Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

The Vocative Turn


Tone: Practise a perceptive address to living meaning in the act of writing.


The vocative method means that we need to address and that we need to be open to be addressed. The term “vocative” derives from vocare, to call; and from the root “voice”. It means to address, to bring to speech. But the vocative turn means not only to speak and produce text that demonstrates our understanding of something.

For when we speak we tend to stop listening to the object about which we speak. We strip the object of its addressive and enigmatic power. Something can only speak to us if we listened to it, if we are open to being addressed by it.


It seems that the repeating sense of sounds tends to create a spell-binding quality. Just like beat in music, so repetition in text tends to appeal to our total embodied sensibility. That is why we may be inclined to use rhythmic intonations or gestures when we read language that has recurrent patterns of some sorts such as alliteration, rhyme, etc. In fact speech itself is gestural in this sense. Repetition of sensed qualities, through devices such as alliteration, assonance, rhythm, and internal rhyme, contribute an accoustic richness, an audible “imagery” to the text. The effect of these vocative methods can be to enhance the non-cognitive “lived sense” communicated by a text. To achieve this, begin by asking: What tone belongs to this text? Should it be sober? Contemplative? Ceremonial? Respectful? and so forth.