In this fascinating essay, part of a projected book on The Genres of Speech which he never completed, Bakhtin calls for a dramatic expansion of the field of genre theory to embrace the entire spectrum of verbal activity. At one level, this is clearly an extension of his previous argument about the role of 'extraliterary' genres in the formation of the novel, a thesis which Bakhtin here broadens into a more comprehensive account of the relation between 'primary' and 'secondary' genres. But the rationale for the proposal is ultimately linguistic rather than literary. As the full text of the essay makes clear, Bakhtin's revolutionary theory of genre, like other aspects of his 'dialogism', rests on his critique of the Saussurean theory of language, whose seminal distinction between 'langue' (the language system) and 'parole' (the individual utterance) ignores the subsystems of language or types of utterance (oral or written) which Bakhtin calls 'speech genres'. These, Bakhtin argues, are a precondition for meaningful communication, since they 'organise our speech in almost the same way as grammatical (syntactical) forms do' (p. 90), conveying expectations of content, style and structure which help to shape any verbal exchange, from the simplest conversational rejoinder to the most complex scientific statement. Yet, except for the special case of literary genres and the oratorical forms once studied by theorists of rhetoric, speech genres remain a largely unexplored and, indeed, unnoticed feature of verbal life. Using many suggestive examples, Bakhtin's essay thus sets the agenda for what is in effect a new branch of knowledge.