sociolinguistics bakhtin

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  • 8/2/2019 sociolinguistics bakhtin


    A sociolinguistic application of Bakhtins

    authoritative and internally persuasivediscourse1

    Lukas D. Tsitsipis

    Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

    Through the use of two central Bakhtinian concepts, authoritative and intern-

    ally persuasive discourse (word), this paper examines the tension between the

    ideology of linguistic hegemony as a source of power in the Greek public

    sphere and the condition of language shift faced by the Albanian-speaking

    communities of modern Greece. I argue here that a cautious application of

    these two notions, which are relevant to linguistic ideology, can reveal crucial

    aspects of two processes: that of subordination to and that of questioning of

    the dominant linguistic ideology by local Albanian-speaking communities.

    Thus, in language shift contexts, it is possible that no simple relations obtain

    that place social agents in unquestionable and easily predictable positions.

    Such an approach proves useful for the sociolinguistic study of threatened

    language communities.

    KEYWORDS: Language ideology, Bakhtin, authoritative and inter-

    nally persuasive discourse, language shift, Albanian, Greek


    This paper examines linguistic ideology as a signicant mediator in languageshift. The newly coalescing eld of linguistic ideology provides us with tools to

    avoid mechanistic assessments of dynamic linguistic phenomena (Schieelin,

    Woolard and Kroskrity 1998). Following this lead we can critically rethink some

    of the teachings of traditional, positivistic sociolinguistics of the 1970s. My

    empirical focus is on some ideological issues concerning a minority speech form

    of Albanian, known locallyas Arvan|tika, which is spoken in modern Greece and

    which, on the basis of sociolinguistic criteria, can be viewed as a threatened lan-

    guage (for a recent account of the shift, seeTsitsipis1998, and discussion below).

    I will elaborate here on language ideology using some concepts derivedfrom Bakhtin.With my analysis focused on particular communities, I want to

    di th ti l i th t l t B khti t th t d f li i ti

    Journal of Sociolinguistics 8/4, 2004: 569^594

  • 8/2/2019 sociolinguistics bakhtin


    been applied rather casually.2 It is therefore useful to operationalize some of

    Bakhtins concepts in an accurate manner following the lead, for instance, of

    Hills and others analytical attempts in various writings ^ not all of them

    presented and discussed here.3

    Local Arvan|tika communities, which provide the empirical data for this

    essay, are agents in complex networks of relations with wider formations such

    as the nation-state in the context of which linguistic shift is gradually taking

    place. The Greek state and the bilingual Greek-Albanian communities are

    mutually interlocked in praxis and ideology. The communities do not simply

    exist within the connes of the nation-state and carry on along lines parallel

    to those of the matrix society. They relate to these superimposed structures

    through various socio-economic, administrative, and communicative net-

    works which allow local ideologies to address ocial linguistic views. Someof the background of the shift will be presented in order for sociolinguistic

    analysis to derive its power from social theory and history.


    Since Bakhtins work is not a novelty in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthro-

    pology I choose here to focus on two of his concepts, authoritative and intern-

    ally persuasive discourse, which have not had much currency in sociolinguistic

    works, even though ideas of authority, power, and their relations to ideology

    are common in many trends of critical discourse analysis and sociolinguistics

    more generally.

    Some of the portable notions of Bakhtins theoretical framework such as

    voice, word, and dialogism, in their most explicit form, are found in his work on

    Dostoevskys poetics (Bakhtin 1984). Bakhtin there, in addition to a thorough

    analysis, also oers the concepts, more specically those of the voice and of the

    word, in table form that facilitates their application in other contexts (1984:

    199). The wordof language, sometimes referred to as discourse, recognises not

    only its referential object, but also the word of the other, a word invading, so to

    speak, the speakers world from the outside and carrying over its social accents

    and background to another consciousness. Thus a word often becomes double-

    voiced, and its voices constitute ideological positions on the world. Dialogic

    relations therefore exist even in a speakers formal and syntactic monologue,

    and a proposition is never complete until it becomes an utterance by being

    socially anchored and responsive to other voices (Bakhtin 1986).



  • 8/2/2019 sociolinguistics bakhtin


    our own . . .; it is, so to speak, the word of the fathers. Its authority was already

    acknowledged in the past (emphasis in the original). And elsewhere, Others

    words become anonymous and are assimilated (in reworked form, of course);

    consciousness is monologized. Primary dialogic relations to others words are alsoobliterated . . . (Bakhtin 1986: 163) (emphasis in the original). Bakhtin contrasts

    this to internally persuasive discourse. Internally persuasive discourse forms an

    opposite pole where authority does not reign unquestioned. It is not insulated

    from the world of other voices. As against authoritative discourse which is

    understood as coming from the past, from the ancestors, internally persuasive

    discourse is open to engagements in dialogic relations with other points of view.

    It resists other voices and is being resisted and simultaneously penetrated by

    them. As Bakhtin puts it,a conversation with an internally persuasive word that

    one has begun to resist may continue but it takes on another character: it isquestioned, it is put in a new situation in order to expose its weak sides . . . (1981:

    348). In my discussion of the Arvan|tika data below I will try to show why we

    need both kinds of discourse for the studyof linguistic ideology.

    It is useful to try to bring home these two concepts. Authoritative discourse

    obviously presupposes two entities, a sending source and a receiving desti-

    nation. In theory at least, and in order to operationalize this and subsequent

    concepts for the requirements of empirical analysis, it is legitimate to make the

    hypothesis that an authoritative word may stem either from individual or

    collective agencies. Other, analogous analytical categories which take intoaccount individual or collective entities have been used in sociological and

    sociolinguistic studies such as Gomans (1990) personal and tribal ^ meaning

    here, group ^ stigma. But the following limitation should be kept in mind.

    These communicating sources are not also two dierent voices, as, for instance,

    when two opposed views are expressed and struggle with each other, lest we

    want to undermine the very nature of this kind of discourse. Furthermore,

    authoritative discourse is not limited to certain categories of texts or discursive

    genres, but also includes the power of textual performances (Kuipers 1990: 7).

    An important feature of authoritative discourse is its totalizing nature.Whether it is rejected or accepted, it is viewed as an unfragmented whole. This

    makes this discourse inherently ideological. What makes authoritative word

    an appropriate notion for analysis here is that it holds a deep anity with

    linguistic ideologies: social agentscommonsense understandings of language

    structure and praxis. As Kuipers (1998) has cogently argued in his analysis of

    the fate of ritual speech on the island of Sumba, Indonesia, languages are

    accepted as such only if they are perceived as totalities. This is an attitude

    shared equally by some linguists and also na ve observers. Everything less

    than a total linguistic structure, for example, shifting languages, threatenedlocal varieties, pidgins etc., is taken to be something not worthy of the label

    f h l F i i t f i hi h t f


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    sympathy: that is, a positive, but a frequently condescending, attitude which

    does not save formerly ourishing linguistic structures from becoming prey to

    an expanding linguistic predator. Authoritative discourse operates by erasure.

    Erasure as an ideological mechanism simplies the eld of observation bymaking sociolinguistic phenomena, languages, and social entities invisible

    (Gal and Irvine 1995). This kind of discourse, whether accepted or rejected,

    produces non-reexive thinking, and thus constitutes a component in the pro-

    cess of misrecognition: the combination of subjective blindness and objective

    legitimation (see Bourdieu [particularly translators denition] 1984: 566).

    However, importantly, authoritative discourse is not to be automatically read

    as a discourse of power even though it contains the potential of power. Power

    is not simply dialogic or monologic. It requires an external, a social dimension

    coloring, so to speak, discourse with the relational properties of the agentsinvolved (see Bakhtin and Medvedev 1985: 133 on the external, sociolinguistic