The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Heteroglossia: Translated from the Russian raznorechie, meaning “different speech-ness,” a term used by twentieth-century Soviet critic Mikhail Bakhtin to refer to the plurality of voices present in a literary work — including those of the author, narrator, and characters — as well as to the dialogue between these often competing voices. According to Bakhtin, all novels are somewhat polyphonic, or polyvocalic, because the speech, ideology, and discourse of certain characters will inevitably compete against the authorial voice. For instance, a novel may contain explicit or implicit disputes between: (1) characters (especially different groups or classes of characters); (2) certain characters or character groups and the sometimes monologic (i.e., singular and controlling) author and/or narrator; (3) the “official” ideology of the author’s culture and the subversive ideology that authors may directly or indirectly represent or express; and (4) the traditional mores of the literary genre in which the work is written and those exhibited by a given text.
As Bakhtin argued in The Dialogic Imagination, a compilation of four essays published in English in 1981 but substantially composed during the 1930s and 1940s, heteroglossia “permits a multiplicity of social voices and a wide variety of their links and interrelationships (always more or less dialogized).” Moreover, the term “conceptualizes” the “place,” or “locus,” where “centripetal” (e.g., official monologic) and “centrifugal” (e.g., unofficial dialogic) forces collide. At these crossroads, or in this “matrix,” new viewpoints form in language, almost of their own impetus, as a range of voices interrelate and sometimes override the monologic voice of an author or the predominant ideology of his or her culture. Such interactive diversity provides a means of moving around or beyond codes, conventions, and the dominant social discourse.