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Review of  Linguistic Polyphony

Reviewer: Maria Assunta Ciardullo
Book Title: Linguistic Polyphony
Book Author: Henning Nølke
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): French
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 29.3199

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“Linguistic Polyphony. The Scandinavian Approach: ScaPoLine” is a book written by Henning Nølke and published in 2017. The volume deals with the ScaPoLine approach, that is an utterance act theory elaborated by Scandinavian scholars in order to tackle linguistic polyphony. Polyphony here and throughout the book is intended as that phenomenon that occurs when two or more voices are heard within a textual or literary work.

The volume is made up of six chapters, an introduction, a conclusion, and a rich paratextual apparatus. In fact, this last section includes the acknowledgements, a list of illustrations, a list of abbreviations, a bibliography and two final indexes, one concerning the names of scholars mentioned throughout the work and the second regarding the topics developed.

The introduction of the book discusses the semantics of the term “polyphony” from different points of view which all lead to the redefinition of the concept, especially in the linguistic perspective. In fact, polyphony in language is here described as an essential key for any text interpretation, in particular for those dealing with multicultural and globalised contexts. The writer states that many books concerning linguistic polyphony have been a French specialty for too long and that now scholars claim the necessity of having a proper bibliography for English-speaking academics and readership. This vacuum has been particularly underlined by scholars interested in ScaPoLine, i.e. the Scandinavian approach to polyphony in language, that is now investigated in this first theoretical volume ever written in English. The introductory section also includes a final paragraph concerning the structure of the book and some practical linguistic guidelines regarding examples and utterances mentioned throughout the volume.

Each chapter of the volume tackles the topic of linguistic polyphony in a deductive way: in fact, the author discusses the subject starting from a general and theoretical angle culminating in the analysis of some empirical examples.

The first chapter of the book, “Utterance Act Linguistics (UAL)”, deepens the macro-topic of the linguistique de l’énonciation, a theoretical mare magnum which focuses on the énonciation, i.e. the utterance act, including the illocutionary acts. This theory was first developed by the French linguist Charles Bally, one of the most influential de Saussure’s followers. Since this particular epistemological field has not been investigated in Anglophone linguistics, as Lyons 1977: 26 observed in his seminal works on semantics, the writer of the volume introduces this scientific domain into English by giving it the name of “utterance act linguistics” (henceforth UA linguistics). Therefore, the first chapter presents a solid historical survey on UA linguistics by examining six utterance act theories that have been fundamental for the development of the French linguistic specialty.

“Polyphony” is the second chapter of the book and focuses on the concept of polyphony in linguistics. By discussing the etymology of the term and its applications in musicology, discourse analysis and literary studies, the author states the fundamental meaning of the notion, which is recognizable when two or more voices are heard within the same text, especially in literary ones. This peculiarity is also justified by the first appearance of the term: in fact, it was first mentioned in Mikhail Bakhtin’s book on Dostoyevsky (1929) where the term “polyphony” was used to designate the relationship between the Russian writer and his hero. Due to the recent rediscovery of Bakhtin’s masterpiece, the concept of polyphony has been deeply investigated by linguists, especially by Oswald Ducrot 1980, 1982 and 1984 who developed the theory of polyphony sensu stricto. However, Bakhtin’s idea of polyphony and that elaborated by Ducrot differ from a semantic perspective: in fact, Bakhtinian polyphony deals with texts whereas that of Ducrot focuses on specific utterances. This structural divergence motivates the existence of two different types of the polyphonic phenomenon: as the author states, nowadays we have literary polyphony, which relates to text construction as a parameter used in interpretation, and linguistic polyphony, put at the core of linguistic studies. After this theoretical focus, the chapter discusses five different kinds of polyphony deriving from Ducrot’s theories and approaches.

Chapter 3 is entirely dedicated to the Scandinavian approach to polyphony and this is explicitly summed up by the title “ScaPoLine: The Scandinavian Theory of Polyphony”. This theoretical model derives from the theorization elaborated by Ducrot but discusses critically its principles at the utterance level. In this chapter, the author describes the current state of the art of the Scandinavian approach to polyphony by highlighting the fact that ScaPoLine is in constant evolution both theoretically and empirically. After a brief historical introduction, the linguist examines each feature of the linguistic approach here developed.

As the title suggests, Chapter 4 presents some analyses and examples of linguistic polyphony. To date, many linguists have pointed out that several linguistic phenomena, such as connectors, modalities, tense, prosodic elements, etc. can represent linguistic polyphony. Even though the author is aware of the significant quantity and quality of linguistic markers of polyphony, he only presents some illustrative ScaPoLine analyses and examples without including prosodic elements because they are evident and obvious markers of linguistic polyphony. Furthermore, he gives a lot of attention to discourse particles by stating that these elements are highly polyphonic since they indicate composite interactional nuances (for example, see the Danish discourse particles ‘jo’ and ‘egentlig’ as suggested also by Therkelsen 2001 and Jensen 2006). Overall findings suggest that all the linguistic categories analysed seem to be interrelated and, therefore, their examination must be conducted by considering this significant aspect. In addition, results proposed show that language is essentially polyphonic, interactional, and designed to assist communication within society.

“Text Analyses” is the fifth chapter of the book. This section is based on some text analyses conducted with the ScaPoLine approach. Along with the discussion of some textual problems that can occur with the ScaPoLine approach, the author proposes an experimental investigation of two important polyphonic phenomena, i.e. represented discourse and irony. Results of the examination carried out show that ScaPoLine can produce new knowledge about represented discourse and irony. In order to deepen these results, the author wishes a collaboration between linguistics and other empirical disciplines: only by using these sciences together can polyphony be completely understood in textual materials.

Chapter 6 is the last thematic unit of the book. Its title, “Linguistic Polyphony in a Broader Perspective”, smartly sums up the content of this final section. In fact, the author shows that ScaPoLine methodologies can be easily applicable to many linguistic domains, such as that of language didactics and cross-linguistic language studies. The scholar underlines the benefits that the Scandinavian approach would bring into social and transcultural phenomena (e.g. political speech, literary translations, etc.) by analysing polyphony in texts. ScaPoLine would definitely perfect and refine all the results achieved by sociolinguists, literature scholars, translators and linguists sensu largo by adding new elements to the monodisciplinary research already completed.

The book is completed by a conclusion that summarizes how the topic of ScaPoLine has been developed throughout the chapters. As the author states at the very end of the volume, the Scandinavian approach to polyphony can help the reader and linguists to obtain a better understanding of language and texts that are intrinsically characterised by polyphonic features.


“Linguistic Polyphony. The Scandinavian Approach: ScaPoLine” represents a very well-written book about a linguistic topic that has never before been fully investigated by English scholars. The author uses a simple yet precise and clear style to talk about this new approach to the study of polyphony.

The introduction represents a valid and functional section of the book because it contains two paragraphs that anticipate the thematic structure of the book and provide for some practical and helpful suggestions to the readers.

An additional remarkable aspect is constituted by the explanation of the term “polyphony” that is made at the very beginning of the book. This author’s choice works very well because it clarifies the central topic of the publication before its more complex development in the following chapters.

Another important trait of the volume is represented by the general overview of the Utterance Act Linguistics that is offered in the first thematic section of the work. This theoretical description introduces the concept of polyphony and the way the Scandinavian approach works: this consequential order of presentation is a positive aspect that facilitates the reading of the book both for a naïve readership and a specialised one.

The aspect just described can be easily extended to the entire work: focusing on a single linguistic topic and presenting the argumentation in a deductive way is a commendable quality of the work, especially because the volume is the first one completely dealing with this new linguistic approach.

Over all, “Linguistic Polyphony. The Scandinavian Approach: ScaPoLine” constitutes an essential reference for linguists, sociolinguists, and literary scholars because it deeply describes a new and innovative approach to polyphony that can effortlessly be adopted within a wide range of disciplines in order to analyse all the voices included within a text.


Bakhtin, M. (1929). La Poétique de Dostoïevski. Paris : Seuil

Bally, C. (1932). Linguistique générale et linguistique français. Paris: E. Leroux

Ducrot, O. (1980). Analyse de texte et linguistique de l’énonciation. In O. Ducrot et al. (eds.) Le mots du discours. Paris: Minuit, pp. 7-56

Ducrot, O. (1982). La notion du sujet parlant. Recherches sur la philosophie et le langage, 2, pp. 65-93

Ducrot, O. (1984). Le dire et le dit. Paris: Minuit

Jensen, E.S. (2006). Egentlig og faktisk og to slags spørgsmål polyfoniteoretisk anskuet. Sproglig polyfoni, 6, pp. 27-52

Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics I+II. Cambridge: University Press

Nølke, H. (1999). La polyphonie: analyses littéraire et linguistique. Tribune 9, Skriftserie for romansk institutt, Universitetet i Bergen, éds. Kjersti Fløttum et Helge Vidar Holm, pp. 5-19

Nølke, H. (2006). Pour une théorie linguistique de la polyphonie: problèmes, avantages, perspectives. In L. Perrin (ed.), Le sens et ses voix. Dialogisme et polyphonie en langue et en discours. Metz: Université Paul Verlaine, pp. 243-269

Therkelsen, R. (2001). The Danish particles ‘jo’, ‘da’ and ‘vel’. In A. Holmes, J.-O. Svantesson & Å. Viberg (eds.), Proceedings of the 18th Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics. Travaux de l’Institut de Linguistique de Lund. Lund: Lund University, vol. 2, pp. 255-270
Maria Assunta Ciardullo is a Ph.D. student in Linguistics at the University of Calabria and has been a Visiting Ph.D. student at the University of York (UK). Her Ph.D. project is inscribed within the fields of Forensic Sociolinguistics, Forensic Pragmatics and Women's Studies and specifically deals with the semantic-pragmatic analysis of conversational dominance practised by criminal women in wiretappings. Her research interests include Forensic Linguistics, Forensic Phonetics, Gender Studies and Sociolinguistics.