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Heteroglossia is a language term first introduced by the 20th century Russian thinker Mikhail Bakhtin. As a literary critic, Bakhtin first used the term in his 1934 article “Discourse in the Novel,” in which he argued that the power of novels comes from the different types of speech. In short, heteroglossia involves the diversity of the following literary elements:

  • Literary Voice
  • Style of Discourse
  • Point of View

Origin of Heteroglossia


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The idea behind heteroglossia comes from the Greek words hetero, meaning “different”, and glossa, meaning “tongue” or “language.” Bakhtin said that any language will contain numerous voices and this becomes the defining characteristic of the novel. The diversity of style and language within a novel provides a structured artistic statement where originality arises through the combination of expression.

Bakhtin thought that heteroglossia was the blending of different world views through language. The writer, the audience and the characters in a novel create a new reality. In this Bakhtin was arguing against the purpose of language as a means of communication, since he believed that language could not relate directly to the external world.

Heteroglossia and Speech

Speech, according to Bakhtin, is always filtered through the perspective of the listener. One learns from and incorporates ideas from others in creating dialogue. Bakhtin held that dialogue contains numerous references to other ideas. Human beings then selectively assimilate ideas from other perspectives, ones that resonate with their own world view.

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