A Critique of `Languages as Dialogue`
The article titled “languages as dialogue” is the third chapter of the book `Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World` by Michael Holquist. The book was published in 2002 by the Routledge Publishing group in New York. In this particular chapter, the author uses intertextuality to discuss dialogism using theories and ideas presented by one of the ancient Linguists, Mikhail Bakhtin. Through the text, the author seeks to engage the audience in a dialogue, not only with himself but also with the other writer whose works he has borrowed. Thus, the text seeks to make horizontal with author and vertical connection with Bakhtin in a dialogue. The horizontal connection encompasses the process, participants, and circumstances while the vertcail connection gives weight to the choice of words. This paper presents a critique of the chapter `languages as dialogue` assessing its appropriateness as an example of intertextuality and how it fits the context of a dialogue between author and audience.
The article`s first sentence sets out the tone for the rest of the paper where the author argues strongly for the relation between the dialogue and language. The first line reads, “Dialogism is unthinkable outside its relation to language” (p. 40). This gives the audience a clear indication of what to expect from the article. This is very important because the title of the article alone does not capture the spirit of the article. However, the title in its own right captures the intension of the author of showing similarities between language and dialogue. The title is kept precise though it cannot be termed overly interesting.
The author`s work is based on the earlier works of Mikhail Bakhtin and Saussure to which he acknowledges properly throughout the text. The author acknowledges the contribution of his predecessors in every aspect as way of avoiding plagiarism. One thing that the author brings out strongly in the text is the concept of mutuality of differences that makes dialogues what they are. He identifies this as the master concept of Bakhtin`s works and uses it to set the context of the whole paper. The other theory that Holquist discusses widely in the paper is syntagmatic relations of words in any dialogue. This theory seeks to identify horizontal relations between words to create meaning. This is similar to the analysis of horizontal relations between speakers that brings out the mutuality of differences to create dialogue. To Holquist, of the three metafunctions of words (the other two are textual meaning and experimental meaning), the interpersonal meaning that comprises analysis if subject, finite and polarity has the greatest influence on dialogism as it is interested in the relationship between speakers. Ordinarily, a key determinant of the relationship between speakers is language.
The author uses a very open minded approach to present his opinion on Bakhtin`s ideas. This he achieves by including the ideas and queries that other scholars have raised in regards to Bakhtin`s work. For instance, in the second paragraph of the text, the author brings up two questions posed by other scholars or readers of Bakhtin`s works. In one of the questions, he cites “is dialogue a metaphor Bakhtin extracts from languages communicative aspect and then applies to the other categories outside the limits of language?” The author clearly indicates that he is not the one asking the question. Nonetheless, he goes ahead and answers the question in his own words in addition to including the answer from Bahktin. Why does he do this? In the ideology of intertextaulity, there are two levels of connection, horizontal and vertical. The vertical being between the original writer (Bakhtin) and the readers and then the horizontal relation being between the author (Holquist) and the readers. Going by Bakhtin`s syntagmatic relations, dialogue in the text is between Holquist and the audience with Bakhtin`s works being only a field.
The author is not blinded by his own opinion about the subject matter. While intertextuality involves a writer basing his ideas on another text (Levine, 2010), Holquist recognizes that he is not the only audience to Bakhtin`s works. In line with mutuality of differences being the key aspect of dialogue, Holquist acknowledges that individual readers of Bakhtin`s works generate different meanings depending on the mutual differences between the author and the audience. He thus does not seek to explain in detail the meaning behind each and every of Bakhtin`s theory. The author also assumes that his audience is aware of Bakhtin`s works and by reading it has unique dialogue with the author. This is based on Holquist`s statement that “dialogism…..is rooted in social experience” (p. 43). In the current article therefore, he does not go into depth in describing or explaining the Bakhtin`s ideas but rather giving an overview of the ideas and assessing the reasoning behind such ideas and allowing the audience to create meaning from it based on their social experience.
The author exalts the works of the original text and his in various ways. First and foremost, the author has not raised much negative criticism of Bakhtin`s work. His social experience with Bakhtin has shaped his opinion the works. He brings out Bakhtin`s ideas and seeks to create sense out of them in simpler language for the audience. This could mean that the author expounds on particular Bakhtin`s ideas that he understands leaving out the rest or he misses out entirely on key ideas in his dialogue with Bakhtin (or text). By doing so, he is assured of producing quality work without appearing misinformed about the works of Bakhtin. The second way in which the author presents the superiority of the original text by Bakhtin is by highlighting the weaknesses of the Bakhtin`s critics. For instance, the authors notes that Saussure, who has pointed numerous points of differences with Bakhtin works, fails to discover the relation between the self/other aspects of language that are present in individual speakers as presented by Bakhtin. The author further highlights other weaknesses top Saussure`s work as discussed by another author, Jakobson.
The author has used references in the text very well. As is the case in intertexting, Holquist has adequately borrowed from the original text upon which his text is based upon as a way of creating a vertical connection between the original author and the audience. The author has many styles of in text referencing starting from paraphrasing to direct citations. Direct quotation marks are very well utilized in the text to mark Bakhtin`s original ideas. Apart from quoting a number of words, the text has quoted whole paragraphs and in one instance what appears to be more than a full page. For these direct citations, the author has indicated the page numbers from which the text has been picked from. This allows the audience to verify and countercheck the information, for further reading purposes and also to create and facilitate dialogue between Bakhtin and Holquist`s intended audience.
Although the article is very impressive on the overall, there are a number of problematic issues. First and foremost is the use of endnotes in referencing. While the author has used a combination of in-text citation and endnotes, the use of endnotes does not meet scholarly standards. This is because there are no end notes at the end of the article. It is important to place the endnotes at the end of the text of place footnotes on the lower margin of every page. This enables to cross reference information indicated. It also increases the credibility and reliance of the work. For long texts, it is recommended that authors use footnotes instead of endnotes as are easily visible to the reader.
The introduction, which is supposed to give the audience a general idea of the topic, is missing. In this section, the author should have explained his paradigm in the discussion. While it is obvious he favors Syntagmatic approach, he does not state so explicitly. This gives the audience the general feel of the paper and introduces the topic (Levine, 2010). In this case, the author should have introduced the terms language and dialogism. Additionally, the introduction section contains the key purpose of the text in what is called a thesis statement. The thesis statement is usually the main question or issue that the text seeks to address.
Closely related to the introduction section is the conclusion section. This section gives the authors personal views about the topic discussed. It is located towards the end of the article. The article contains no visible conclusions or the author`s views about the topic (Levine, 2010). This is not appropriate for a scholarly work. It is important that authors give their own input and overview of the subject matter. This section should also restate the thesis in order to ascertain whether the objectives of the article have been achieved.
All in all, Holquist`s performance in intertextuality is impressive despite the minor issues addressed by the discussion above. He has managed to bring out the ideas of another author and enable the audience to relate both with him and with Bakhtin. This is the essence of intertextuality where a text is based upon another text. Nonetheless, he shows no appreciation of influence of his social experience on how he understand the works of Bakhtin.
Holquist, M. (2002). Languages as dialogue. In Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World. New York:
Routledge Publishing group
Levine, B. (2010). The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-
Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback. New York: Writer`s Digest Books
A Critique of `Languages as Dialogue`