Interaction, Dialogue, Polyphony

Rhetorical approaches to argumentation focus on monological data; dialectical approaches, focus on conventionalized dialogues; interactional approaches to apply to everyday argumentation, when needed, the concepts and methods of verbal interaction analysis. Argumentation is necessarily two-sided, developing both as a monological and as an interactional activity, and it would be pointless to oppose these two kinds of argumentative activities. Argumentative questions can be relevantly discussed under a variety of speech formats, from the philosophical treatise to the internet forum and dinner conversation, S. Argumentation (I).

1. Interaction, dialogue, argumentative dialogue

Ordinary exchanges, dialogues and conversations are two special kinds of verbal interactions. Verbal interactions are characterized by the use of oral language, the physical presence of face-to-face interlocutors, and a key feature, the organized, continuous chain of alternate turns of speaking.

Dialogue is practiced first among humans, and, by extension, between humans and machines. This is not necessarily the case for interaction: particles interact, they do not engage in dialogue. Human interactions are both verbal and non-verbal. One can reject a dialogue, but one cannot reject interaction. Social organizations necessarily interact; they can open dialogues in view of promoting their respective interests or solving their disputes.

Dialogue is chiefly verbal with some nonverbal aspects, and this implies a kind of egalitarian situation. The concept of interaction takes the inequalities of the participants’ social statuses and their specific participations in the ongoing common task into account. It focuses on the coordination between language and other forms of action (collaborative or competitive) carried out by the participants, in complex material environments, including manipulation of objects. Language at work is interactional, not dialogical or conversational; conversations at work exclude work.

The interactive perspective paved the way for the study of argumentation in the work place or its role in the acquisition and development of scientific knowledge in labwork activities, where argumentative sequences are produced as regulatory episodes, in coordination with the manipulation of objects.

Dialogue has an “about-ness”, which makes it quite distinct from ordinary conversation, which tends to jump from topic to topic. In ordinary usage, the word dialogue has a quasi-prescriptive positive orientation: dialogue is good, we need dialogue. The philosophies of dialogue have a marked humanistic color. Personalities open to dialogue are opposed to the fundamentalists, closed to dialogue. When two parties enter into dialogue they commit to negotiating; breaking the dialogue may give way to violence. In this sense, as can be seen from the title of Tannen’s book, The argument culture: Moving from debate to dialogue (1998), debate, as a potentially acrimonious and vindictive argument_2 quasi-deprived of argumentation, can be contrasted with reasoned dialogue. We see a progress in the transition from the first to the second.

The formal approaches of argumentation as a dialogue game first appeared in the second half of the twentieth century, as a development of the Aristotelian dialectical rules. S. Dialectic; Logics of dialogue.

2. Dialogism and polyphony

The concepts of dialogism, polyphony and intertextuality make it possible to apply the interaction-based vision of argumentation to monological argumentative discourses and written texts more generally. Monological discourse is defined as a possibly long and complex, spoken or written, one-speaker discourse.

Socrates defines thinking, in its very essence, as a dialogue,

a talk which the soul has with itself about the objects under its consideration. (Theaetetus, 189e) [1]

This definition can be exploited to characterize thought as an argumentative process (in natural language).

2.1 Dialogism

In rhetoric, dialogism is a figure of speech featuring the direct reproduction of a dialogue as a passage in a literary or a philosophical composition.
Mikhail Bakhtin introduced the concept of dialogism, or polyphony, to refer to a specific fictional arrangement. In a nineteenth century classical perspective, the fictional characters are in some way, if not the puppets of the narrator at least supervised by him or her; all of their acts and speeches are framed according to their contribution to the intrigue. In a dialogic disposition, the narrator is less dominant; the characters tend to develop autonomous discourses and are relatively free of the duty to contribute to the intrigue.

2.2 Polyphony

In music, a polyphony “consists of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to a musical texture with just one voice, monophony” (Wikipedia, Polyphony)
In relation with the Bakhtinian concepts of dialogism and polyphony, the word polyphony can be used metaphorically to designate a set of phenomena corresponding globally to the monological staging of a dialogue situation, in the mouth of a single physical speaker (Ducrot, 1988), called the animator of speech, in Goffman’s vocabulary.

The theory of polyphony conceptualizes monological discourse as a polyphonic space, articulating a series of clearly identified voices, each one singing its tune, that is voicing a specific viewpoint. These voices are not attributed to identified persons, as they are in direct quotations.

The polyphonic approach to connectives and negation have proved particularly fruitful; for example, “Peter will not attend the meeting” stages two voices, the first voicing the positive “Peter will attend the meeting”, and a second one rejecting the first: “No!”; and the speaker identifies with the second voice, which is, in Goffman’s words, the Principal, assuming responsibility for the talk. S. Connective; Denying.

It is particularly worth noting that one specific Animator can develop a two-sided discourse, staging two voices, articulating arguments and counter-arguments, as in a regular argumentative two-person interaction. The argumentative dialogue is then internalized, in an inner confrontation free from the constraints associated with face-to face interaction. This is the case when, as in the theater, a character engages in a monologal deliberation. The polyphonic speaker speaks in a voice, then in another, opposed to the first, to finally reject one side of the argument and accept the other, therefore identifying with that voice.

According to Ducrot, the polyphonic speaker acts as a theater director, staging the voices, and choosing to identify with one of them, S. Role; Persuasion. This concept of identification is central to the theory of Argumentation within Language. First, the speaker sets out a range of enunciators, the sources of the points of view evoked in the utterance. In a second stage, he identifies himself or herself with one of these enunciators, this identification being marked in the grammatical structure. For example, denying implies the staging of two voices, and identification of the speaker to the denying voice (cf. supra); the same for the “P, but Q” coordination. It must be emphasized that this concept of identification is totally foreign to the psychological concept of identification that is discussed in connection with the issue of persuasion.

Polyphony is not restricted to developed monologues. A conversational turn, necessarily dialogical, can also be polyphonic, as shown by the use of negation. The possible discrepancies between the interlocutor as such (as a real person) and the interlocutor as framed by the speaker can be seen in a polyphonic perspective, S. Resumption of speech.

The two adjectives, dialogic and dialogical, both refer to dialogue. It could prove interesting to use one of these words, perhaps dialogic to cover the polyphonic and intertextual aspects of discourse on the one hand, and dialogical to cover the interaction related phenomena (including their dialogic aspects) on the other. Either way, full-blown argumentation articulates two disputing voices, it is a dialogical activity.

2.3 Intertextuality

In line with the classical monolithic vision of the speaker, rhetoric considers that the arguer is the source of the speech that he or she masters and pilots at will. According to the concept of intertextuality, speech and discourse have their own permanent reality and dynamics, preexisting to their voicing by some individual. Speakers are, as it were, second to their speech. Intertextuality decreases the role of the speaker, who is considered only as an instance of coordination and reformulation of discourses already elaborated and concretized elsewhere. The speaker is not the intellectual source of what is said, but merely the conscious or unconscious vocalizer of pre-existing contents. The discourse is not produced by the speaker, but the speaker by the discourse. This vision of the arguer as a machine to repeat and reformulate inherited arguments and points of views is particularly humbling when compared with the classical image of a creative, “inventive” orator.

In the case of argumentation, these relations of intertextuality are specifically taken into account through the notion of argumentative script, S. Script.

[1] Plato, Theaetetus (189-190). In Plato, Complete Works. Translated by M. J. Levett, rev. Myles Burnyeat. Edited, with Introduction and Notes, by John M. Cooper – Associate editor, D. S. Hutchinson. Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett. 1997.

SOCRATES:  Now by ‘thinking’ do you mean the same as I do? THEAETETUS: What do you mean by it?
SOCRATES: A talk which the soul has with itself about the objects under its consideration. Of course, I’m only telling you my idea in all ignorance; but this is the kind of picture I have of it. It seems to me that the soul when it thinks is simply carrying on a discussion in which it asks itself questions and answers them itself, affirms and denies. And when it arrives at something definite, either by a gradual process or a sudden leap, when it affirms one thing consistently and without divided counsel, we call this its judgment. So, in my view, to judge is to make a statement, and a judgment is a statement which is not addressed to another person or spoken aloud, but silently addressed to oneself. And what do you think?
THEAETETUS: I agree with that.