“Marxism and the Philosophy of Language”


Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin

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D I S C O U R S E   I

 

Prof. Dr.Lynn Mario T.Menezes e Souza

DLM/FFLCH/USP

1st Assessment

May, 2008

 

Q u e s t i o n s:

 

Discuss, in your own words (with reference to and from the text), the following concepts from Bahktin’s “Marxism and the Philosophy of Language” (Part Two: Chapters 1-4):

 

 

1) The main differences between the two trends of thought on language.

 

    Linguistics philosophy considers the existence of two basic trends, for the solution of problems involving language. The first trend can be termed ‘individualistic subjectivism’ and the second, ‘abstract objectivism’.

 

    The first trend is related to the individual’s creative act of speech, and it is based on four principles: ‘the unceasing process of creation’; ‘the laws of individual psychology’; ‘the meaningful creativity’; and the status of a ‘ready-made product, as a stable system’.

 

    The second trend considers the normative factors of utterance, including a system of phonetic, grammatical, and lexical forms of language, which insures the unity of a given language and its comprehension by all members of a community. It is also based in four principles: ‘language as a stable, immutable system’; ‘the laws of connection between linguistic signs within a given system’; ‘linguistic values versus ideological motives’; and ‘individual acts of speaking as merely fortuitous refractions of normative forms’.

 

 

2) Is language social or individual? Are these separate or related? How?

 

    Language enables social interaction through an 'utterance’, which is shaped by many other anonymous dialogues, according to the specific contents of a given environment. So, language is both ‘social’ and ‘individual’, being formed much beyond any individual but, at the same time, having the status of something which concrete existence is fully justified because of its own individual users.

 

 

 

3) The difference between sentence and utterance.

 

    'Utterance’ is a complete unit of speech – and the ‘primary building block of dialogue’ – in which a thought is given voice, either in speech or in writing. It is characterized by a change of speakers, while isolated sentences lack semantic fullness of value, having no capacity to directly determine the responsive position of the other speaker, not evoking dialogue.

 

 

4) The difference between understanding and recognition.

 

    Only a ‘sign’ (a unity of meaning composed by a ‘signifier’ and a ‘signified’) can be ‘understood’. What is ‘recognized’ is a ‘signal’, which is an internally fixed and singular thing that does not stand for anything else, being a mere form to indicate an object.

 

 

5) Speech as a bridge between oneself and other.

 

    Speech is what unites and separates individuals, and thee words are the territory shared by both addresser and addressee, continuously exchanging the roles of speaker and his interlocutor.

 

    A word is, thus, a two-sided act, having equal meaning for who originated it and to whom it is meant, being the precise product of the reciprocal relationship between the speaker and the listener, in a search for simultaneous, mutual significance.

 

 

6) Why can there not be abstract addressee in language?

 

    The speech act cannot be considered individual since the presence of someone else to interact is mandatory. Consequently, its resulting phenomenon, utterance, is necessarily a social phenomenon. So, it is not even logical to explain both the ‘speech act’ and ‘utterance’ as a result of the individual psychology.

 

    Utterance is constructed between two socially organized persons, being words always oriented toward an exiting addressee, otherwise there would be no language in common.

 

 

7) The relations between expression and experience.

 

    Expression is something objectively reported to others with the help of supporting signs, after having taken shape and definition in one individual ‘psyche’. Expression organizes the experience, not the contrary.

 

    Without some evaluative social orientation, there will be no experience, which can be apprehended and ideologically structured between two extreme poles: the ‘I-Experience’ (which reflects the tendency to the self-destruction, as it does not receive feedback from the social context) and the ‘We-Experience’ (which grows from a positive social orientation, being individual’s self-confidence its most ideological manifestation).

 

 

8) What does he means when he says that “organizing center of any utterance or experience is not within but outside – in the social milieu surrounding the individual” (p.93).

 

    Since utterance is the product of social interaction, even the creative individuality must be seen as an expression of a particular trace, shaped from social orientation. So, individuals will necessarily be susceptible to the social analysis and approval of their individualistic subjectivities.

 

    Even the earliest utterance produced by the most primitive human being was not organized by himself, but by the linguistic environment that surrounded him, i.e., his social ‘milieu’.

 

 

9) “Verbal interaction is the basic reality of language” (p.94).

 

    As the structure of utterance is necessarily social, it is continuously shaped by verbal interactions among individuals, through various simultaneous dialogues. So, instead of mono-logic, isolated utterance, conversational language – and its consequent social verbal interaction – is the actual reality and basis of language-speech.

 

    But it is important to have in mind that the concepts of ‘verbal interaction’ can also be understood in a broader sense, not only a directly vocal communication. Although it includes conversation between individuals, other forms are relevant, such as a well-known “printed verbal performance” called “book”, for example.

 

 

10) The difference between meaning and theme.

 

    ‘Theme’ refers to the new aspects acquired from a ‘sign’, demanding active comprehension, response or viewpoint, in a given specific situation. ‘Meaning’, on the other hand, is all that is reproducible and stable in the ‘sign’, being subject to a process of identification.

 

     So, ‘theme’ is a complex and dynamic system of ‘signs’ that attempts to be adequate to a given instant of a generative process, as a reaction created by the consciousness to ensure its existence, while ‘meaning’ is no more than the technical apparatus for the implementation of a ‘theme’. It is impossible to transmit the ‘meaning’ of a particular word without making a connection to a related ‘theme’ or ‘example’, as a manner to ensure its correct significance and understanding.