Vološinov: An Unknown Influence of How We Understand Language

“Reported speech”/ “The Other’s Word”:

Valentin Vološinov was born in St. Petersburg on June 18, 1895, and he died in a Leningrad sanatorium on June 13, 1936 after contracting tuberculosis. Vološinov attended to a sociological analysis of language and culture, emphasizing intersubjectivity precedes subjectivity suggesting that production of and nature of meaning is social and ideological rather than individual and biological. Vološinov suggests the systems of language are not static or as stable as many presume. He suggests that “stable system of linguistic signs is merely a scientific abstraction; […]this creativity must be understood in relation to the ideological meanings and values that fill language and that the structure of each concrete utterance is a sociological structure” (Brandist, n.d., para. 23).  Vološinov’s attention is directed to the formalistic qualities of language and how it is generated. Seeing language as an interaction of signs, he seems to privilege spoken language as “most revealing object of semiotic studies” (Matejka & Titunik, 1986, p. 3). Vološinov states, “Utterance is constructed between two socially organized persons and, in the absence of a real addressee, an addressee is presupposed in the representative of the social group to which the speaker belongs” (Vološinov as cited by Matejka & Titunik, 1986, p. 3). This introduces the study of “reported speech”.

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Reported speech is when another person’s words are represented within another person’s speech. Vološinov defines it as “speech within speech, utterance within utterance […]speech about speech, utterance about utterance” (italics in original, p. 115).

Reported speech alters and generates combinations of form. The generative aspect of language provides seemingly infinite possibilities of combinations of communication. Reported speech contains own themes independent of the rest of the utterance.

Once another’s words are incorporated into a speaker’s speech, then there emerges a theme within a theme. Content of utterances are only a theme.

Reported utterance “has the capacity of entering on its own, so to speak, into speech, into its syntactic makeup, as an integral unit of the construction” (p. 115).

Types of “reported speech”/ “other’s word”:

Direct and indirect patterns are established through reception. Direct discourse dialogue embedded within authorial context. Direct discourse uses another’s words verbatim. Indirect discourse paraphrases and talks about the theme of another’s speech. Contact with external speech is required for it to become internalized.  When direct or indirect is invoked, there is an active relation between messages, which is a stabilized construction pattern. This illustrates speakers reacting to speakers, words reacting to words as they come in contact with one another. Experiences “exist encoded in his inner speech, and only to that extent do they come into contact with speech received from outside” (p. 118)

 “Reported speech” patterns:

After patterns emerge in speech, these patterns govern and restrict future use. “…[P]atterns have assumed shape and function in the language, they in turn exert an influence, regulating or inhibiting  in their development, on the tendencies of an evaluative reception that operate within the channel prescribed by existing forms” (p. 118).

Once incorporated, integrated  into the language system, patterns influence and regulate “development on the tendencies of an evaluative reception that operate within the channel prescribed by the existing forms” (p. 118).

Direct discourse:

Dialogue is embedded within authorial context (p. 116). The more dogmatic the utterance, the less personal, less individualized the utterance will be. (p. 120). This form is the least personalized. This shows how language migrates from speaker to speaker as it is appropriated in different contexts.

Linear style – the tendency is to “construct clear-cut, external contours for reported speech, whose own internal individuality is minimized” (p. 120). Context is complete stylistic homogeneity. “Grammatical and compositional manipulation of reported speech achieves a maximal compactness and plastic relief” (p. 120)

Indirect discourse:

More malleable boundaries than direct discourse. This allows for changes to occur, providing more individual expression.

Infuses speech with own intonations. “…characterized by an exceptional development of mixed forms of speech reporting, including quasi indirect discourse and, in particular, quasi direct discourse, in which boundaries of the message are maximally weakened” (p. 122).

Indirect discourse diminishes the original context in which the reported speech was encountered. “It begins to perceive itself – and even recognizes itself – as subjective, ‘other person’s’ speech” (p. 121).

Pictorial –  “Its tendency is to obliterate the precise, external contours of reported speech; at the same time, the reported speech is individualized to a much greater degree – the tangibility of the various facets of an utterance may be subtly differentiated” (p. 121)

Functions of “reported speech”/ “other’s word”:

“Everything of any ideological value is expressed in the material of inner speech” (p. 118).

All speech holds some ideological value. Ideologies are specific perspectives and approaches to engaging the world. Therefore, our internal speech is steeped in ideology.

Reported speech provides information about “social tendencies in an active reception of other speaker’s speech, tendencies that have crystallized into language forms” (p. 117).

The reception of reported speech shows how words of others have been evaluated and incorporated into one’s own speech. This illustrates assigned value of that instance of reported speech in accordance to society.

Reported speech/Other’s word is a process generated by society and utilized by the individual, transmitting speech and utterances to the desired third-party.

Transmissions “contribute to the implementation of what is already lodged in the tendencies of active reception by one’s inner-speech consciousness” (p. 117).

“Language reflects, not subjective, psychological vacillations, but stable social interrelationships among speakers” (p. 118).

Context of receiving utterances is important. It is the tension that is held between reported speech and context that provide understanding of dynamic interrelationship.

As we encounter utterances, we first “[frame] within a context of factual commentary […] second, a reply is prepared” (p. 118).

Listeners position their reply as either a comment or retort. The relationship between reported speech and reporting context points to the “dynamism of social interorientation in verbal ideological communication between people” (p. 119)


Brandist, C. (n.d.). The Bakhtin Circle. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from            https://www.iep.utm.edu/bakhtin/

Vološinov, V. N., & Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Marxism and the philosophy of language: V.N.            Vološinov (L. Matejka, & I. R. Titunik). Cambridge, Mass. u.a.: Harvard Univ. Press

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