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ARGUMENTATION IN THE LANGUAGE-SYSTEM OR WHY ARGUMENTATIVE PARTICLES AND POLYPHONY ARE IMPORTANT FOR EDUCATION

Igor . agar
Educational Research Institute Ljubljana, Slovenia

For quite some time now the French linguist Oswald Ducrot has been trying to develop a new theory of argumentation, a theory of "argumentation in the language-system" (TAL), a theory that explores the argumentative potential of language itself. TAL tries to show how certain argumentative features are already written into the language as a system; how, on certain levels, language can argue by and for itself; and how it can (and does) impose restrictions on our own (dialogical and interactive) argumentation. The aim of this paper is to show, especially to teachers and educators in general, that words, the main tool they use in the classroom, are not like bubbles that disappear into thin air as soon as they leave one's mouth; they are entities with substance, entities that carry with them a lot of lexical, semantic, and pragmatic luggage, even whole presuppositions and (conventional and/or conversational) implications. Special attention will be paid to argumentative particles (and discourse markers), these presumably more or less "empty" language entities. I will try to show that these entities, in fact, orient our argumentation towards specific and definite conclusions, thus structuring and guiding the whole discourse. Now that rhetoric has become one of the three compulsory elective' subjects in the reformed elementary school in Slovenia, this article may be of special interest to Slovenian teachers and researchers of education in general. Let me start with a few examples2. Suppose someone says to us: (1) It is 8 o'clock. Is this an argument? Why would anybody be telling us that it is 8 o'clock? Just to let us know what time it is? Not likely, unless we wanted to know what time it was. But suppose we didn't want to know what time it was, suppose
somebody just said to us (1). Why would anybody want to do that? Obviously, because he or she, by saying (1), wanted to tell us something else. But, what possible follow-up(s), what possible conclusion(s) could such an utterance lead to? Since we don't know what the exact context3 is, there are many possibilities: (1) It is 8 o'clock > Hurry up! Take your time! Turn on the radio! Go brush your teeth!

Now, let us see what happens if we introduce two modifiers to (1), already and only respectively, as in (1*) It is already 8 o'clock and (1**) It is only 8 o'clock.

All things being equal, from (1*) we can no longer conclude, "Take your time" (as we could from (1)), but only, "Hurry up"; on the other hand, from (1**) we can no longer conclude, "Hurry up", but only, "Take your time". And why is that supposed to be so surprising? Because (1), (1*), and (1**) refer to the very same chronological fact, namely, that it is 8 o'clock: while (1) allows a multitude of conclusions, (1*) only allows conclusions oriented in the direction of lateness, and (1**) conclusions oriented in the direction of earliness. How is that possible if (1), (1*) and (1**) refer to the same chronological fact, if the basis of (1), (1*), and (1**) is the same state of affairs? Well, this "same state of affairs" is viewed from different angles: in one case, (1*), 8 o'clock is viewed (and represented) as late, in the other, (1**), 8 o'clock is viewed (and represented) as early. What makes this differentiation of the same state of affairs possible is simply the introduction of two argumentative particles, in our case, two adverbs. In example (1*), already orients our conclusion toward lateness, no matter what time of day follows it; and, in (1**), only orients our conclusion toward earliness, no matter what time of day it refers to. In other words, the argumentative orientations toward lateness and earliness respectively must be (in a way) inherent to - or written into - those two lexical units of the language-system. Let me explain what I mean using another example. Suppose we are confronted with a (possible) argument such as: (2) John worked. Toward what conclusion is this oriented: + ("He is going to succeed") or - ("He is not going to succeed")4? I am sure everybody would choose + ("He is going to succeed"). The word work implies that some effort is being or has been put into something, and if effort has been put into something, that means that the person putting in the effort is more likely to succeed (in what she or he is struggling for) than not. The other conclusion ("He is not going to succeed") becomes generally acceptable only if we introduce it with but, as in (2*) John worked. But he is not going to succeed. We use but to reverse the expectation and the argumentative orientation of what is expected to follow, based upon what has been said prior to but. For example, in: (3) I am very busy, but I am going to accept that offer, the expected conclusion from, "I am very busy", would be oriented in the direction of, "I can take no more work", or in (4) Paul is an engineer, but a bad one, the expected conclusion from, "Paul is an engineer", could be oriented in the direction of, "He knows/He can do certain things What but tells us in (2*), therefore, is precisely that not succeeding is not the normal flow of events if one has worked. Now, consider these: (5) John worked little and (5*) Mark worked a little. Experiments reveal (Ducrot: 1996) a rather general agreement about how much John and Mark worked (not much); nevertheless, almost everybody would agree that Mark worked a bit more (say, two hours) than John (who only worked for, say, one hour). It is, however, practically impossible to determine - in an objective and unambiguous way - how much more than John Mark has worked or, in other words, how much less than a little is little. Still, (5) and (5*) allow for conclusions that are (argumentatively) oriented in opposite directions, namely:

(5) John (has) worked little. > He isn't going to succeed. (5*) Mark (has) worked a little. > He is going to succeed.

From the informative point of view - from the point of view of "facts", of how things are (supposed to be) in the world - it is important that language represents little and a little as both describing a small quantity of something: there may be some quantitative difference between little and a little, but both still describe a small amount of something. But from the argumentative point of view, language puts little in the same category as nothing, not at all, and a little in the same category as a lot: namely, little argues in the same direction as nothing, not at all (thus allowing (5) to be paraphrased and fortified with (6)): (6) John (has) worked little, even not at all. > He isn't going to succeed, and a little in the same direction as a lot (thus allowing (5*) to be paraphrased and fortified with (6*)): (6*) Mark worked a little, even a lot. > He is going to succeed. Now, let's modify work - i.e. work as viewed by language - in yet another way. In what direction could the following argument be oriented? (7) John worked for an hour. Unless we know the context - for example, how much work is needed for a certain task both conclusions are possible, the negative and the positive one, as in (7): (7) John worked for an hour, > He is going to succeed. > He is not going to succeed. But if we are confronted with an argumentative string such as (7*) John worked for an hour. > But he is not going to succeed, regardless of the context and regardless of the concrete "empirical data", we immediately know from the use of the particle but that usually, in the "normal flow of events", one hour of work is enough for success in this particular case. What but tells us is that we are not dealing with the "normal flow of events", that things have changed somehow or that additional criteria apply. Let us modify our work some more. If (7) was, in a way, a neutral example, allowing conclusions that go in opposite directions, what can we say about (8) and (9): (8) John worked for only an hour. (9) John worked for almost an hour? We are still dealing with the same "facts" (an hour of work), but language, through its particles only and almost, is representing those "facts" as, in one case, not sufficient for success: (8) John worked for only an hour. > He is not going to succeed, and in the other as sufficient for success: (9) John worked for almost an hour. > He is going to succeed. I would like to stress once more that it is not the quantity of work that supports the conclusions in (8) and (9); it is language, the use of special language devices. John could have worked for four or eight hours (which, in the "normal" flow of events, may be sufficient for the kind of work he is performing), but if the argument had been formulated by the particle only, introducing the amount of work, the conclusion could only have been negative ("He is not going to succeed") in all cases. Unless we used some additional particles, of course. Almost, on the other hand, orients the conclusion in the positive direction, regardless of the "facts". Even

more: "almost X", from the informative, factual point of view, means, "not yet X", "not quite X yet"; it therefore describes a quantity that is smaller than "only X" (which is simply just X). And yet, this factually smaller quantity, "almost an hour", argumentatively represents more work than the factually bigger quantity, "only an hour"! Let's have a look at how powerful argumentative particles are on a few other examples. Compare the following two sentences: (10) The bottle is already half empty. (11) The bottle is still half full. Both sentences describe the same state of affairs, the same fact: being "half empty" and being "half full" amounts to the same level of liquid in the bottle, i.e, somewhere in the middle. So the facts described in or, to put it more mildly, referred to, in (10) and (11) are the same. Only they are viewed from two different perspectives, which tells us that they probably were not meant to report about the facts (what the level of liquid in the bottle exactly was), but to tell us something else. Namely, notwithstanding that both (10) and (11) describe the same fact, they argue for opposite conclusions: (10) The bottle is already half empty > We need another one. (11) The bottle is still half full > We don't need another one yet. The particles already and still make such choices (conclusions) obligatory: if we are representing a bottle as "already half empty", we are complaining that it will very soon be completely empty; so it is highly unlikely that we want to draw a conclusion such as, "We don't need another one yet". And if we were describing a bottle as "still half full", we would be very unlikely to do so if we wanted to present an argument for such a conclusion as, "We need another one". Argumentative particles can do even more than that, they can contextualise those (seemingly) decontextualised examples, and give their basic context. If something is "already half empty" or "still half full", we are obviously involved in some process of emptying. But if we reverse the places of "already" and "still", so that we get: (10*) The bottle is still half-empty, (11*) The bottle is already half full, we are obviously confronted with a process of filling something up. What kind of emptying or filling is going on, what are its "dirty details", is of no further importance for a linguistic analysis; that is all the context it needs. And that is not yet all argumentative particles (can) do. Ceteris paribus, they can literally structure and design the argument. Suppose it is a warm summer day and somebody suggests a walk to you. You are tired and you answer: (12) It is warm, but I am tired. Clearly, you refused a walk. Now, suppose you answered a bit differently: (13) I am tired, but it is warm. The situation is the same as in (12): it is still warm and you are still tired, but this time it sounds like you accepted the invitation for a walk. It all depends on where you place but (or any other particle), which argument precedes it and which argument follows it; the conclusion will always follow from the argument following but, not the one preceding it. In other words, this means that there are different argumentative orientations within a single sentence. But how can we analyse that? That is where and why Ducrot introduced polyphony, a concept he borrowed from Bakhtin, and generalised to the language-system as a whole. As you already know, Bakhtin distinguishes between dialogism and

Language

polyphony. "Polyphony", he says in his Marxism and the Philosophy of (1973:116), "is distinctly and fundamentally different from dialogue. In dialogue, the lines of the individual participants are grammatically disconnected: they are not integrated into one context." Dialogues, therefore, are produced by two or more speakers, while polyphony is a monological structure. He found examples of polyphonic structures (utterances) mostly in novels, and in his book on Dostoevsky (1984: 304) he gives this (now famous) definition of the polyphonic phenomenon:

"An author may utilize the speech of another in pursuit of his own aims and in such a way as to impose a new intention on the utterance, which nevertheless retains his own proper referential intention. Under these circumstances and in keeping with the author's purpose, such an utterance must be recognised as originating from another addresser. Thus, within a single utterance, there may occur two intentions, two voices". So, for Bakhtin, a polyphonic construction belongs to a single speaker, but actually contains (mixed within it) "two utterances, two speech manners, two styles, two languages, two semantic and axiological belief systems" (1981: 304). Bakhtin's study of polyphony was mostly confined to novels, while Ducrot generalised the phenomenon as far as language as a system. So, in Ducrot's view, what is polyphony? Ducrot thinks that what traditional linguistics refers to as a speaker is, in fact, a very complex (and confused) notion that covers a number of wholly different ideas. He proposes distinguishing between the producer, the locutor and the utterer of an utterance. The producer of an utterance is the one whose activity results in the production of an utterance, i.e, the producer is the one who carries out the intellectual activity necessary for the production of the utterance. That may seem very obvious, but there are cases in which this concept becomes rather puzzling. Think of yourself as a pupil, for example (I borrow this example from Ducrot (1996)): the school organises a hike in the countryside and for you to be able to go on that trip you must have your parents' permission. Your teacher therefore gives you a form for one of your parents to sign. On the form it says something like, "I allow my son/daughter to take part in the excursion", with the word "signature" at the bottom. You give the form to your mother or father, who has to sign her/his name under the word "signature". Now, who is the producer of that form saying, "I allow my son/daughter,.,?" The parent who signed it? The teacher who gave it to you? The secretary who typed it? The school administration? It is hard to say. That is why we need the locutor and the utterers. The locutor would be the one who is responsible for the utterance, the one who is held responsible for the utterance by the utterance itself or, at least, responsible for the act of uttering the utterance. In the case of our pupil and his/her parents, there seems to be no problem: the utterance contains the pronoun 1, which clearly points to the locutor, the person who signed the form. But what happens if the utterance contains no explicit devices such as pronouns? Do we have to hold the locutor responsible for everything that is said in the utterance? Must everything that is said (or implied) in the utterance really be taken as his/her own point(s) of view? That is where the utterers6 come in. According to Ducrot, there can be several utterers or (to be more exact and less misleading) uttering positions within each utterance, which is just another way of saying that several different viewpoints can be expressed through one single utterance. Ducrot's position is even more radical; according to him every utterance could be analysed with at least two uttering positions.

For example, let us take the negation: (14) This fence is not red. The locutor of this utterance is presenting two uttering positions: the first one (U1), who affirms that the fence is red, and the second one (U2) opposing his/her affirmation, The locutor, the one who is responsible for (uttering) the utterance, merges with U2. But then, what makes it possible to proceed in this fashion? What gives us the right to distinguish between several uttering positions within a single utterance? In the case of (14), for example, the very fact that there are no fences that are non-red, non-yellow, and non-brown. Of course, a fence could be described as non-red, non-yellow, or non-brown, but such a description wouldn't give us any idea of the real colour of the fence. Therefore, if somebody is affirming that, X is not ..., he must be objecting to somebody who is affirming the contrary, namely that, X is ,.. (which, of course, does not mean that affirmations cannot be polyphonic: when one says, "This fence is red"; one could be well affirming something that someone else has denied). But this may be too ontological an argument, so let me give you another example, this time from the philosophy of language. Some years ago (agar 1991a), I tried to analyse explicit performatives in terms of polyphonic analysis. Namely, I thought that utterances like: (15) I promise. were extremely strange. You could of course object that the expression was taken out of its context, so let us examine the utterance (15) in one of its possible "contextualised" forms: (15*) I promise to come. Unfortunately, the utterance still seems very strange here as well. I can hardly imagine someone saying (15*) just like that, out of the blue. Again, you could object - and with good reason - that the utterance has been taken out of context, and that the locutor is probably responding to a question such as: (16) Are you coming? OK, now we have the immediate context, but I still have a lot of trouble digesting dialogical linkages like: (17) A: Are you coming? B: I promise to come. Perhaps in some Greek tragedy, but not in everyday conversation. There is something not quite right; either there is too much of something, or else something is missing. What is my point, then? The most common answer to question (16) - if we remain in the "positive" register would undoubtedly be, either: (18) Yes or (15**) I am coming, but hardly (15*). If we answer by (15*) there is, in it's relation to the question, a surplus in our answer, a surplus which indicates that something is missing. Let us compare the following two bits of conversation: I II (17*) A: Are you coming? (17) A: Are you coming? B: I am coming. B: I promise to come. What is the difference between the two? In the first version, B gives a straightforward answer to A's question, confirming his/her arrival. In the second version, B does not give a

straightforward answer to A's question, but performs an act of promise, thus solemnly obliging him/herself to come. What does this mean? If one observes more closely B's answer in the second version, one notices that s/he does not answer A's question at all! A did not ask him/her to promise to come, but only whether s/he was coming or not. It thus becomes obvious that in the second version, B is answering to some other question, to some other (previous) intervention in the conversation, which is absent from the given fragment of conversation, but is interpretatively presupposed by the presence, by the very utterance (the very use) of the performative prefix. The "basic structure" of the second version of the dialogue should have therefore been polylogical, and not only dialogical, something like the following: (17**) A: We are throwing a surprise party tomorrow evening. Are you coming? B: Yes, I am. C: That would be a surprise! You never come! B: I promise to come. However, one cannot, of course, present the viewpoints of different utterers in the way I have just done it: as fully-fledged utterances, as if somebody really uttered them; They are just a reconstruction of the context. Consequently, it is not possible to assign the viewpoints of different utterers, which have been presented within an utterance, a status equal to the status of the utterance which was taken as the starting point of the analysis, because they are nothing but products of the same analysis and therefore have only a theoretical status. The viewpoints of different utterers should only be presented in terms of attitudes, positions and orientations, so that one can end up by analysing example (17**), as having a locutor and (at, least) three utterers: U1 presents a fact F (the surprise party tomorrow evening) and words its presentation in the form of an invitation; U2 recognises the presentation of U1 by accepting the invitation; U3 doubts the sincerity of U2 and therefore presents its consent (the consent of U2) as doubtful; U2 opposes U3 and confirms its consent by a solemn turn of phrase.

One of Ducrot's most famous analyses is the pragmatic use of the French adverb toujours (Cadiot, Ducrot, Nguyen & Vicher (1985)). Suppose we have an argumentative string like: (12) Allons au bistro. On y sera toujours au chaud. 'Let's go to a bistro. At least we'll be warm there.' According to Ducrot, there are at least five utterers: U1 presents a fact F, in our case a property P (warmth) of the object 0 (bistro) - "it is warm in the bistro" -, and presents that property as an advantage of the object O; U2 uses that favourable property P as an argument for the conclusion C (C _ "Let's go to a bistro"); U3 presents the property P as merely a weak advantage; U4 points out that weakness (of the property P) as a weakness that takes away every argumentative value from the fact F - which results in rejecting the viewpoint of U2; U5, on the other hand, thinks that property P, though a weak advantage, is still a possible argument for the conclusion C ("It is a weak advantage, but it is nevertheless something"), thus rejecting the viewpoint of U4. One particle, five utterers, and a crucial question: is there a limit to the number of utterers

we can have within a single utterance or argumentative string? Ducrot's answer is: no, in principle there could be an unlimited number of utterers. My opinion is: we should be careful, and not multiply utterers beyond the point that the analysis (still) allows for. In the given example, I don't see any justification for distinguishing between U3 and U4. Such a distinction could only be made hypothetically, ideally; nevertheless, it is not supported by the given data. The use of the particle toujours (at least) only tells us that the argument is weak (thus supporting the viewpoint of U3), but there is no indication that the argument is so weak that it loses every argumentative value. In other words, if the polyphonic analysis is to be taken seriously (and as we saw, it can be a very useful analytical tool), we should stick to the given empirical data, not to the could-be "data". Now, let us finally have another look at example (12): (12) It's warm (Argument). But I'm tired (Conclusion), a string used to answer, and reject, a suggestion for a walk. According to Ducrot (1996), there are at least four utterers in that argumentative string: U1 and U2 are related to, "It's warm", and U3 and U4 to, "I'm tired". U1 describes the weather by saying, "It's warm". "It's warm" is thus - don't forget that somebody suggested a walk represented as an argument in favour of a walk, and U1 is supporting its argumentation by summoning a topos like: T1 The warmer it is, the more pleasant it is to go for a walk'. Then, another utterer, U2, comes in, who, from U1's point of view, concludes with the walk. U3, on the contrary, whose voice can be heard in the segment "I'm tired", is supporting its argumentation by a topos like: T2 The less one's physical state is good, the less going for a walk is pleasant. So, in giving "I'm tired" as an argument for not going for a walk, the physical state is being represented as a property making a walk unpleasant. Finally, there is a U4 who concludes from U3's point of view to no walk. In agar (1997) I criticised that analysis by saying: if U2 concludes something from U1's point of view, and U4 concludes something from U3's point of view, why do we need U2 and U4 at all? They could have well made their conclusions by themselves. But that is exactly the attitude we have to avoid if we want to take the polyphonic analysis seriously: utterers aren't persons who can listen to each other and make their own conclusions utterers are really just different uttering positions, different points of view, distinguishable within a single argumentative string. Utterers aren't real beings who talk to each other, they are just theoretical (and analytical) entities that help us reconstruct the course of argumentation. From that perspective, if we want to account for all the viewpoints within a single argumentative string, for all the nuances, we do need U2 and U4 as well. Notes
[1] "Compulsory elective" may sound like a contradiction. In fact, it is supposed to mean that every pupil has to choose at least one, and no more than two of these three subjects. [2] To make my points as clear and understandable as possible, I'll be using very simple, everyday examples. [3] The role of context in linguistic analysis is often overestimated. The basic features of the context are already given by the utterance (or even the sentence as abstract language structure) itself: context does (re)interpret a given utterance, but the utterance, in many

respects, creates the context. Which, in other words, mean that we have to pay attention to our choice of words. [4] The exact wording is a matter of argument reconstruction. In other words, it is not and can not be exact. [5] Again, the wording, which can vary from one person to another, is not important, the argumentative orientation is. [6] The term Ducrot and his French followers use is nonciateur(s). I think that utterer may be a better translation than enunciator; we enunciate something on rather formal, solemn occasions, while we utter this and that all the time in everyday conversation. And that is exactly how the term nonciateur is used in Ducrot's theory. [7] Unfortunately, I don't have enough space to explain in detail the relation between polyphony and topoi. For more detailed information on that topic see Ducrot (1996) and agar (1995).

References
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