The word is half someone else’s


August 19, 2011 by Willy Cardoso

One of the deepest, poetic(quest), and most insightful paragraphs on language theory and dialogism I’ve ever read. Enjoy, and have a good pondering (and a good weekend). À bientôt!

The word in language is half someone else’s. It becomes “one’s own” only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention. Prior to this moment of appropriation, the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language (it is not , after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker get his words!), but rather it exists in other people’s mouths, in other people’s contexts, serving other people’s intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one’s own. And not all words stubbornly resist, others remain alien, sound foreign in the mouth of the one who appropriated them and who now speaks them; they cannot be assimilated into his context and fall out of it; it is as if they put themselves in quotation marks against the will of the speaker. Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated –overpopulated –with the intentions of others. Expropriating it, forcing it to submit to one’s own intentions and accents, is a difficult and complicated process.

(Bakhtin, 1981, pp. 293-294)


4 thoughts on “The word is half someone else’s

  1. Love it ! Thanks for sharing, Willy

  2. Nick says:

    One of my favorite books from college. Bahktin is the man when it comes to the nature of language. I think this quote is fantastic.

  3. I’ve always loved reading Bakhtin at uni. Insightful and poetic. Great excerpt.

  4. k. liz says:

    Very interesting paragraph!! Thanks so much for sharing. Love how personal and human language is. Love how it weaves us as a people together and yet gives each and every one of us a distinction. Great thought fodder! Thank you!

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