Heteroglossia- concept by Mikhail Bakhtin

Heteroglossia- concept by Mikhail Bakhtin 2


  • Can be translated as “other-languageness”
  • A single, unitary language
    – Is actually comprised of a multiplicity of languages
    – Interacting with, often ideologically competing with, one
  • “the indispensible prerequisite for the novel as a genre”
  • For e.g., any national language can be broken down into
    – Social dialects, professional jargons, generic languages,
    languages of generations, and so on
  • Dialogism
    – These various languages that stratify a single language are in
    dialogue with one another

Heteroglossia is a concept developed by the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. It can be translated as “other-languageness” or “multi-voicedness” and refers to the idea that a seemingly unified language is actually composed of multiple languages or discourses that interact and compete with one another.

Also read Defamiliarization (Ostranenie)-key concept in Russian Formalism, Russian Formalism- important key concepts

According to Bakhtin, a language or discourse is not homogeneous but rather characterized by a diversity of voices, perspectives, and ideological positions. This diversity is inherent to language and is manifested through the coexistence of various social dialects, professional jargons, generic languages, languages of different generations, and more.

Heteroglossia challenges the notion of a single, unified language and emphasizes the presence of multiple linguistic and ideological voices within a given linguistic community. These different voices are not isolated but engage in a constant dialogue with one another. This dialogic interaction shapes language and discourse, influencing their meanings, connotations, and interpretations.

Heteroglossia is considered by Bakhtin to be an essential feature of the novel as a literary genre. In the novel, different characters and narrators often speak in their own distinct voices, reflecting their diverse social backgrounds, perspectives, and ideologies. This multiplicity of voices creates a rich and dynamic literary environment, allowing for the exploration of various social, cultural, and ideological dimensions.

The concept of heteroglossia has broader implications beyond literature. It highlights the social and ideological dimensions of language, emphasizing that language is not neutral but is influenced by power relations, social hierarchies, and historical contexts. Heteroglossia recognizes that language is a site of contestation, where different discourses compete for dominance and influence.

Overall, heteroglossia points to the complex and multifaceted nature of language, highlighting the diversity of voices and discourses within a linguistic community. It underscores the dynamic and dialogic nature of language, shaping both literary and everyday communication, and acknowledging the ongoing interplay and interaction of diverse linguistic and ideological perspectives.


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