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In spoken language analysis an utterance is a smallest unit of speech. It is a continuous piece of speech beginning and ending with a clear pause. In the case of oral languages, it is generally but not always bounded by silence. Utterances do not exist in written language, only their representations do. It can be represented and delineated in written language in many ways.

Bakhtin's Theory of Utterance

According to linguist Mikhail Bakhtin, there are four accepted properties that utterances should have.

  • Boundaries- All utterances must be bounded by a "change of speech subject". This usually means, as previously mentioned, that they are bounded by silence.
  • Responsivity or dialogicity- The utterance must be either responding/following a previous utterance or generating dialogue.
  • Finalization- An utterance must have a clear ending, and only occurs if the speaker has said everything he or she wishes to say.
  • Generic form- The choice of the speech genre is determined based on the specific circumstances and sphere in which the dialogue occurs.

Bakhtin also emphasizes that an utterance and a sentence are not the same thing. According to Bakhtin, sentences do not indicate a change of speech subject, and thus do not automatically satisfy one of the four properties of utterances. According to him, the sentence as a language unit is grammatical in nature, while an utterance is "ethical".[1]

See also


  1. Utterance

Further reading