Types of dialogue: Echo, deaf, and dialectical

David Fishelov


In order to offer a typology of dialogue that captures the complex and multifaceted nature of dialogues, we should take into account two factors: (1) the basic kind of interaction between the two interlocutors; the wide variety of specific interactions can be grouped under three general headings: echo-dialogue, whereby one participant repeats what the other has said; dialogue-of-the-deaf, whereby the two participants neither listen to nor understand one another; and dialectical-dialogue, in which the two participants are able to listen to and understand one another, albeit representing different points of view or sentiments. (2) The second factor is the distinction between the outer and the inner level of dialogue. This distinction characterizes any semiotic phenomenon, and derives from the distinction between linguistic form and content. The article argues that there is no automatic correspondence between the kind of interaction that occurs on one level and that taking place on the other. By using only these two factors we gain a systematic and elegant typology of dialogues that enables us to offer nuanced descriptions of a wide range of dialogical interactions in literary texts, notably in drama – as illustrated in the article.

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The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.