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.
© Walter de Gruyter