What Would Bakhtin Do?


  • Michael Holquist Yale University


Bakhtin, Saussure, Chomsky, signification, dialogism, heteroglossia


Originally delivered as a lecture at the symposium Multilingual, 2.0? in Tucson (13 April 2012), Holquist—the eminent Slavic scholar, comparatist, and translator of Mikhail Bakhtin—explores in this essay the ontological instability of any distinction among multilingual, monolingual, and bilingual phenomena and practices. Drawing on Wilhelm von Humboldt, Noam Chomsky, and recently re-discovered writings of Ferdinand de Saussure, the essay deepens Holquist’s career-long exploration of the dialogical nature and grounding of linguistic practice, as well its implications for future theory-making in multilingualism studies.

Author Biography

Michael Holquist, Yale University

Holquist is Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus at Yale University. He received his Doctorate from Yale after which he was a member and often Chair of Slavic Departments at Yale, University of Texas at Austin, and Indiana University, and then returned to Yale where he was for many yeas Chair of Comparative Literature. He is a past president of the MLA. His publications include articles on a wide variety of topics (utopian fiction, detective stories, Lewis Carroll’s nonsense, plus several Russian writers). After his first book, Dostoevsky and the Novel (1977; 2nd ed. 1986), he devoted himself for a number of years to the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, translating and editing four volumes, a biography, Mikhail Bakhtin (with Katerina Clark) (1984), and Dialogism: Bakhtin and his World (2nd revised edition, 2002). At Columbia he has taught Literature Humanities in the Core Curriculum, and in 2009 will teach a graduate course for Comparative Literature and the Slavic department concerning the transformation of European philology that occurred after the birth of modern linguistics in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Germany. He is currently engaged in a study (funded by a multi-year grant from the Teagle Foundation, and in collaboration with reading science Haskins Laboratory) devoted to emerging literacies in late adolescents.