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'Linguists of all countries ...! On Gramsci's premise of coherence'

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Journal of Pragmatics 13 (1989): 547-566


The Italian Marxist politician Antonio Gramsci deserves to be seen as a linguist and a philosopher of language. His casual remarks on language contain a compelling methodology, implying a view of society that permits a fruitful criticism of theories of knowledge by its inclusion of knowledge in the pursuit of social unity. This, in its turn, leads to a dissolution of the problematical distinction between objective and subjective meaning, similar to those concepts of language developed by Saussure and Wittgenstein, but more explicitly politicized. What is historically accepted as 'linguistic unity', 'agreement', or 'understanding', changes within social struggle. Therefore, Gramsci starts from difference, in order to strive towards unity. Up to this point, his linguistics is extremely useful. The impact of his work, however, is that to strive for unity is something one should always do (his 'principle of coherence'). This claim (completed by the linguistics of the Marxist Vološinov (Bakhtin)) leads to an elaboration on Gramsci that also allows for non-conformist political strategies (a 'principle of translatability').

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