03 February 2010

At a PhD level

I did a bit of writing today ahead of a supervision meeting next Wednesday. I am supposed to be writing about the Bahktinian notion of voice, which has evolved into inter-texuality. I suppose I will think differently in a few years, but for now, I feel like this is the first bit of writing I have done at the PhD level:

For Bakhtin, dialogue represents the interaction between the internal and external, a balance between abstract objectivism and individualistic subjectivism. (Holquist, 1991 42) Dialogism is not simply a description of the way in which humans interact; it refers to the fundamental nature of being and consciousness. The capacity for consciousness, Bakhtin argued, is intrinsically tied to one’s awareness of the other. (Holquist, 1991: 18) Although interaction may be observed in communication employing language, the communication is an only instantiation of interaction, the visible part of internal/ external negotiation.

This description of language in use is fundamentally different from purely linguistic descriptions of language which, Bakhtin argued, did not account for the core element of instantiated language, the utterance. The utterance is not simply a unit of language similar to a sentence or intonation unit; it is ‘speech communication’ in context. (Morson & Emerson, 1990: 125)  Moreover, the utterance is dialogic in a way that a sentence is not. Utterances require responses; sentences, unframed and decontextualised, can be merely assertions. (Morson & Emerson, 1990: 126) The framing of an utterance is then the key element for discovering the meaning of any stretch of language. To understand what is said, one must understand to whom the statement is said, in what context it is said, and what the speaker is responding to, both explicitly and tacitly. The meaning of the utterance is situated within a context of speakers who understand it because they are in dialogue with it.