Student “Ownership” of language: a perspective drawn from Bakhtin and Derrida

  • Steve Price
Keywords: Bakhtin, Derrida, language, ownership


Both Bakhtin and Derrida make central to their accounts of language, although in different ways, the paradoxical fact that the language we use is simultaneously both ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’. In Bakhtin’s account this relationship constitutes an ambivalence, since we are engaged in a struggle to make our own a language which is always someone else’s. While Bakhtin acknowledges an intractable otherness in language which is never fully overcome, there is nevertheless an emphasis on the transition of language from being another’s to becoming one’s own. In contrast, for Derrida the relationship is a strictly paradoxical one. Language which is ‘mine’ can be so only because it is iterable and as such “can be repeated in the absence of … a determinate signified or of the intention of actual signification” (Derrida, 1988 p. 10). It can be mine only because fundamentally it can never be possessed by me: “what is most proper to a language cannot be appropriated” (Derrida, 2005a, p. 101). In this respect Derrida appears to diverge radically from Bakhtin. In this paper I will briefly outline not only divergences between Bakhtin’s and Derrida’s accounts of how language is ‘mine/not mine’, but also convergences. I then argue that the iterability of language permits the materiality of text to provide a basis for student identification with discourse and that this can account for patchwritten words being experienced by a student as her own.
How to Cite
Price, S. (2014). Student “Ownership” of language: a perspective drawn from Bakhtin and Derrida. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 8(3), A12-A22. Retrieved from