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Mikhail Bakhtin and early Soviet sociolinguistics

By C. Brandist

Abstract

[FIRST PARAGRAPH]\ud Mikhail Bakhtin’s essays on the novel of the 1930s are perhaps his mot original, influential and valuable contributions to the study of European language and literature. The terms and limits of that originally have, however, seldom been systematically analysed, with most commentators content to admire the bold interweaving of sociolinguistic and literary themes which we find in these essays. The sources of Bakhtin’s ideas about the novel have been gradually coming into focus since the 1980s, but the sources of the sociolinguistic ideas embedded in these works have remained unexplored, perhaps because it is generally assumed the idea follow on from those delineated in Valentin Voloshinov’s 1929 book Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, which has often been ascribed to Bakhtin himself. There is, however, a qualitative difference between the linguistic ideas in Voloshinov’s texts and those in Bakhtin’s essays of the 1930s, not least the discussion of the historical development of language and discursive relations within society and the modelling of these features in the novel as a genre. While Voloshinov’s work facilitated the transformation of Bakhtin’s early phenomenology of intersubjectivity into the account of discursive relations we find in the latter’s 1929 Dostoevskii book, both works present largely synchronic analyses quite distinct from that found in the 1934 essay. Voloshinov succeeded in transforming Bakhtin’s early ‘philosophy of the act’ and aesthetic activity into discursive terms largely through his adoption of Karl Buhler’s ‘organon model’ of the ‘speech event’ or ‘speech act’, but this left the static phenomenology of the earlier work intact. Similarly, Voloshinov and Medvedev managed to recast Bakhtin’s early account of worldview into discursive terms by adopting and sociologising the notion of style found in works by Leo Spitzer and Oskar Walzel, but again the systematic transformations of the discursive environment remained beyond the purview of the Bakhtin Circle. Where, then, did Bakhtin, from 1929 exiled in a small Kazakh town where there was very limited access to books and little contact with his erstwhile colleagues, derive the historical and sociolinguistic ideas that pervade these works

Publisher: Universidade Federal do Paraná
Year: 2004
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:1115

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