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Discourse in Life and Discourse in Art (on Sociological Poetics): Voloshinov

The main purpose of this text is to provide - with the support of Valentin Voloshinov’s works - a new way of evaluating linguistics (in this case framed in the artistic context), not only from the psychological and subjective framework but rather from the sociological field. In this way, the author tries to address the social as the category that gives way to everything else and he does this by proposing an analysis of art in which he manages to deduce that the intrinsic relationship between author, hero, and listener that occurs in an artistic work, comes from verbal manifestations in individuals (which lay the foundations of artistic forms). This is given thanks to the existence of the social.

Valentin Nikolaevich Voloshinov (Saint Petersburg, 1895 - Leningrad, June 13, 1936), was a Russian linguist, and member of the so-called Bakhtin Circle, along with Mikhail Bakhtin. He is one of the main references to Marxist literary theory and the theory of ideology. His main work is "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language" (Marksizm i filosófiya yazyká) written towards the end of the 1920s. There, he criticizes contemporary linguistics (like Saussure, Vossler, etc.) focused on the study of the abstract linguistic sign and language as a system of invariable norms, and develops his theory of the ideological sign: language as a stable system of normatively identical forms it is just a scientific abstraction, productive only for certain theoretical and practical purposes. This abstraction does not fit the concrete reality of language. Language is a continuous process of generation, carried out in the social discursive interaction of speakers. The exact date of the elaboration of these texts is not known, and their authorship has been discussed - and some have attributed it to his colleague Mikhail Bakhtin. He was a professor at the Herzen University of Leningrad until 1934, dying two years later. He died of tuberculosis, in 1936 (Américo & Grillo, 2017).

Image 1. Valentin Voloshinov, standing in the center with the so called Bakhtin Circle.

According to the ideas proposed by Voloshinov (1926), linguistic conformation serves as a model to be able to understand the configuration and creation of the artistic, making way for the concepts of form and content, which mutually need each other to give way to an artistic and/or verbal manifestation. In this sense, the author proposes that social communication and discourse can be manifested through art and that, thanks to this occurrence, a link is established between ideological and aesthetic communication, respectively, establishing a certain homology between an artistic verbal manifestation and a statement in the practice of life: the communicative interaction and the close relationship between the extra verbal and the intraverbal that gives way to the statement.

From the sociological study that is carried out on artistic creation, it can be deduced that in the end, everything that we know from art or law has an ideological content that is based on signs and these signs are the basis of internal speech and communication between people. And its relationship with the social lies in the fact that different individuals use the same language, but the evaluative accents of each word, each ideological sign, are not the same and neither is the ability to sustain or impose these accents.

Image 2: Corpus Linguistics, by Hardie

Before supporting this statement, it is necessary to clarify how the concepts indicated in it are approached from the text. Signs, in the linguistic scenario, could be defined as the understanding of the communicative interaction that occurs between individuals, always within the social framework (Voloshinov, 1926). Evaluative accents refer to the value judgments that are the presuppositions based on a "we" in the same social group, which are given from points of union between the members of said group (Voloshinov, 1926). Statement refers to the articulation between the extraverbal (such as intonation) and speech (Voloshinov, 1926), and, finally, ideological content is understood as contents of different cuts (political, moral, aesthetic) that allow the elaboration of statements (Voloshinov, 1926).

Voloshinov points out that the social framework in which the statement arises is of great importance in terms of its sense and meaning (Voloshinov, 1926). Therefore, the hero that the author speaks about (which is the organizing theme of the statements, what is meant) (Voloshinov, 1926) is part of the social environment of a certain group and is related to their ideological interests. This is thanks to signs since the same group can understand and evaluate (Voloshinov, 1926) a statement as soon as communicative interaction can exist.

This "hero" will always have an evaluative accentuation that can attribute different characters to him, be it good, bad, fair, etc. (Voloshinov, 1926), and already knowing that there is an understanding on the part of the members of a social group is that this evaluative accentuation can be carried out. However, who first makes this evaluation is the announcer or speaker, since according to the social group in which he is immersed, he creates an utterance, considering a "listener" who is a living participant with respect to the object of the utterance. that is intended to rebuke or flatter (Voloshinov, 1926). But this evaluation made by the speaker does not consider every evaluative judgment that those people who do not identify with the listener will make (Voloshinov, 1926). In this sense, "the saying", the statement, could constitute a cross between the social interests that drive that saying and the evaluative accents that each group of the linguistic collective gives to that saying.

Image 3. Sign Theory and the Materiality of Discourse. (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

What has been stated above can be exemplified by a current fact: feminism is for many an ideology that fights against the patriarchal society sustained by capitalism in search of gender equality, but it has a different meaning for those who use the term "feminazi" without stopping to think much about the differences between fascism and the demands for women's rights.

Therefore, it can be considered that the author, by not addressing this possible conflict between the same social groups regarding a statement in terms of being made up of signs that are intelligible for this entire social group, will lead to different value judgments regarding it. Even when the speaker has evaluated the content of the utterance and has worked based on a listener, it does not mean that there are conflicts and discrepancies on the part of these groups that share a set of linguistic signs, but they will not share the same evaluative accents for that.




Voloshinov, V. (1926). El discurso en la vida y el discurso en la poesía (Contribución a una poética sociológica). Retrieved from

Images References:

Image 1: Author Unknown (n.d). O estudo da ideologia e a filosofia da linguagem. Lavra Palavra. Retrieved from:

Image 2: Hardie. (n.d.) Corpus Linguistics. Getty Image. Retrieved from:

Image 3: Cambridge University Press. (2020). Sign Theory and the Materiality of Discourse. Retrieved from:


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Dinka Hernández Avilés

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