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'Other People's Words' explores how others' voices make up our own

The cover of "Other People's Words." (Courtesy)
The cover of "Other People's Words." (Courtesy)

Do you sometimes speak in “Other People’s Words”?

After Lissa Soep lost two of her closest friends, the Vox Media journalist realized she often heard her friends’ words come out of her own mouth, words that had been left behind in poetry, postcards, texts, emails and voice messages.

Other People’s Words,” Soep’s new memoir of loss, draws on the work of early 20th-century Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, who believed that language was the substance of an ethical life that echoes long after the speaker is long gone.

Bakhtin’s devoted circle of followers believed that “a word is a bridge thrown between myself and another.”

Soep says his quote, “Our speech is filled to overflowing with other people’s words,” inspired the book’s title.

“In everyday life, in all of our voices, we are speaking with other people’s words,” Soep says. “We don’t get our words from a dictionary. We don’t draw our words from within ourselves. Our words accumulate through the relationships and histories that are all around us.”

Book excerpt: ‘Other People’s Words’

By Lissa Soep

Excerpted from “Other People’s Words” © 2024 by Lissa Soep. Published with permission of Spiegel & Grau.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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