‘Everyday creativity is always dialogical in Bakhtin’s sense’.
To what extent do you agree or disagree wit this perspective?
Traditional definitions of language have often categorised creative activity in the ‘canonical’ literary uses we see in artistic works. However, contemporary definitions no longer confine creativity with language to the work of the novelist or poet. It is a well argued point that the seeds of such literary language reside in what may be described, as the mundane, practical uses of ‘everyday’ talk and writing. This shift in opinion and approach to language study may be largely attributed to the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, who developed a social theory of language. Bakhtin’s main argument was that there should not be a special category in which to place literary language, as different and superior to the everyday, but that “literature was just one set of genres out of the wide range of different speech genres within social life” (Maybin, 2006, p.418). Bakhtin’s concern was not with the formal properties of language alone, but also in the recognition of the many genres of language, how it works and how it is affected by social, cultural and historical factors. (2006)
It is Bakhtin’s arguments, in relation to ‘everyday’ creativity that I shall consider here, focusing particularly on a key concept of his theory: ‘dialogism’. In this essay, I intend to argue that the nature of everyday creativity in language use is always dialogical. I will highlight examples from the work of others that support Bakhtinian concepts, in addition, I will contrast the inherency approach of Roman Jakobson and his notion of the poetic function of language with the more sociohistorical approach of Bakhtin.
Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism has significantly influenced the study of language and several other disciplines.
“[…] Dialogism is the idea that culture, or even existence[…], is inherently responsive,[…] involving individuals acting at a particular point in time […] in reaction to what has gone before and in expectation of what is to follow.” (http://homepages.nyu.edu/~klc1/)
In terms of language, dialogism describes the way all uses of language, spoken and written, are in some way a response to previous uses, whilst at the same time always addressed to an ‘audience’ in anticipation of its’ own response. (2006) A related concept is heteroglossia, for Bakhtin language consists of many voices, any word or phrase will always carry connotations from previous use in various social contexts as well as “a taste of previous speakers’ intentions.” (Maybin, 2006, p.419)
Deborah Tannen draws on Bakhtinian ideas in relation to reported speech, providing evidence for the heteroglossic and dialogic nature of language use. Tannen argues that reported speech in conversation is far from accurately ‘reported’ but is in fact constructed. She illustrates that in the new reporting context, reported utterances of a speaker, are always appropriated by the ‘reporting’ speaker. The reported utterance is always coloured by the influence of that new context and the new speaker’s own intentions. As Bakhtin explains; “ ..the context embracing another’s word is responsible for its dialogising background, whose influence can be very great.” (Bakhtin, cited in 2006, pp. 440/1) For Tannen, it is in this new construction of dialogue where the creativity lies, a speaker will shape a dialogue to suit and to create the greatest effect for their ‘story’ or point of view, thus illustrating the “dual nature of language […] transforming rather than transmitting..”. (Tannen, 2006, p.450) The creativity arises from an interactional and social process in which speakers appropriating each other’s words create a dialogue of ‘double-voices’.
Bakhtin’s ‘double-voicing’, is referred to by Ben Rampton in his essay on language crossing.(2006) Like Tannen, Rampton highlights the way in which a person may use another’s discourse for...
Bibliography: Maybin, J. Swann, J., The art of English: everyday creativity, 2006 The Open University, Palgrave Macmillan.
The Open University, Study Guide The art of English: everyday creativity, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan.
Cheddie, K, http://homepages.nyu.edu/~klc1/ accessed 20 May 2007
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