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What's the meaning of "a heteroglossic text"?

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doodie | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:25 AM via web

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What's the meaning of "a heteroglossic text"?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 31, 2009 at 7:23 AM (Answer #1)

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Heteroglossia (multilanguagedness) is a term which originated with Mikhail Bakhtin and particularly in his work "Discourse in the Novel." Heteroglossia refers to the multiple variations of languages and ideas/perspectives within those languages. Another way of thinking about it is: Heteroglossia is all the different ways people speak to one another: and how each appropriates each other's speech/ideas and attempts to make it their own. These different ways are different because of class, gender, culture, dialect, accent, demographics, and so on. A peasant will speak a certain way to another peasant, and he/she will speak a very different way to a city official. The complexity of these different ways of speaking reflect all the baggage of culture, economics and so on.

Looking at a novel as heteroglossic is to avoid looking at it as a monoglossic or single-ideological/authoritative work. Heteroglossic method is very much in the postmodern theory: democratization and pluralization of meaning, inter-relatedness, hybridity, and intertextuality of culture in languages. The method is decentralizing what is a formal unity: the novel - by recognizing the complex of multiple ideologies as manifested through different ways of speaking.

The novel senses itself on the border between the completed, dominant literary language and the extraliterary languages that know heteroglossia. ("From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse," Bakhtin, 67)

Bakhtin referred to the authoritative (and sometimes oppressive - The State) unification as centripetal; and to heterology as centrifugal: A 'spinning out' or decentralizing of a monoglossic text. I think Bahktin said that it is easier for poetry to appear, because of its form, in a monoglossic way. I think that most, or all, texts are heteroglossic and any attempt to make a text monoglossic is usually an attempt to present one ideology, or one worldview. But for a text to be called heteroglossic in literary analysis, I bet it would be a text that calls attention to its own heteroglossia. Bahktin had used Charles Dickens to illustrate this.

The different ways and forms of speaking are never neutral, Bakhtin says. To use Derrida's phrase, they are 'always already' linked to cultural meanings and ideologies.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:36 AM (Answer #2)

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The term "heteroglossic" is, of course, related to the word "heteroglossia."  That word is a term first made up by the Russian critic and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin.  He first introduced the term in the essay "Discourse in the Novel."

Heteroglossia refers to the idea that there are several distinct languages withing any single (apparently unified) language.  These different languages each have a different voice and they compete with one another for dominance.

A heteroglossic text is one in which different voices compete with one another to define the text.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:53 AM (Answer #3)

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The linguistic term "heteroglossia" was first used in reference to translation in the work of Mixail Baxtin (also spelled Mikhail Bakhtin). It refers to the fact that a person is a "social person" and a "speaking person" and that language is an "historically real" process of "heteroglot development" (many sources) that is influenced by and carries the impact of "future and former" languages from street languages to aristocratic language to the various languages of casual, daily discourse.

This term added to "text" (heteroglossic text) entered the linguistic field of narratology (the study of language in narrative) because written language, especially in literary form, establishes a tone of emotion and an intention that are projected for the reader to "hear," thereby creating a voice. The tone and intention are referred to as "glossality" (gloss, which means annotation, commentary, exegesis, explication). In this context, there are within a literary work various voices in various varieties of language or varieties of the same language interacting with each other or even competing against each other to establish their particular "reality;" their particular perspective and aim. Hence, the usefulness and descriptiveness of the term heteroglossic text.

[For further information, see an excerpt from Handbook of Narratology, which I drew on for this answer.]

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