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'Everyday creativity is always dialogical in Bakhtin's sense.'

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Student Name: Josephine Philpott                May 2007                                                                                                        

Student Number: X8613554

Course Number: E301

The Open University

E301 The art of English

TMA 03

‘Everyday creativity is always dialogical in Bakhtin’s sense.’ Drawing on ideas and examples gained from your study of the first part of the course, to what extent do you agree or disagree with this perspective?

In this assignment the aim is to discuss to what extent Bakhtin’s ideas about language creativity are justifiable with specific reference to this course.  It will start with an introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin and particularly his ideas of dialogism along with reference to some other researchers. The essay will then continue by discussing how Bakhtin’s ideas have been applied to other parts of the course and then the conclusion incorporates the extent to which Bakhtin’s perspective is adequate.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) was a Russian literary scholar from the beginning to the middle of the twentieth century.  He developed what became known as a ‘socio-cultural’ theory of language which occurred in opposition to two dominant inherency models of language and in resistance to the ideological approach of Russian Marxism.  He criticised the strong distinction between literary and practical language that was drawn by formalists such as Roman Jakobson (1896-1982). He also argued that language use in literature was not special or different and that literature was just one set of genres out of a wide range of different speech genres within social life.  He continued by reproaching the conceptualisation of linguistics in terms of an abstract theoretical model, where meaning and significance of language comes from the numerous connotation of words and their associations with particular speaker intentions.   The conception is overall a much more social and ideological on how language works rather than the traditional model.  He went on to say that the heart of language is not an abstract symbolic system rather it is a constant struggle between the centripetal forces of standard language (and literary) canon and the centrifugal forces of different dialects and the diverse speaking styles. (Language crossing, intertextuality and hybrid genres) He sees all language patterns as speech genres.  

Amongst his different thoughts and theories is one that is referred to as dialogism.  This involves the way in which all uses of language face both backwards and forwards[1].  This is understood by the way in which utterances both respond in some sense to previous utterances and anticipate their own responses.  It primarily focuses on the concept of how all written works are always in some sense a response and addressed towards an audience.   Intrinsic responsive impulse affects the forms and meanings of all levels of language use and can stimulate creativity. The term 'dialogic', however, does not just apply to literature. For Bakhtin, all language and all thought appear as dialogic. This means, for instance, that everything anybody ever says always exists in response to things that have been said before and in expectancy of things that will be said in response. (hence the backwards and forwards) We never, in other words, speak in a vacuum. The result is that all language (and the ideas which language contains and communicates) is dynamic, relational and engaged in a process of continual re-descriptions of the world. Bakhtin distinguishes what a word symbolizes, filledwith connotations that have been accredited to or connected to it in the past.  Hence, a new reference to the word goes through the air which has been formed by these dialogic links, with the repetition of previous references.  There is then a dialogic relationship between a new utterance submitting to and conceptualise a word, and other prior allusions and conceptualisationsto a word from the past.[2]

The following citation portrays an interesting reflective idea on Bakhtin and dialogism.

‘Bakhtin’s concept of dialogue has the prospective to build up and improve the allegorical tradition. Contemporary allegorical theory compares Bakhtinian discourse with Aristotelian rhetoric, interpreted as persuasion but differs on whether dialogue and rhetoric are distinct forms of discourse; whether dialogue, interpreted as conversation, places the larger context within which rhetoric happens; or whether dialogue is a separation of rhetoric, all discourse being ‘suasive’, ‘interested’, thus rhetorical. Contemporary composition theory, in contrast, understands Bakhtinian dialogue as being a communicative interaction between speaker and listener (rather than a persuasion directed by the speaker to the listener) and thus as a fundamental challenge to traditional rhetoric. Composition theorists find in Bakhtinian dialogue a multiplicity and diversity of voices, a ‘hierarchical inversion’ of traditional student/teacher roles, and a liaison of teamwork among contributors in dialogic discourse.’(Zappen (2000))[3]

This section from Zappen’s essay helps to illustrate the general view that Bakhtin had on dialogism.

Bakhtin's dialogic idea of language was developed and refined over the course of a long and prolific life that straddled a number of turbulent periods in Russian history. Based in part on several strands of Western philosophy ranging from Socrates to phenomenology, dialogism overturns older paradigms that viewed communication as being so much mail relayed by a sender to a particular receiver; instead, dialogism sees communication and meaning residing on the boundaries of consciousness between two people, who use words that are both socially originated and infused with past and future voices.

According to Bakhtin () in his own book The Dialogic Imagination, ‘a living utterance, after it has taken meaning and shape at a particular historical moment in a socially specific environment, can not fail to brush up against thousands of living dialogic threads, woven by socio-ideological consciousness around the given object of an utterance and cannot fail to become an active participant in social dialogue. [4] This again projects the concept that language is never unitary.  It is only ever unitary when it is taken from its traditional concrete and ideological conceptualization and placed in isolation, away from it the ‘uninterrupted process of historical becoming that is a characteristic of all living language.’[5]

Mikhail Bakhtin has been Ronald Carter’s biggest inspiration within his own reading of literary and cultural theory, particularly his dialogistic of language, “the way that language co constructs meaning”.  The main idea behind this is that whenever you speak you are imagining a listener.  Texts originate in certain circumstances of use and certain contexts, which are somehow built into to the text. One should not simply analyze the text, one should also include the examination of the environment in which it produced and received. There is very often a connection between the way people will talk in everyday situations and the way that creative writers exploit the same patterns but in different contexts.  It is important to understand that texts can have socio-cultural meanings and outcomes. Perhaps in future the cognitive side of language creativity should be focused on more vigorously with specific references to the socio-cultural along the side. [6]In his book Language and Creativity, he mentions that ‘the very idea of a dialogue includes a dual voice. Bakhtin stresses the importance of ‘addressee’, even if it is a silent non-verbal one. A listener can also have a creative role to play in a dialogue.’ Bakhtin points out that we can imitate the voice of others that this is almost always done for the reasons of assessment or opinion. Bakhtin uses his view of the dialogic character of language to emphasize how in all language use other voices continue to appear which creatively challenge or confront existing norms.  Creative, dialogic play with language is not only unidirectional.  It is a collaborative process and may have a variety of social purposes. [7]

There is also a ‘cognitive model’, which Ronald Carter identifies with, which is the belief in a ‘universal human mental propensities for creativity in language’ and its cognitive effects. This was initially from experimental research in psychology. Other researchers such as Lynne Cameron and her ‘Reading’ on metaphors and Guy Cook who argued about the ‘schema-refreshing and evolutionary benefits of language play’[8] are brought up through out this course.

Deborah Tannen (1989) was also influenced by Mikhail Bakhtin, particularly in her book Talking Voices where she looks at language in relation to its socio-cultural background and seeing it as exhibiting links between written and spoken as well as between literary and non-literary.  She was amongst the first researchers to point out, through her own data that word play is around in everyday conversations which has traditionally been found in poetry. She basically took Bakthin’s ideas and put them into practice.  She saw that there are continuities and connections between everyday talk and the language which writers use. [9] It is the polyphonic nature of utterances which was crucial to Bakhtin, according to Deborah Tannen.   Every word is dialogic as well as the ‘hearing’ and ‘understanding’ are dialogic acts as they need to be actively interpreted and not received passively.[10] She used Bakhtin’s idea because of the fact that the significance of reported speech itself can be changed by the reporting context in relation to her research on the interrelation between Voloshinov’s ideas and Bakhtin’s in reported speech.  She puts it in her own words that the term ‘reported speech’ is misleading in suggesting that one can speak another’s words and have them stay first and foremost the other’s words. She contains to say ‘Much of what appears in discourse as dialogue, or ‘reported speech’, was never uttered by anyone else in any form. If dialogue is used to represent utterances that were spoken by someone else, when an utterance is repeated by a current speaker, it exists as an element of the reporting context, although its meaning resonates with association with its reported context, in keeping with Bakhtin’s sense of polyphony.’ [11] (EXPAND IN TWO SENTENCES)

Another researcher, Ben Rampton (), also applied Mikhail Bakhtin’s ideas in his research on language crossing.  Language crossing is the application of a language which is not considered to ‘belong’ to a speaker and involves a sort of movement across ethnic boundaries and is closely woven into everyday talk.[12]  At first glance, language crossing itself can be looked upon as being creative, in that participants are ‘playing’ with a minimum of two different languages.  In his Reading entitled Language crossing, he contrasts his work with Bakhtin’s ‘notion of ‘double-voicing’. PAGE Double-voicing is about how words are affected by plurality of competing languages, discourses and voices.  Speakers will use someone else’s discourse for their own purposes. PAGE

There is a counter idea to the Bakhtinian one, in that there is the concept that ‘creativity’ refers to ‘making something which is new, which did not exist before the ‘creative act’ or ‘making something which is original, which is unlike things that have been made before’. All ‘meaning making’ involves joining together existing cultural resources for a specific function in a specific location. The resources have come from past experiences.  They are sometimes culturally typical and unique, without human effort it would not exist. In this sense then all communication is creative in that what is perceived to be something ‘new’ and ‘original’, whether it is written or spoken.[13]

The marking out of the starting point of artistic and literary uses of English are to be found in everyday uses of the language which have been drawn on work from a variety of different approaches to be able to examine linguistic, interactional and sociohistorical analyses of creativity in talk and literacy.  This helps to suggest a diversity of dissimilar ways to help identify with the nature and meaning of this artistry and creativity in the ‘everyday’ sense. A lot of this research has been based on the Bakhtinian approach.  READ TMA INSTRUCTIONS AGAIN

Throughout the course there have been a number of researches who have based their research on the Bakhtinian idea.  This demonstrates how strong Bakhtin’s influence in the research on language creativity is.  

Bakhtin’s notion of dialogue has prospective to develop and enhance the ‘rhetorical tradition’.[14] The current rhetorical theory often relates the Bakhtinian dialogue to the Aristotelian rhetoric[15], interpreted as persuasion.

Bakhtin’s ideas have to a certain extent been influenced by the juxtaposition of the old formalist approaches and the Marxist ideas.  

His theory on ‘everyday creativity always being dialogical’ is justifiable in that it can be applied to situations in everyday language.  This was demonstrated in this essay through the different researchers and how they applied his ideas to their own work.  He is/was an influential linguist in his field of study.

(1980 words)


  • Carter, R. “Theoretical Perspectives”[CD-ROM] (Band 25, The art of English 1), Milton Keynes, The Open University
  • Carter, R. (2006), Language and creativity the art of common talk, Chippenham, Routledge
  • Maybin, J. and Swann, J. (2006) The art of English: everyday creativity, London, The Open University (referred to as CB1)
  • http://www.rpi.edu/~zappenj/Bibliographies/bakhtin.htm, James P. Zappen,from Twentieth-Century Rhetoric and Rhetoricians: Critical Studies and Sources. Ed. Michael G. Moran and Michelle Ballif. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000. 7-20, accessed on May 2nd, 2007


[1]CB1, p.419

[2]CB1CH9, p.421-422

[3]http://www.rpi.edu/~zappenj/Bibliographies/bakhtin.htm, Zappen (2000), accessed on 2nd May 2007

[4]CB1CH9, Reading A, ‘Heteroglossia’, p.

[5]CB1CH9, Reading A, p.438-439

[6] CD-ROM1

[7] Carter, R. (2006), Language and creativity the art of common talk, Chippenham, Routledge, p.67

[8] CB1CH9.p.416

[9] CD-ROM1, Ronald Carter, ‘Theoretical Perspectives’

[10]CB1CH9, Reading B, p.441

[11]CB1CH9, Reading B, p.442-443

[12]CB1, p.131

[13]CB1, p.315

[14]http://www.rpi.edu/~zappenj/Bibliographies/bakhtin.htm, accessed on May 8th, 2007

[15] Aristotle (384-322 BC) says that "rhetoric is the counterpart [literally, the antistrophe] of dialectic." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetoric, accessed on May 8th, 2007

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