Bakhtin and genre and...

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Sun May 11 2003 - 02:21:15 PDT

Gordon and All,
Thanks for the summary of the differences between Martin and Hasan's
notions of genre and register. Actually, what inspired me to look for
clearer links between Bakhtin's work and genre/register was Hasan's paper,
"Speech genre, semiotic mediation and the development of higher mental
functions", Language Sciences, Vol. 14, No. 4, 489-528 (1992). I won't
summarise her arguments here, but the part that I am nutting out right now
is that she claims, in fact, that Bakhtin does point to a notion of social
context (hence the link with register) as well as a higher category -
speech genre (linking with cultural context?). Hasan quite rightly
criticises Bakhtin for his lack of theoretical precision with the term
social situation/social context/social milieu, inhibiting the degree to
which we can infer relationships between wording and social situations. I'd
appreciate any comments on this from any interested readers.

My applied interest is to seek a model that helps second language learners
understand the relationship between what is said and the situation in which
it is said (Jay Lemke describes this as the way that language and social
context metaredound) . As learners' spoken texts unfold, how do utterances
shape (and mis-shape) the immediate social context, and how does that
context shape the language choices that the students will make in ensuing
turns? In environments where the learners have restricted access to
communities of target language users, this model (I hope) will be of value.
I am sure we have all had instances where we have said (or had said to us)
something in another language that unintentionally alters the interpersonal
relationship between the speakers (the tenor), inadvertently changes the
topic (the field), or corrupts the cohesion of the conversation (the mode).
Granted, this, too can happen in a first language.

To me, this is the value of looking at spoken genres and register in role
play as a language learning activity, especially when we can bring to the
activity some of Bakhtin's other important constructs. This area is
partially covered (although not in a pedagogical sense) by the work of
Suzanne Eggins and Diana Slade: Eggins, S & D Slade 1997, Analysing Casual
Conversation, Cassell Academic, London, where they use SFL in a descriptive
and analytical model of everyday conversation.

I'm finding this an interesting study!



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