The Legacy of Dell Hymes: Ethnopoetics, Narrative Inequality, and Voice

By Paul V. Kroskrity; Anthony K. Webster | Go to book overview

3
“Grow with That, Walk with That”:
Hymes, Dialogicality, and
Text Collections

M. Eleanor Nevins

THIS ESSAY REFLECTS upon Dell Hymes’s contribution to dialogic anthropology and to the interpretation of Americanist text collections. I will show how Hymes’s concerns for communicative relativity, genre, and poetics enable new understandings of dialogic relations hidden in the documentary record of the Americanist tradition and in ethno graphic research encounters more broadly. Dennis Tedlock (1979) and Bruce Mannheim have identified dialogism as a way to address what they describe as the “phenomenological critique” of anthropology (Mannheim and Tedlock 1995, 3; cf. Fabian 1971). They find promise in bridging the theoretical concerns of Bakhtin with the Americanist tradition’s documentary practice of transcribing stories, songs, speeches, and other long stretches of indigenous consultants’ speech. While I follow them in these respects, I expand the role they assign to the ethnography of speaking. The latter is limited, in their view, by its reliance on synchronic structure and a static, normative relation of competence drawn between individual and collective.

I would complicate that account in two ways. First, taking up Bakhtin’s (1986) later writings, I note the necessary role he assigned to repeatable conditions of utterance with respect to milieu, inclusive of the norms, genres, and idiomatic competencies that he assigned to “language system.” For Bakhtin, accounting for the repeatable is necessary if one is to recognize utterances in context and achieve what he described as “precision” in understanding. Hymes’s concern with the relativity of communicative competence across speech communities makes it possible to consider the role of contrasting language systems to the production and interpretation of texts situated between communities. Some provision for difference is necessary to achieving precision in our understanding of encounters between researchers and the people they work with (cf. Briggs 1986). To illustrate the importance of

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