Vanity Fea

Introduction to Total Speech

Michael Toolan, Total Speech: An Integrational Linguistic Approach to Language. Durham (NC): Duke UP, 1996.

—A summary of Michael Toolan's introduction, with a few additional comments (marked jagl). This introduction is a systematic exposition of the main argument of the book, and of integrational linguistics as a whole—a perspective on linguistics which I find quite illuminating. There is much interesting common ground between integrational linguistics and symbolic interactionalism, including G. H. Mead's emergentism—perhaps to be explored some day.


3 “A decidedly skewed conceptualization of language develops when certain ideas that are useful as simplifying aids to such pragmatic tasks as translation and language teaching—that is, generally useful rules of thumb—are recast as unquestionable foundational axioms, on which and without which the scientific study of languages would be impossible. Among these ideas is the claim that a language is an autonomous, decontextualizable biplanal code.”

Here: … “attention to the ‘inevitable contextual embeddedness’ of language is foundational for all that follows.”

Roy Harris, “integrational” perspective on linguistic interaction, vs. post-Saussurean segregationalist and autonomous linguistics.

4 “Integrational thinking declines to accept that text and context are distinct and stable categories, prior to consideration of particular cases.”

“Perhaps nothing has done as much to promote the text-context binarism in linguistics—in linguistics, the science of language famously committed to the idea of the primacy of speech as the most natural human linguistic medium—as the development and spread of writing.”

5 “Transcription is a kind of absconding with that part of an interaction most easily reducced to writing, leaving the remainder as disposable residue.”

… “a foundational way to study language is first to separate text from context, that is, raise up the ‘linguistic’ and set aside the ‘nonlinguistic’, is part of the powerful and environing picture that now holds us captive.”

Text and context are inseparable:
“Both text and context are ontological derivatives, and after-the-fact sense making, and just what is deemed to be the text and what the (relevant) context is decided locally from within the interactional situation at hand.”

“The integrationist resists here, as in other areas of linguistics ,the overly determined picture of linguistic interaction that ‘type-token’ theorizing presents”.

6 “beyond particular cases it is contentious to specify, in any absolute way, just what is or consitutes context and what does not.” Sentences are abstract theoretical items, not actual ‘raw’ utterances.

7 Lyons: “When we use language to communicate with one another, we do not produce sentences, but utterances….. since sentences are never produced by speakes … there can be no direct relationship between sentences and particular contexts (Lyons 1968: 419-20).”

“However, if —as from an integrational position— no sharp division between sentences and utterances is endorsed and the relevance of locally determined contextualizing of utterances is revealed, then all the factors that Lyons noted —cotextually displayed information, background knowledge, assumed shared conventions and beliefs— toghether with numerous further potentially relevant variables, are again matters for attention. Those further contextual variables may include, but cannot be limited to,the gender, ethnicity, nationality, class, expertise, etc. of iteractants and their use of paralinguistic factors such as tone of voice, gaze, posture, and facial expression. Since just which of these factors will influence the uptake (and the analysis—jagl) of an utterance on a particular occasion can emerge only froom that particular intaraction event, it is impossible to provide a general predictive account of ‘the nature of context’.”

“In normal circumstances, what counts as communicationally relevant or criterial context is revisable and indeterminate in nature.”

8 “the criteria for what counts as a souvenir or a sausage emerge from the particular circumstances of each controversy (and what the adjudicatory parties take to be the salient circumstances in those controversies); there is little direct submission to literal or dictionary (i.e., decontextualized) definition” (—por ej. lo que cuenta como lingüística en unas oposiciones—jagl).

“This is partly because dictionaries rarely provide a ‘single’ answer to any interpretive or definitional question posed of them but more generally because present circumstances can always override received lexicographical wisdom. Making appeal to dictionaries is recurrently found to be more a rhetorical strategy than a procedure assumed to be definitive, and appearing to defer to dictionaries takes place only if no pressing argument not to do so emerges.”

“Integrational linguistic emphases in the study of language invariably include the following:”

9     a) Cotemporality (a term of art proposed in Harris 1981: 157ff.): cotemporality refers to and emphasizes the profoundly synchronized nature of verbal and nonverbal events: it relatedly acknowledges the ‘now-ness’ of language in use. The foundational assumption here is that utterances are interpretable, in the first or default instance, by reference to the speaker’s here and now, even in tall its extralinguistic complexity. All our linguistic acts—like all our nonlinguistic ones—are invariably assumed to be immediately relevant to the current situation, unless indications to the contrary are provided. It is in part because immediate relevance is the norm that linguistic and nonlinguistic acts are so often intersubstitutable.

    b) The privileging of local relevance, rather than the precedent of remote behaviour, in the situational determination of the meaning of an utterance or exchange.

    c) Sequentiality of linguistic production.

    d) The uniqueness of experience (language can never, strictly, be rerun and played over again: our sense of repetition is always a sense of the close relatedness—and not of identical reproduction—between pairs or groups of utterances, things, or events).

Potentially infinite diversity of language practices, but held in check:

“individuals are born into highly socialized normative communities, within which they are taught to find their own socialized normative place. Thus, while language is never a code, it is apparent that most individuals become habituated to a code-like predictability of usage, norms and meanings. Nor need the habituation be thought of as necessarily undesirable or demeaning: it will often be a constructive acceptance of the limits to communicative innovation and the desirability of recognizably shared public forms. Also among the forces constraining and delimiting our individualistic excesses with language (as within other domains) must be counted time, aging and mortality.” Past experiences sorte into scripts, situations, stereotypes…
“It is though this shifting multidimensional mental network of scripts, situations and styles that we undertake the making of contextualized sense of particular episodes of linguistic interaction.”

10     Integrationalist view… “that grammar is therefore quite as appropriately conceptualized as constantly developing or emergent (Hopper and Traugott 1993) rather than as fixed: and that the interrelations between such a  provisionalized grammar and speakers’ interpretive schematizations of situations (the latter equivalent to what Wittgenstein termed ‘forms of life’) entail a dialogism that truly merits the adjective Bakhtinian.” (Cf. the hermeneutic dimensions of individuality and generality in Schleiermacher—who would perhaps be critical of the integrationalists' excessive leaning to the individual pole).

Questionable notions with wide currency in linguistics:

“The notions to be reconsidered principally concern literal meaning, metaphor, intention-free signification, use of words versus mention of them, repetition, ostensive behavior, directness versus indirectness of speech, and language as the following of mental rules” “What is argued for is the need for radical change in the way these notions operate as the foundations of contemporary theorizing about language and communication.” Against the notion of language-exclusive mental faculties and mechanism.

11 (Against generativism:) “The codificatory and systematizing impulses of modern linguistics have been so powerful as to render the idea of a language as a system and a code—in essence, a species-wide and species-specific complex mental program to be progressivley deciphered by linguistsd via slow but steady advances in technical modeling—utterly standard and barely questionable common sense.” Reluctance in neighbouring discipines to criticize the cognitive-mechanistic model; general respectful acceptance and tentative application of the paradigm, disregard of language use in specific situations.

12    Orientedness to others, crucial. “I accept that it may more accurately be represented as something fostered culturally for so long that it has come to be called simply natural.”

“Language is essentially rooted in trust, goal orientedness, memory, and acuity of perception since—like those very attributes—it is an integral part of human life (and not an autonomous faculty or organ, like a board or card added to a primitive computer, which miraculously developed along its own lines in our prehistory).” “Human life is a continual and creative puzzle solving (or attempting), in which we are repeatedly called on to make sense anew of things (as distinct from merely retrieving old solutions to things).”

“language is essentially a
13    flexible practice, shaped by profound interacting principles of self-awareness, normativity, other orientedness, and rational risk taking, integral to the larger phenomenon of risk-entailing puzzle working entailed in life itself.”

A crucial mistake of established linguistics: “it effectively regards language as a theory before it is a practice.”

“Literal meaning is a rather late-emerging construct, a derrivative” “Literal meaning is a precipitation, from countless occasions of use, of a purportedly stable or core meaning, under the catalyzing influence of pressures from a culture that has taken a ‘scriptivist’ turn: by ‘a scriptivist turn’ I mean a pronounced orientation in favor of written language (concerning which more is said in chapter 6). The conclusion is that the idea of literal meaning must be reconceptualized: proper weight must be given to the indeterminacies of meaning in context, which in turn compel us to discard altogether the notion of a stable, permanent phenomenon or level called meaning. In the longer run, in the phrase literal meaning it is not the term literal that is the more unsatisfactory but the term meaning.

14     “In recent years, however, abundant evidence has been advanced in support of the idea that metaphoricality is no exoticism in the garden of language but a widespread indigenous part of the flora” (Well, "recent years"& Vico? Emerson? Nietzsche? Better talk of an alternative tradition—jagl)

Metaphoric creativity: “an inspection of fresh metaphors at work (in a poem by Sylvia Plath) gives us some insight into the nature and workings of language as a means of communication. Metaphors are high-risk redescriptions or reinterpretations with the goal of securing enhanced intimacy or insight.”

 (On intentionality): “It is not assumed here, however, that a speaker’s intentions somehow ‘govern’
15    the utterance’s meaning or that those intentions are recoverable or determinate. More important, I argue, is the contingent but crucial process of attributing intentions, by the hearer to the speaker particularly but viceversa also, guided by foundational faculties of pattern construction and perception, other-orientedness, memory, normativity, and abstraction”.

“’Coming into language’ is examined in relation to two imagined contexts of use: the accomplishment of a work task and the maintenance of mother-infant connection. In both cases, what is crucial is that instinctive processes become increasingly reflected on: what was first and necessarily a single integrated activity becomes dis-integrated or open to analysis (e.g., into the verbal and the nonverbal), for certain purposes. In part, the individual emerging into a langauged world is performing creative interpretation of (perceived) near repetitions…” Cf. Davidson, “radical interpretation”.

Cf. Derrida, Knapp and Michaels, Fish, Rorty—all OK, but:
“While neopragmatism is broadly endorsed, it is suggested that, in the antitheorists’ rejection of any divergence between authorial intention and textual meaning, insufficient attention is paid to the independent role of the addressee.”

Derrida’s iterability reinstates language as sistem or thing, sameness untrammelled by speaker intentions.
16    “This, I contend, is halfhearted contextualism. Taking language in context seriously entails deconstructing the very idea of language as a stable thing, to be shifted from one context to another. To view language thus is already to be viewing it at an abstract level…” (Cf. mi crítica al Derrida aprisionado en el lenguaje, todo lingüístico—jagl).

Mother-child interaction: mutual knowledge present precedes interaction, not implanted at a given point.

Ch. 4, “taking language in context seriously entails a revised account of the relations between language and society” Collectivist meaning entails an accomodation with hegemony: “collectivism is an enforced stabilization of the much more
17    fluid intrinsic conditions of language use, in which the key intermediary between language and society is not an autonomous and determinate plane of linguistic meaning but a multidimensioned, user-varying network of activity-type schemata” Reference to variable situations, not just to fixed signs. “As a result, the socially embedded nature of language shoud not be emphasized at the expense of the role of the creatively interpretive individual”.

(Pragmatic psycholinguistics): “primary memory is a memory of occasions, and not selectively or exclusively of the verbal part of those occasions or of any structural pattern in those occasions” Individual sifting and sorting gives rise to “metadescriptions such as mental models, schemas, prototypicality, grammatical ruls, and word meanings”.

18    “As a result, although language is never a code, nevertheless it is quite apparent that individuals and groups—especially subordinated and disempowered ones, although here the issue of what constitutes subordination must not be prejudged—may be habituated to a code-like predictability of usage, forms, and meanings.”

Bakhtin on free indirect discourse: “In addition to being a favored narrative strategy, free indirect discourse is an instructive instance of a larger tension in language—one that emerges  also wherever quotation is apprehended as more than a reporting, as an actual saying (e.g., in newspaper reports, oral recountings, references, or testimonials).”

—Or again, “categorial separation of uses of expressions from mentions is an impossibility.” E.g. Rushdie “mentions” things in The Satanic Verses, but that is also a use.

“There is no foundationalist, freestanding basis on which to arbitrate or transcend the picture of flux and emergence within which any use may be seen as a mention, or viceversa, and where indeed neither extreme of assessment—all uses are mentions, all mentions are really uses—
19    can be noncontingently ruled out. (Toolan usa mucho el concepto de contingencia: como Gould). Also pertinent here is Bakhtin’s proposal that in dialogic discourse a present utterance is always cast or slanted so as to deflect the answering utterance it foresees. (Cf. interaction even with one speaker—dialogism of one, cf. the symbolic interactionists' self-interaction—jagl). This is other-oriented constrained guesswork if anything is, and it is thoroughly congruent with an integrational view of intentionality: intentionality, I argue, must in essence be the intentions that a hearer attributes to a speaker, without hope, possibility, or need of confirmation (by the speaker) or their accuracy. The hearer makes those attributions prior to his or her involvement in an interactional response, informed by those attributions.”

“Chapter 5 argues that in important respects both Grice’s account and relevance theory appeal to an excessively determinate base, where language is code.”

Vs. definition of irony as “echoic mention”:
“I argue that echoism is neither necessary nor sufficient for irony and that the understanding of irony (verbal or situational) begins rather with the perception of mismatch, between words and world. In the case of intentional verbal irony, the hearer assumes the mismatch to be intentional and intended to be perceived (this distinguishes it from simple lying).”

20    Ch. 6, on repetition. “The picture of a language as a system of reliable repetitions and the extensions of that picture in such notions as an inventory of reliably repeatable performative verbs or a grammar of the conditions for the effective performance of particular and determinate speech acts (proposed by Austin and Searle, respectively) are metalinguistic abstractions.”

Nigel Love says that “a language is permanently such an idea-based construct: by its nature it cannot ever become, by any miraculous metamorphosis, a first-order reality for individuals.”

 “Part of what is interesting in these issues is the clarification of why it is that our culture has come so widely to assume something different, namely, that a language (English, Spanish, Cantonese) is indeed a first-order reality, containing agreed-on and relatively fixed forms and meanings. Here, as indicated earlier, the impact of writing has been significant to a degree still not fully appreciated”

21    Against the idea of deducing authorial meaning and intentions from writing, with only a secondary attention to the specificities of the stream of written signs. Interactional salience is foremost in interpreting meaning: not recognized by generativist accounts of stored forms.

22    “The integrational revision proposes that language is, in many respects and circumstances, less rule governed and more creative and, in other circumstances, rule governed but less creative than the orthodox view allows.”… “it is arguable that what is chiefly needed is not a new methodology but rather a revised application of extant methods.”

As against the typical linguist, “the integrationist seeks above all an ‘inward’ account of language, as opposed to a detached, abstracted, and idealized one. In a discipline pervaded by models and representations, the integrational approach would have us distrust models and epresentations—at least to the extent of addressing the question whether what is modeled is truly the lay language user’s own understanding of the given phenomena" (—but this may entail ruling out the relevance of interaction among linguists as a real-life context- jagl).
23    “Integrational linguistics names a principle rather than a method, the principle that understanding language must entail considering how it is actually used and understood by language users….” Who are more creative than is usually conceded. “My preference is to retain, shorn of their more extravagant theoretical underpinnings, as much of a number of extant models as is possible.”

Emergent narrativity 

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