Pseudo-dialogic and Semi-dialogic Discourse Dr. B.V. Rama Prasad Reader Dept.

of English Kuvempu University
In Discourse Analysis generally discourse is divided into monologue and dialogue (see Crystal, 1994: 294-297). This paper tries to argue that we can talk about four types of discourse, pseudo-dialogic and semi-dialogic being the other two. For the purposes of this paper, discourse can be defined as language in use(see Brown and Yule 1983: 1). We will also argue that this framework can be used as an useful tool to talk about the connections between the use of language and the inequalities in society. Let us first try to look each of the four types of discourse. We will assume that discourse will have two or two sets of participants, “A” and “B”. Of these, let us say “A” is the producer(s) of the text of the discourse and “B” is the interpreter(s) of the text of the discourse. “A” and “B” need not be persons. They can represent institutions, organizations or even the state. Monologic discourse has the following features1. We have no overlap between the roles of “A” and “B”. A produces and “B” interprets. 2. 3. “B” has no direct role in the production of the text. The text generally exists before the discourse takes place and is relatively more stable.


Typical examples for monologic discourse are sermon, poetry, a seminar paper etc. It is true that all these may have been indirectly influenced by the concept of the interpreter (congregation, reader, audience), but we have a very clear distinction between the producer and the interpreter. We will also ignore for the purposes of this paper the fact that in the preparation of the text in each case, a lot of dialogue may have taken place. The point is that these dialogues are not between “A” and “B” as defined earlier. This brings us to the question of co-authored texts. Are these to be considered dialogic? The dialogue in such texts is not between “A” and “B” as defined in this paper, but both (or more of) the authors are part of “A”. A truly dialogic text is one in which both “A” and “B” contribute on equal footing to the creation of the text. Thus in a dialogic text, the roles of the producer and the interpreter are not fixed. All the participants have equal rights to contribute. Gossip is as near as one can come to a truly dialogic discourse in real life. Then there are situations where “A” and “B” appear to be having a dialogue, but in reality both together are addressing some other person(s) “C”. For example, we can look at the conversation between the lawyer and his client in the courtroom. Let us say the lawyer is “A” and his client is “B”. The lawyer may ask a series of questions to his client who is in the witness box. Thus both “A” and “B” seem to be constructing the text (though of course the lawyer is controlling the discourse). But here A and B are not actually speaking to each other. Their dialogue is meant to be interpreted by the judge (who may of course contribute to the discourse). Such a discourse where there is a


pretense of dialogue between “A” and “B”, but where the intended interpreter is someone other than “A” or “B” can be called pseudo-dialogic discourse. Drama provides many interesting instances of pseudo-dialogic discourse. Let us take the example of Macbeth. Look at the following ‘dialogue’Macbeth: My dearest love, / Duncan comes here tonight. Lady Macbeth: And when goes hence? Macbeth: To-morrow, as he purposes. First of all, let us think of a stage production of Macbeth. We have two actors playing the role of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (our “A” and “B”?). “A” makes a statement and “B” responds by asking a question to which “A” answers. Apparently, “A” and “B” are ‘talking’. But both the actors will have known the lines beforehand so that no aspect of discourse is a real communication between “A” and “B”. The interpreter is the audience (“C”?). But the situation is more complex here. Who is the producer of the ‘text’ here- the characters, the actors, the director or the playwright? Similarly, even the audience may know the lines already before they are actually uttered on the stage, so even “C” may not get any new information. Thus there are many layers at which we can analyze literary dialogues (which include dialogues in novels as well as in narrative or dramatic poetry), but at a basic level we can say that this is another case of pseudodialogue.


Sometime, pseudo-dialogue can be used as a rhetorical device. In many news papers we can find articles ostensibly addressed to a public figure (a politician, a famous writer, or any public figure). We can have sentences like, “Tell us dear Chief Minister” or “Why did you not protest then?” This is a very unfair trick because the poor “B” here has no way of responding to questions or criticism raised by “A”! Sometimes “B” is very unlikely to even ever read the article, (say Manmohan Singh or George Bush). But the most relevant type of discourse for us keeping in mind the relationship between language and society is the semi-dialogic discourse. Here, though “B” contributes to the discourse, his/her contribution is severely controlled by “A”. “B” seems to be an equal partner, but he/she is not. Let us remember here that “A” and “B” are not necessarily individuals. They are possibly limited by their identity in the society. Thus B’s inferior role in contributing to the discourse may be institutionalized in the discourse situation. Some examples of semi-dialogic discourse are the classroom dialogue between a teacher and pupils, the court room dialogue between the prosecution lawyer and the defendant, or a dialogue between the doctor and the patient (or between an authoritative father and his son or daughter). In all these cases, the general case is that B’s responses are just that-responses. “B” can not decide on what his/her contribution should be, or on what the topic of discourse can be, or even the length of his/her contribution. The turntaking is controlled by “A”. The point of interest for us should be the various sources and means through which this control is exercised.


It is not the purpose of this paper to analyze the various sources of authority that allow “A” to control the discourse. We just point out some possible sources of authority. Sometimes the personality or the position of “A” in society can be source of authority. Sometimes there can be conventions attached to the particular discourse situation, as in a seminar where the chairperson decides when to stop a presentation. But often the semidialogic discourse reflects the unequal power relations within a group. In most of these cases “B” is at disadvantage because he/she is not allowed to contribute the discourse. The point is that though language is tool for communication, not everyone involved has equal authority to use this tool. What we can do is to try make all our discourses as truly dialogic as possible. Here we any have to move to a broader definition of discourse as “Language in use relative to social, political and cultural formations-it is language reflecting social order but also language shaping social order, and shaping individual’s interaction with society”(Jaworski and Coupland 1999: 3).


Works Cited Crystal, David The Cambridge Encyclopedia of English Language BCA London 1994 Jaworski, Adam and Nikolas Coupland The Discourse Reader(ed) Routledge London and New York 1999.


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