Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 11, 2008

Once more with feeling: Utterance and social structure

David Skidmore
From the journal


In this paper, I examine three theoretical sources on the relationship between language use and social structure. I identify common themes which link the concepts of symbolic capital (Bourdieu), social semiotic (Halliday), and ideologeme (Medvedev) and which lead to a critique of the structuralist tradition of semiotic theory. I explore the significance of speech prosody as an integral part of speech communication, and suggest that the utterance needs to be seen as a complex whole in which the structural and dynamic elements of speech are functionally combined. I illustrate this position through the analysis of a sequence of naturalistic dialogue, highlighting aspects of prosodic orientation between speakers and discussing its semiotic significance. I suggest that the mediating concept of speech genre can be used to understand how fluent conversation has both a structured and an improvisatory character. I conclude by suggesting that the activity of producing an utterance in everyday speech may be seen in terms of a musical analogy as performing a variation on a traditional theme. In closing, I identify a number of topics in this field on which our knowledge remains underdeveloped and indicate lines of enquiry for future research.

*Address for correspondence: Department of Education, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK

Published Online: 2008-03-11
Published in Print: 2008-01-01

© Walter de Gruyter