Marie-Cécile Bertau, Ph.D.

Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing
Schellingstr. 3
D-80799 München


Born into a French-German Family, the experience of language as a plural, cultural practice jointly performed with others built the ground for my interest in language, leading to studies in psycholinguistics, philosophy, phonetics, and pedagogy of speech impaired children. Since 2000 I have taught psycholinguistics at the University of Munich, a discipline which I formulate within the tradition of cultural-historical psychology, especially referring to Vygotsky’s work.

Looking at the practice of language shows that the spoken and addressed word forms different worlds and leads to specific sensual and conceptual perceptions. Thus, a questioning of how language functions for socially related individuals comprises rhetorics and linguistics in a psychological perspective, addressing the antithetical as well as the intellectual experience of the spoken word. Privileging performance, this questioning is basically oriented towards what happens when people speak and listen in terms of the formations, deformations and transformations of the dynamic time-space we share and build in interacting with language.

In my dissertation on metaphors (1995) I explored not only the social functions of this trope but also how language is understood in our Western culture since ancient Greece, starting with the first reflections about language by the Sophists (Protagoras, Gorgias). How the metaphor is treated by rhetoricians, language philosophers and linguists up to modern times is a paradigm of how deviations and vagueness are theoretically permitted, forbidden, or even negated in building up the “system of language”. Further, these theoretical reflections show clearly the role of alphabetic writing practices since its invention, insofar as it gives way to a rectified and objectified view of language which becomes a fixed code, under control of the ego-subject.

The interest in writing practices led me, during the years of 1996-2000, to develop and implement a trans-institutional project aimed at fostering young illiterate adults (“Gilgamesch-Projekt”), which was awarded a prize by the German Federal Ministry of Women, Family, Senior Citizens and Youth. Working with these young people deepened my functional and sensual understanding of language, and leads further to investigate the relationship of the word to thinking processes. Listening to thinking-aloud-protocols, the audible voices that an individual performs in speaking from different positions, thereby addressing different internal and external instances, was a striking experience. These actually perceived voices and the dialogicality of the speaking-thinking individual paves the way for a dialogical understanding of language and of the self. Thus, the Russian dialogical thinkers as Yakubinsky, Bakhtin and Voloshinov together with the model of the dialogical self as developed in the 1990‘s by Hermans and his colleagues, built the framework for a further understanding of language as a performed and experienced social phenomenon. This resulted in 2009 to a Habilitation (University of Munich): Anreden, Erwidern, Verstehen. Elemente einer Psycholinguistik der Alterität (Address, Reply, Understanding. Elements of Psycholinguistics Grounded in Alterity).

Currently, I am following the “phenomenological” path opened up by the notion of Sprachraum belonging to the theory of language which I developed in 2009. This specific time-space is built up by people interacting with language, it is not to be understood as an Eucledean space, rather as a topological space where several formations take place in time. These formations and transformations within the course of speaking and listening can easily be perceived for instance when inter-actants change their position in the room, or change the genre of speaking/listening, or even the language they use. It is important to note that these formations are deeply social and insofar objective, and not a mere outer expression of some personal inner emotional or intellectual process.

Recent Publications:

  1. Bertau, M.-C. & Gonçalves, M. (Eds.) (2007). Developmental Origins of the Dialogical, Self Special Issue. International Journal for Dialogical Science 2(1), 1–324.
  2. Bertau, M.-C. (2008). Voice: A pathway to consciousness as social contact to oneself. In: Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 42(1), 92–113.
  3. Bertau, M.-C. (2008). Pour une notion de la forme linguistique comme forme vécue. Une approche avec Jakubinskj, Volo sinov et Vygotskij. Dans : Langage et pensée : Union Soviétique 1920-1930. Cahiers de l’ILSL, 24. Éd. par Patrick Sériot & Janette Friedrich. 5–28.
  4. Lyra, M.C.D.P. & Bertau, M.-C. (2008). Dialogical practices as basis for self. In: Studia Psychologica, VI(8), 173-193.
  5. Bertau, M-C.; Gonçalves, M. & Raggatt, P. (Eds.) (2010, in press). Dialogic Formations. Investigations into the Development of the Dialogical Self. Charlotteville: Information Age Publishing.

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