P A P E R S
   by author
  by issue

   M I S S I O N

   C O N T A C T
I S S U E    N O .    3    [ M A R C H    1 9 9 8 ]

Susanne Günthner
Polyphony and the Layering of Voices in Reported Dialogues

An Analysis of the Use of Prosodic Devices in Everyday Reported Speech

As Bakhtin (1981: 337-338) pointed out in his metalinguistic analysis of discourse in the novel:

"The transmission and assessment of the speech of others, the discourse of another, is one of the most widespread and fundamental topics of human speech. In all areas of life and ideological activity, our speech is filled with overflowing with other people's words, which are transmitted with highly varied degrees of accuracy and impartiality. (...) The topic of a speaking person has enormous importance in everyday life. In real life we hear speech about speakers and their discourse at every step. We can go so far as to say that in real life people talk most of all about what others talk about - they transmit, recall, weigh and pass judgment on other people's words, opinions, assertions, information; people are upset by others' words, or agree with them, contest them, refer to them and so forth..."

In reporting past utterances, the speaker "decontextualizes" speech from its original co- and context and "recontextualizes" it in a new conversational surrounding. In recontextualizing utterances, speakers, however, not only dissolve certain sequences of talk from their original contexts and incorporate them into a new context, they also adapt them to their own functional intentions and communicative aims. Thus, the quoted utterance is characterized by transformations, modifications and functionalizations according to the speaker's aims and the new conversational context. Here, prosody and voice quality play important roles. The use of different voices is an interactive resource to contextualize whether an utterance is anchored in the reporting world or in the storyworld, to differentiate between the quoted characters, to signal the particular activity a character is engaged in, and to evaluate the quoted utterance.

In this paper, I will present different ways of incorporating voices in everyday reported speech and analyze prosodic and voice quality techniques speakers use in reported dialogues to produce "speech within speech, utterance within utterance and at the same time also speech about speech, utterance about utterance" (Volosinov 1929/73: 115).

I shall argue that participants in everyday interactions also use polyphonic strategies described by Bakhtin (1981) as "layering of voices" and "heteroglossia". In contrast to literary texts, "polyphonic layering of voices" in everyday reported dialogues is mainly achieved by means of prosody and voice quality.

The term prosody is used to subsume the following auditory aspects of speech: loudness, duration, pitch and pause. Voice quality is used to subsume paralinguistic cues which a speaker may temporarily use in order to produce a whispery, breathy, falsetto, aspirated voice, etc.

The analysis of polyphonic strategies in everyday reported speech is based on informal German conversations (dinner table conversations, coffee-break chats and telephone interactions) among friends and family members. Methods of interpretative sociolinguistics (Gumperz 1982), conversation analysis and interactional analysis of prosody (Couper-Kuhlen/Selting 1996) will be used.

 Published as:
Günthner, Susanne (1999). Polyphony and the Layering of Voices in Reported Dialogues: An Analysis of the Use of Prosodic Devices in Everyday Reported Speech. Journal of Pragmatics 31, 685-708.



InLiSt No.7
PDF (226 KB)

Get Acrobat Reader

Homepage of Prof. Dr. Susanne Günthner

Institute of German Studies, University of Münster


[ H O M E P A G E | P A P E R S by author | P A P E R S by issue | C O N T A C T ]

© 1998-2009 University of Potsdam, Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, Professor of English Linguistics.
2010 University of Bayreuth, Prof. Dr. Karin Birkner, Professor of German Linguistics.