Individualistic subjectivism
Language is an ongoing creation, a non-stop evolution.

Language foundation is the individual speech act and language

source is the individual psique (thoughts, feelings or beliefs).

The laws of linguistic creation and creativity are the laws of

individual psychology, which must be studied by the linguist and
the philosopher of language.

The social nature of speech (enunciation) is not considered.

The linguists job is to classify and describe language so as to

prepare an explanation of the linguistic fact as an act of individual
creation or, if it is the case, as a way to serve the goals of
language acquisition.
Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767 1835)
His concept of language as Ergon-Energeia marks his
connection with the first trend: ergon (Greek for work,
function or task) refers to the ready-made inert crust of
language which will provide for creativity, movement, non-
stop evolution (energeia).

He proposes the concept of inert crust, as an internal form of

language, as being the structures, grammar, phrase and text
constructions as a whole body; the external form of a
language corresponds to the sounds produced in the various
regions where that language is spoken.

He was the first to argue that language is a system organized

by rules and not a set of words and phrases full of meaning.
Karl Vossler (1872 1949)

Vossler and his followers rejected

linguistic positivism and the simple use or
application of the language ready-made system.
Instead, they valued the creativity and
linguistic and artistic taste.

Linguistic thought is essentially poetic thought;

linguistic truth is artistic truth, is meaningful
beauty. (VOSSLER, 1910, p. 170)
Abstract objectivism
Based on the concepts of racionalism (deductive reasoning; 17th
and 18th centuries) and cartesianism (cogito ergo sum: I think,
therefore I am).
The unity of the language is provided by fixed and normative
phonetic, grammatical and lexical elements.
This regularity will provide clear understanding.
Individual creativity is out of the question and linguistic system
must be accepted as it is.
Anything which is not according to the system is wrong.
There is no relationship between the synchronic (linguistic forms
system) and the diachronic (historical evolution of linguistic
forms) aspects of the language since language is a closed and
unchangeable system in a given time (synchronically); any change
would require the creation of another system.
However, the system may change in the process of the historical
evolution of the speech community(p. 54).
Two different kinds of logic? (p. 54)

The system of a language is fixed at any given time

Linguistic forms undergo historical change

Individuals must accept the immutable system of
language as it is
The system evolves in the process of the historical
evolution of the speech community

Ich was ------- Ich war (closer to wir waren)

an individual error turned into a linguistic norm

(BAKHTIN, p. 55)

I wish I were ------- I wish I was (closer to indicative

mood form more often used)

Defective verbs ------ regular verbs (repetir: eu

repito; adequar: eu adquo [?])
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 1913)
He is a representative of the second trend.

He changed focus from diachronic (historical) to

synchronic (a given point in time) in linguistic
analysis and established the concepts of
syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis.
Individualistic subjectivism x Abstract objectivism

Bakhtin criticism:
Individualistic subjectivism:
- Verbal interaction is not taken into consideration.
- Social factors are not accounted in enunciation.
- Oral production is not related to the persons ability
to think.

Abstract objectivism
- The individual does not receive a ready-made and
complete linguistic system from his/her speech