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Richard L. W.

Clarke LITS3304 Notes 03A


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MIKHAIL BAKHTIN “THE PROBLEM OF SPEECH GENRES” (1952-1953)

Bakhtin, Mikhail. "The Problem of Speech Genres." Speech Genres, and Other Late
Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of
Texas P, 1986. 60-102.

I. Statement of the Problem and Definition of Speech Genres

Here, Bakhtin begins by noting that human activity is inextricably related to the “use of
language” (60), the “nature and forms” (60) of which are “just as diverse as are the areas
of human activity” (81), this notwithstanding the “national unity of language” (60).
Language is, Bakhtin argues, “realised in the form of individual concrete utterances (oral
and written) by participants in the various areas of human activity” (60). These
utterances “reflect the specific conditions and goals of each such area” (60) not only
though their “content (thematic) and linguistic style, that is, the selection of the lexical,
phraseological, and grammatical resources of the language, but above all through their
compositional structure” (60). The “thematic content, style, and compositional structure”
(60) are “inseparably linked to the whole of the utterance” (60) and are “determined by
the specific nature of the particular sphere of communication” (60). Bakhtin’s point is that
“each sphere in which language is used develops its own relatively stable types if these
utterances” (60) which he terms “speech genres” (60).
The “wealth and diversity of speech genres are boundless because the various
possibilities of human activity are inexhaustible” (60), each sphere of activity containing
an “entire repertoire of speech genres that differentiate and grow as the particular sphere
develops” (60). Bakhtin emphasises the “extreme heterogeneity of speech genres (oral
and written)” (60) including “short rejoinders of daily dialogue” (60) which vary according
to “subject, matter, situation, and participants” (60), the “brief standard military
command, the elaborate and detailled order, the fairly variegated repertoire of business
documents, . . . the diverse world of commentary (in the broad sense of the word: social,
political” (60), and the “diverse forms of scientific statements and all literary genres (from
the proverb to the multivolume novel)” (61). Though “[l]iterary genres” (61), “rhetorical
genres” (61) and “everyday speech genres” (61) have all been the focus of study, the
“general linguistic problem of the utterance and its types have hardly been considered at
all” (61).
Bakhtin distinguishes between “primary (simple) and secondary (complex) speech
genres” (61). The latter includes “novels, dramas, all kinds of scientific research, major
genres of commentary” (62) which arise in “more complex and comparatively highly
developed and organised cultural communication (primarily written)” (62) which, “in the
“process of their formation, . . . absorb and digest various primary (simple) genres” (62)
which in turn are “altered and assume a special character when they enter into complex
ones” (62), thereby losing their “immediate relation to actual reality and to the real
utterances of others” (62). For example, “rejoinders of everyday dialogue or letters found
in a novel retain their form and their everyday actual reality only via the novel as a whole,
that is, as a literary-artistic event and not as everyday life” (62). The study of the
“interrelations between primary and secondary genres and the process of the historical
formation of the latter shed[s] light on the nature of the utterance (and above all on the
complex problem of the interrelations among language, ideology, and worldview)” (62).
Because “language enters life through concrete utterances (which manifest
language) and life enters language through concrete utterances as well” (63), to “ignore
the nature of the utterance” (63) and to “fail to consider the peculiarities of generic
subcategories of speech in any area of linguistic study” (63) leads to “excessive
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abstractness, distorts the historicity of the research, and weakens the link between
language and life” (63). It throws light in particular on questions of “stylistics” (63), style
being “inseparably related to the utterance and to typical forms of utterances, that is,
speech genres” (63). Some genres (e.g. “those of artistic literature” [63]) are more
“conducive to reflecting the individuality of the speaker in the language of the utterance,
that is, to an individual style” (63) than others (“business documents, military commands,
verbal signals in industry, and so on” [63]). In the latter, individuality is an
“epiphenomenon” (63), a by-product: various “genres can reveal various layers and facets
of the individual personality, and individual style can be found in various interrelations with
the national language” (63), the “problem of the national and the individual in language”
(63) being “basically the problem of the utterance” (63) because only in the “utterance is
the national language embodied in individual form” (63). In short, a “particular function
(scientific, technical, commentarial, business, everyday) and the particular conditions of
speech communication specific for each sphere [of human activity] give rise to particular
genres, that is, certain relatively stable thematic, compositional, and stylistic types of
utterances” (64).
At this point, Bakhtin turns his attention to the problem of “[h]istorical changes in
language styles” (65). To offer a “historical explanation” (65) of the “complex historical
dynamics” (65) of these styles, one must “develop a special history of speech genres . . .
that reflects . . . all the changes taking place in social life” (65). “Utterances and their
types, that is, speech genres, are the drive belts from the history of society to the history
of language” (65). Bakhtin argues that, for example, “literary language” (65) changes
with the incorporation of primary and secondary speech genres, that is, various
“extraliterary strata of the national language” (65-66) which also, in turn, are affected by
changes in this way to the literary language, leading to a “more or less fundamental
restructuring and renewal of speech genres” (66). All in all, any utterance is a union of
“grammar and lexicon” (66) (drawn from the “language system” [66]) and “stylistics” (66)
(of the individual utterance). Grammar and stylistics “converge and diverge in any
concrete language phenomenon” (66) in which, as a result, they are “organically
combined” (66). Bakhtin contends that the “study of the utterance as a real unit of speech
communication will also make it possible to understand more correctly the nature of
language units (as a system): words and sentences” (67).

I. The Utterance as a Unit of Speech Communication: the Difference Between This


Unit and Units of Language (Words and Sentences)

Here, Bakhtin is of the view that nineteenth century linguistics, epitomised by Wilhelm von
Humboldt, downplayed the “communicative function of language” (67) in order to
emphasise “thought emerging independently of communication” (67). His successors,
such as the Vosslerians, emphasise the “expressive function” (67) of language which boils
down to the “expression of the speaker’s individual discourse” (67): “[l]anguage arises
from man’s need to express himself, to objectify himself. The essence of any form of
language is somehow reduced to the spiritual creativity of the individuum” (67). From this
perspective, language is viewed as if “there were only one speaker who does not have any
necessary relation to other participants in speech communication. If the role of the other
is taken into account at all, it is the role of a listener, who understands the speaker only
passively. . . . Language essentially needs only . . . one speaker . . . and an object for his
speech” (67), the communication function of language being secondary. In this schema,
the “language collective, the plurality of speakers” (68), viewed as a kind of “collective
personality, ‘the spirit of the people” (68) is often extolled but in fact “denied any real
essential significance” (68).
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Bakhtin discredits as a “scientific fiction” (68) simplistic accounts in conventional


Linguistics textbooks of the speaker-listener relationship, the former being construed as
“active” (68) and the latter as “passive” (68). Rather, “when the listener perceives and
understands the meaning (the language meaning) of speech, he simultaneously takes an
active, responsive attitude toward it. He either agrees or disagrees with it (completely or
partially), augments it, applies it, prepares for its execution, and so on” (68). “Any
understanding is imbued with response . . .: the listener becomes the speaker” (68), his
actual response being subsequently “articulated” (68). “Sooner or later what is heard and
actively understood will find its response in the subsequent speech or behaviour of the
listener” (69). (Everything stated here also applies to “written and read speech” [69].)
The speaker “does not expect passive understanding that . . . only duplicates his own idea
in someone else’s mind. Rather, he expects response, agreement, sympathy, objection,
execution, and so forth” (69). Moreover, each speaker is “himself a respondent” (69) for
he is “not, after all, the first speaker, the one disturbs the eternal silence of the universe”
(69). He “presupposes not only the existence of the language system he is using, but also
the existence of preceding utterances – his own and others’ – with which his given
utterance enters into one kind of relation or another (builds on them, polemicises with
them, or simply presumes that they are already known to the listener)” (69). Diagrams of
the so-called “speech flow” (70), usually “divided into language units . . . phonetic
(phoneme, syllable, speech rhythm) and lexical (sentence and word” (70), disregard the
“active role of the other in the process of speech communication” (70).
Terms like ‘speech’ and ‘speech flow’ have rarely if ever been defined by linguists –
what is the “nature of their duration? Do they have a beginning and an end” (70).
Though ‘speech’ is often used to mean the “utterance of any person” (71), it can also
“designate language, the speech process (i.e. speaking), the individual utterance, an entire
long indefinite series of such utterances, or a particular speech genre (‘he gave a speech’)”
(70). All this “terminological imprecision and confusion” (71) is due to ignorance of the
“real unit of speech communication: the utterance” (71). For speech “can exist in reality
only in the form of concrete utterances of individual speaking people, speech subjects”
(71). Notwithstanding variations in their length, content, and compositional structure,
they have “common structural features” (71) and “clear-cut boundaries” (71).
Bakhtin argues that the “boundaries of each concrete utterance as a unit of speech
communication are determined by a change of speaking subjects” (71). Whether a short
rejoinder or a novel or a scientific treatise, each utterance has an “absolute beginning and
an absolute end: its beginning is preceded by the utterances of others, and its end is
followed by the responsive utterances of others” (71), or “others’ active responsive
understanding” (71) or a “responsive action based on this understanding” (71). The
speaker ends his utterance in order to “relinquish the floor to the other” (71) and make
room for his response.
The change of speaking subjects “acquires different forms in the heterogeneous
spheres of human activity and life, depending on the functions of language and on the
conditions and situations of communication” (72). This process can be glimpsed most
clearly “in actual dialogue where the utterances of the interlocutors . . . (which we shall
call rejoinders) alternate” (72). Dialogue is a “classic form of speech communication” (72).
Each rejoinder has a “specific quality of completion that expresses a particular position of
the speaker” (72). Bakhtin contends that the relationships by which “rejoinders are all
linked to each other” (72) take many forms (e.g. “relations between question and answer,
assertion and objection, assertion and agreement, suggestion and acceptance, order and
execution” [72], etc.) is different from those “among units of language (words and
sentences), either in the system of language (in the vertical cross section) or within the
utterance (on the horizontal plane)” (72), that is, either synchronically (i.e. the relations of
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difference linking signs within the sign system) or diachronically (i.e. the grammatical
relations which link the successive units that comprise an utterance). Indeed, the
relations between particular rejoinders are “only subcategories of specific relations among
whole utterances in the process of speech communication” (72). Such relations are
“possible only among utterances of different speech subjects; they presuppose other (with
respect to the speaker) participants in speech communication” (72).
Bakhtin spends the next few paragraphs discussing the differences between the
sentence as the “unit of language” (73) and the utterance as a “unit of speech
communication” (73). Sometimes a sentence can serve as an utterance if there is a
change of speech subjects at the end thereof but generally it is “not demarcated on either
side by a change of speaking subjects; it has neither direct contact with reality (with an
extraverbal situation) nor a direct relationship to others’ utterances; it does not have a
semantic fullness of value; and it has no capacity to determine directly the responsive
position of the other speaker” (74). As a language unit, the sentence is “grammatical in
nature. It has grammatical boundaries and grammatical completedness and unity” (74).
One exchanges not sentences, words or phrases but utterances constructed out of these
language units. These are differences of which conventional Linguistics are too often
unaware.
The “real-life dialogue” (75) are the “simplest and the most classic form of speech
communication” (75). The latter can also be glimpsed in more “[c]omplexly structured and
specialised works of various scientific and artistic genres” (75). Such works, however,
possess a “special internal aspect because the speaking subject – in this case, the author
of the work – manifests his own individuality in his style, his world view, and in all aspects
of the design of his work. This imprint of individuality . . . also creates special internal
boundaries that distinguish his work from other works” (75) such as those of “predecessors
on whom the author relies, from other works of the same school, form the works of
opposing schools with the author is contending, and so on” (75). Each such work is also
“oriented towards the response of the other” (75) which can take several forms. Each
work is accordingly a “link in the chain of speech communion” (76), “related to other work-
utterances: both those to which it responds and those that respond to it” (76). This is why
the change of speaking subjects framing the utterance is the “first constitutive feature of
the utterance as a unit of speech communication” (76).
The second feature of the utterance is its “finalisation” (76) which is the “inner side
of the change of speech subjects” (76). This change can only take place because the
speaker/writer “has said (or written) everything he wishes to say at a particular moment
or under particular circumstances” (76). “Some kind of finalisation is necessary to be able
to react to an utterance” (76). This “finalised wholeness of the utterance, guaranteeing
the possibility of response (or of responsive understanding) is determined by three aspects
. . . inseparably linked in the organic whole of the utterance: 1. semantic exhaustiveness
of the theme; 2. the speaker’s plan or speech will; 3. typical compositional and generic
forms of finalisation” (76-77). The first refers to attribution of reference, what the
discourse is ostensibly about, the sense had by the listener that the speaker has said
everything he can about a particular subject. The second refers to the attribution of
intention, that is, how we “imagine to ourselves what the speaker wishes to say” (77).
This is the “subjective” (77) aspect of the utterance which “combines in an inseparable
unity with the objective referentially semantic aspect” (77), limiting the latter by “relating
it to a concrete (individual) situation of speech communication with all its individual
circumstances, its personal participants, and the statement-utterances which preceded it”
(77).
Bakhtin then turns his attention to the third and most important aspect: the “stable
generic forms” (78) which necessarily inform each speech act. The “speaker’s speech will
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is manifested in the choice of a particular speech genre” (78) which is determined by the
“specific nature of the given sphere of speech communication, semantic (thematic)
considerations, the concrete situation of the speech communication, the personal
composition of its participants, etc.” (78). “When the speaker’s speech plan with all its
individuality and subjectivity is applied and adapted to a chosen genre, it is shaped and
developed within a certain generic form” (78) drawn from the “great and multifarious
sphere of everyday oral communication” (78). Bakhtin contends that we “speak only in
definite speech genres, that is, all our utterances have definite and relatively stable typical
forms of construction of the whole” (78). We use them “in practice” (78) even if we fail to
“suspect their existence in theory” (78): “we speak in diverse genres without suspecting
that they exist” (78). “Even in the most free, the most unconstrained conversation, we
cast our speech in definite generic forms” (78). We acquire these genres “in almost the
same way that we are given our native language, which we master fluently long before we
begin to study grammar” (78). We absorb our “native language – its lexical composition
and grammatical structure – not from dictionaries and grammars but from concrete
utterances that we hear and that we ourselves reproduce in live speech communication
with people around us” (78). The “forms of language and the typical forms of utterances,
that is, speech genres, enter our experience and our consciousness together, and in close
connection with each other” (78). To “learn to speak means to learn to construct
utterances (because we speak in utterances and not in individual sentences, and, of
course, not in individual words” (78) as a result of which speech genres “organise our
speech in almost the same way as grammatical (syntactical) forms do” (78-79). When we
hear others speak, “we guess its genre from the very first words; we predict a certain
length . . . and a certain compositional structure; we foresee the end; that is, from the
very beginning we have a sense of the speech whole” (79). Were this not the case and if
we had to originate genres from scratch each time, speech communication would be
almost impossible.
Where “language forms” (79) are compulsory for the users of a given language,
speech genres are more flexible. Some, such as farewells, greetings, and so on are “so
widespread in everyday life” (79) that the speaker’s “individual speech will is manifested
only in its choice of a particular genre and, perhaps, its expressive intonation” (79).
“These genres . . . differ depending on the situation, social position, and personal
interrelations of the participants” (79). They have “high, strictly official, respectful forms
as well as familiar ones” (79). These genres also imply a certain tone. However, it is
possible to “re-accentuate” (79) genres (e.g. for “parodic-ironic” [80] purposes). Some
genres are “freer and more creative” (80) – e.g. intimate conversations, and so on – and
thus susceptible of “free creative reformulation” (80), but it should be borne in mind that
“to use a genre freely and creatively is not the same as to create a genre from the
beginning; genres must be fully mastered in order to be manipulated freely” (80). The
existence of speech genres is borne out by the fact that sometimes articulate, well-
educated people “feel quite helpless in certain spheres of communication precisely because
they do not have a practical command of the generic forms used in the given spheres”
(80).
Bakhtin offers a few comments about the sentence. He contends that on its own, it
cannot determine the “active responsive position” (82) of the interlocutor and can only do
so “after becoming a complete utterance” (82). While we can understand the meaning of a
given sentence, we can only respond to it once “we know that with this sentence the
speaker has said everything he wishes to say, that this sentence is neither preceded nor
followed by other sentences of the same speaker” (82). A single sentence can become a
“full-fledged utterance” (83), “framed and delimited by a change of speech subjects” (83)
and reflective of an “extraverbal reality (situation). It is possible to respond to such an
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utterance” (83). If this sentence is preceded or followed by others, it would “acquire a


fullness of its own sense only in this context, that is, only in the whole of the utterance”
(83). It “acquires its final meaning only in this whole” (83). If it not the equivalent of an
utterance, the sentence has the “finality of an element, but not of the whole” (83). For
this reason, the “sentence as a unit of language, like the word, has no author. . . . [I]t
belongs to nobody, and only by functioning as a whole utterance does become an
expression of the position of someone speaking individually in a concrete situation of
speech communication” (84).
This leads Bakhtin to speculate on the three characteristics which distinguish any
utterance. The third feature of the utterance is its relation “to the speaker himself (the
author of the utterance) and to the other participants in speech communication” (84). (He
will return to this claim later.) The “first aspect of the utterance that determines its
compositional and stylistic features” (84) is its “particular referentially semantic content”
(84). In other words, each utterance makes a claim of some kind about reality. The
second aspect is the “expressive aspect, that is, the speaker’s subjective emotional
evaluation of the referentially semantic content of his utterance” (84). This emotional
component may vary but can never be totally absent for there is “no such thing as an
absolutely neutral utterance” (84). The speaker’s “evaluative attitude toward the subject
of his speech . . . determines the choice of lexical, grammatical and compositional means
of the utterance” (84). The utterance’s “individual style” (84) is “determined primarily by
its expressive aspect” (84) (this is subject of “stylistics” [84] whose proponents “reduce
style directly to the emotionally evaluative aspect of speech” [84]). This expressiveness
cannot be a “phenomenon of language as a system” (84) since the “rich arsenal of
language tools – lexical, morphological, and syntactic” (84) at the disposal of the speaker
are in and of themselves “absolutely neutral with respect to any particular real evaluation”
(84). The “actual evaluation . . . can be accomplished only by the speaker in his concrete
utterance” (85). Words, for example, “belong to nobody, and in themselves they evaluate
nothing” (85) but “can serve any speaker and be used for the most varied and directly
contradictory evaluations on the part of the speakers” (85). Similarly, the sentence is
“also neutral and in itself has no expressive aspect” (85). Rather, it acquires an
“expressive aspect (more precisely joins itself to it) only in a concrete utterance” (85).
Key in this regard is the use of “expressive intonation” (85) which functions as a
“constitutive marker of discourse” (85) and underlines the difference between the
“meaning” (86) of a word and its “specific sense – the content of a given utterance” (86).
We “do not understand the meaning of a given word simply as a word of a language;
rather we assume an active responsive position with respect to it” (86). Bakhtin stresses
that “emotion, evaluation, and expression are foreign to the word of language and are born
only in the process of its live usage in a concrete utterance” (87). Moreover, we most
often do not take words “from the system of language in their neutral, dictionary form”
(87). Rather, we usually take them over from “other utterances, and mainly from
utterances that are kindred to ours in genre, that is, in theme, composition and style”
(87). Given that a speech genre is “not a form of language, but a typical form of
utterance” (86), a “certain typical kind of expression . . . inheres in it” (87):
In the genre the word acquires a particular typical expression. Genres
correspond to typical situations of speech communication, typical themes,
and, consequently, also to particular contacts between the meanings of
words and actual concrete reality under certain typical circumstances.
Hence also the possibility of typical expressions that seem to adhere to
words. (87)
This expressiveness is not normative for “[s]peech genres in general submit fairly easy to
re-accentuation, the sad can be made jocular and gay, but as a result something new is
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achieved” (87) thereby. This “typical (generic) expression can be regarded as the word’s
‘stylistic aura,’ but this aura belongs not to the words of language as such but to that
genre in which the given word usually functions. It is an echo of the generic whole that
resounds in the word” (88).
Moreover, while these words may belong to nobody per se, “still we hear those
words only in particular individual utterances” (88) for which reason they have a “more or
less clearly reflected individual expression . . . determined by the unrepeatable context of
the utterance” (88). Neutral dictionary meanings may “guarantee that all speakers of a
given language will understand one another, but the use of words in live speech
communication is always individual and contextual in nature” (88). This is why
any word exists for the speaker in three aspects: as a neutral word of a
language, belonging to nobody; as an other’s word, which belongs to another
person and is filled with echoes of the other’s utterance; and, finally, as my
word, for, since I am dealing with it in a particular situation, with a particular
speech plan, it is already imbued with my expression. (88)
Bakhtin explains:
In each epoch, in each social circle, in each small world of family, friends,
acquaintances, and comrades in which a human being grows and lives, there
are always authoritative utterances that set the tone – artistic, scientific,
and journalistic works on which one relies, to which one refers, which are
cited, imitated, and followed. In each epoch, in all areas of life and activity,
there are particular traditions that are expressed and retained in verbal
vestments: in written works, in utterances, in sayings, and so forth. There
are always some verbally expressed leading ideas of the ‘masters of thought’
of a given epoch, some basic tasks, slogans, and so forth. . . . This is why
the unique speech experience of each individual is shaped and developed in
continuous and constant interactions with others’ individual utterances. This
experience can be characterised to some degree as the process of
assimilation – more or less creative – of others’ words (and not the words of
a language). Out speech, that is, all our utterances (including creative
works), is filled with others’ words, varying degrees of otherness or varying
degrees of ‘our-own-ness,’ varying degrees of awareness and detachment.
These words carry with them their own expression, their own evaluative
tone, which we assimilate, rework, and re-accentuate. (88-89)
All in all, the “expressiveness of individual words is not inherent in the words themselves
as units of language . . .; it is either typical generic expression or it is an echo of another’s
individual expression, which makes the word . . . representative of another’s whole
utterance from a particular evaluative position” (89).
For practitioners of stylistics (e.g. Leo Spitzer), the style of an utterance “is
determined by its referentially semantic element (the theme) and its expressive aspect,
that is, the speaker’s evaluative attitude towards the referentially semantic element in the
utterance” (90) and, last but not least, the “language system” (90). However, Bakhtin
argues, the situation is more complicated than this would suggest. Each utterance is a
“link in the chain of speech communication” (91), the “boundaries” (91) of each being
“determined by a change of speech subjects” (91). From this point of view, utterances are
not “self-sufficient: they are aware of and mutually reflect one other” (91), these
reflections determining their “character” (91): each utterance
is filled with echoes and reverberations of other utterances to which it is
related by the communality of the sphere of speech communication. Every
utterance must be regarded as a response to preceding utterances of the
given sphere. . . . Each utterance refutes, affirms, supplements, and relies
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on the others, presupposes them to be known, and somehow takes them


into account. After all, as regards a given question, in a given matter, and
so forth, the utterance occupies a particular definite position in a given
sphere of communication. It is impossible to determine its position without
correlating it with other positions. Therefore, each utterance is filled with
various kinds of responsive reactions to other utterances of the given sphere
of communication. These reactions take various forms: others’ utterances
can be introduced directly into the context of the utterance, or one may
introduce only individual words or sentences, which then act as
representatives of the whole utterance. Both whole utterances and
individual words can retain their alien expression, but they can also be
reaccentuated (ironically, indignantly, reverently, and so forth). Others’
utterances can be repeated with various degrees of reinterpretation. They
can be referred to as though the interlocutor were already well aware of
them; they can be silently presupposed; or one’s responsive reaction to
them can be reflected only in the expression of one’s speech – in the
selection of language means and intonations that are determined not by the
topic of one’s own speech but the other’s utterances concerning the same
topic. . . . [V]ery frequently the expression of our utterance is determined
not only – and sometime not so much – by the referentially semantic
content of this utterance, but also by others’ utterances on the same topic to
which we are responding or with which we are polemicising. (91)
All in all, the “expression of an utterance can never be fully understood or explained if its
thematic content is all that is taken into account. The expression of an utterance always
responds to a greater or lesser degree, that is, it expresses the speaker’s attitude towards
others’ utterances and not just his attitude toward the object of his utterance” (92).
“However monological the utterance may be (for example, a scientific or philosophical
treatise), however much it may concentrate on its own object, it cannot but be, in some
measure, a response to what has already been said about the given topic, on the given
issue” (92). Even though this “responsiveness may not have assumed a clear-cut external
expression” (92), it may be “manifested in the overtones of style, in the finest nuances of
expression” (92). Each utterance is accordingly filled with “dialogic overtones” (92)
precisely because “our thought itself – philosophical, scientific, and artistic – is born and
shaped in the process of interaction and struggle with others’ thought, and this cannot but
be reflected in the forms that verbally express our thought as well” (92). This is why any
utterance is a “very complex and multiplanar phenomenon” (93) in that it necessarily
reveals, upon closer inspection, “many half-concealed or completely concealed words of
others with varying degrees of foreignness” (93) once “considered not in isolation and with
respect to its author (the speaker) only, but as a link the chain of speech communication
and with respect to other, related utterances” (93). Though any utterance has “clear-cut
boundaries . . . determined by the change of speech subjects” (93), the utterance, “within
these boundaries . . ., like Leibniz’s monad, reflects the speech process, others’ utterances,
and, above all, preceding links in the chain (sometimes close and sometimes . . . very
distant)” (93).
Bakhtin stresses that the utterance is “related not only to preceding but also to
subsequent links in the chain of speech communication” (94). “From the very beginning,
the utterance is constructed while taking into account possible responsive reactions, for
whose sake, in essence, it is created. . . . From the beginning, the speaker expects a
response from them, an active responsive understanding. The entire utterance is
constructed, as it were, in anticipation of encountering this response” (94). An “essential
(constitutive) marker of the utterance is its quality of being directed to someone, its
Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3304 Notes 03A
9

addressivity” (95). Unlike the “impersonal” (95) nature of words and sentences, the
utterance has both an author . . . and an addressee” (95) who can be an “immediate
participant-interlocutor in an everyday dialogue, a differentiated collective of specialists in
some particular area of cultural communication, a more or less differentiated public, ethnic
group, contemporaries, like-minded people, opponents and enemies, a subordinate, a
superior, someone who is lower, higher, familiar, foreign, and so on. And it can also be an
indefinite, unconcretised other” (95). All these various types of addressees are determined
by “that area of human activity and everyday life to which the given utterance is related.
Both the composition and, particularly, the style of the utterance depend on those to
whom the utterance is addressed, how the speaker (or writer) senses and imagines his
addressees, and the force of their effect on the utterance” (95). Moreover, “each speech
genre in each area of speech communication has its own typical conception of the
addresses, and this defines it as a genre” (95).
Bakhtin contends that when “constructing my utterance, I try actively to determine
the response” (95) for which reason “I try to act in accordance with the response I
anticipate” (96)., This ‘anticipated response . . . exerts an active influence on my utterance
(I parry objections that I foresee, I make all kinds of provisos, and so forth). When
speaking I always take into account the apperceptive background of the addressee’s
perception of my speech: the extent to which he is familiar with the situation, whether he
has special knowledge of the given cultural area of communication, his view and
convictions, his prejudices (from my viewpoint), his sympathies and antipathies – because
all this will determine his active responsive understanding of my utterance” (96). These
considerations in turn my choice of genre, compositional devices and style. Differences in
social status as well as the “personal proximity” (96) of speaker and audience can have an
especially formative effect on the form of the utterance. Tradition stylistics focuses on the
“semantic and thematic content” (97) and the “speaker’s expressive attitude” (97),
ignoring the constitutive role of the audience.
The question of the addressee is of “immense significance in literary history. Each
epoch, each literary trend and literary-artistic style, each literary genre within an epoch or
trend, is typified by its own special concepts of the addressee of the literary work” (98). A
“historical study of changes in these concepts would be an interesting and important task”
(98). (Literary works are secondary speech genres that incorporate primary genres, each
of which has its own special relationship of addresser to addressee giving rise to certain
“conventional forms of address to listeners, readers, posterity, and so forth” [98].)
All in all, “addressivity, the quality of turning to someone, is a constitutive feature
of the utterance, without it the utterance does not and cannot exist” (99). Language units
such as the word or sentence lack this quality for they “belong to nobody and are
addressed to nobody” (99). Such units “acquire addressivity only in the whole of a
concrete utterance” (99). By contrast, utterances are imbued with “traces of addressivity
and the influence of the anticipated response, dialogical echoes form others’ preceding
utterances, faint traces of changes of speech subjects that have furrowed the utterance
from within” (99).