Mikhail Bakhtin

Start Free Trial

What was Bakhtin's main concern regarding language?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Bakhtin's ideas around language concern the way that he saw humans as being part of a community and his view that language meant they could never be viewed as being isolated from each other. Note how he expressed this view:

In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding--in time, in space, in culture. For one cannot even really see one's own exterior and comprehend it as a whole, and no mirrors or photographs can help; our real exterior can be seen and understood only by other people, because they are located outside us in space, and because they are others.

Bakhtin therefore placed immense importance on the role of others in understanding the voice of any one given person. Without this network that all humans are a part of, Bakhtin argued, it is impossible to communicate. Language is not truly an individual matter, but for Bakhtin, is something that is based on relations between individuals.

For Bakhtin, what he called the "utterance" is the basis of his theory of language. This utterance is not a statement in itself but it is importance because it represents the intersection of various contributing voices. Language is therefore never static in its presentation; it is always by its very nature something that is constantly fluid and changing, as there are any number of "utterances" that can be said at any given point. Language, as conceived by Bakhtin, becomes an exciting demonstration of spontaneity and improvisation as plural voices make meaning through their intersections with each other.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team