“Two people are sitting in a room. They are both silent. Then one of them says, “Well!” The other does not respond.
For us, as outsiders, this entire “conversation” is utterly incomprehensible. Taken in isolation, the utterance “Well!” is empty and unintelligible. Nevertheless, this peculiar colloquy of two persons, consisting of only one – although, to be sure, one expressively intoned – word [the word in Russian tak], does make perfect sense, is fully meaningful and complete.
In order to disclose the sense and meaning of this colloquy, we must analyse it. But what is it exactly that we can subject to analysis? Whatever pains we take with the purely verbal part of the utterance, however subtly we define the phonetic, morphological, and semantic factors of the word well, we shall still not come a single step closer to an understanding of the whole sense of the colloquy.
Let us suppose that the intonation with which this word was pronounced is known to us: indignation and reproach moderated by a certain amount of humor. This intonation somewhat fills in the semantic void of the adverb well, but still does not reveal the moaning of the whole.
What is it we lack then? We lack the “extraverbal context” that made the word well a meaningful locution for the listener. This extraverbal context of the utterance is comprised of three factors: (1) the common spatial purview of the interlocutors (the unity of the visible – in this case, the room, a window and so on), (2) the interlocutors’ common knowledge and understanding of the situation, and (3) their common evaluation of that situation.
At the time the colloquy took place, both interlocutors looked up at the window and saw that it had begun to snow; both knew that it was already May and that it was high time for spring to come„ finally, both were sick and tired of the protracted winter – they were both looking forward to spring and both were bitterly disappointed by the late snowfall. On this “jointly seen”(snowflakes outside the window), “jointly known” (the time of the year – May), and “unanimously evaluated” (winter wearied of, spring looked forward to) – on all this utterance directly depends, and this seized in its actual, living import – is its very sustenance. And yet all this remains without verbal specification or articulation. The snowflakes remain outside the window; the date, on the page of a calendar; the evaluation, in the psyche of the speaker; and nevertheless, all this is assumed in the world well.”
— Mikhail Bakhtin, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language