Jakobson, Roman

Assigned: Jakobson, Roman. From “Linguistics and Poetics” (1067-74); “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,” V. “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles” (1074-78). Also read the editors’ introduction (1064-66).

From “Linguistics and Poetics” (1960)

1. On 1067 (“I have been asked for summary…”), how does Roman Jakobson situate “poetics” in relation to linguistics? What two objections does he introduce and deal with in this regard? What is the basis of Jakobson’s disagreement with those objections?

2. On 1068 (“Sometimes we hear that poetics…”), Jakobson deals with another objection whereby some observers would separate poetics from linguistics—the claim that poetics entails “evaluation,” whereas linguistics does not. How does he respond to this objection? In what sense are “linguistic phenomena” much more connected to the act of evaluation than many critics believe? Moreover, according to Jakobson, how does the “terminological confusion of ‘literary studies’ with ‘criticism’” further encourage people to make the false objection alluded to? Why, in Jakobson’s view, is the term “literary critic” often misleading?

3. On 1068-69 (“Literary studies, with poetics as…”), Jakobson writes that in literary studies, there are two problem sets: “synchrony and diachrony” (1068). What does “synchronic description” of literature entail? In what limited situations would it be acceptable to keep poetics separate from linguistics? What point, however, does Jakobson make about the complexity of linguistic systems? (1069)

4. On 1069-71 (“Obviously we must agree with…”), Jakobson quotes Edward Sapir approvingly to the effect that “ideation reigns supreme in language” (1069), but what point does he go on to make about the need for thoroughness in investigating language? What six factors—which he calls “the constitutive factors in any speech event” (1069)—does Jakobson introduce at this point, connecting each with the respective function that it determines? (1070) How does he explain the first two such factors; namely, the “referential” and the “emotive” (1070-71)? With regard to the expressive or emotive function, how do interjections help us understand it?

5. On 1071 (“Orientation toward the addressee, the…”), Jakobson explains the third function, the conative. Why do the vocative and imperative moods best express this function? How do these conative expressions respectively differ from declarative utterances? In what way can a declarative sentence be transformed, according to Jakobson, that an imperative utterance cannot?

6. On 1071-72 (“The traditional model of language…”), According to Jakobson, what additional functions can be derived from Karl Bühler’s triadic model of “emotive, conative, and referential” (1071) functions already discussed, along with the corollaries of these functions: first-person addresser, second-person addressee, and third person? What about the “incantatory function” (1071)? Furthermore, what is the first of “three further constitutive factors of verbal communication and three corresponding functions of language” (1072) that Jakobson goes on to elucidate, and how does it work?

7. On 1072 (“A distinction has been made in…”), Jakobson names the fifth of six total functions he identifies in our selection: the metalingual. What purpose does metalingual speech serve? Give a few examples of your own, and explain the sense in which they are focused on “code-verifying” rather than conveying information in its own right. According to Jakobson, how is the disorder called aphasia connected with the loss of this function?

8. On 1072-73 (“I have brought up all the six…”), Jakobson now discusses the final of the six functions; namely, “the message itself” (1072). This, he writes, is properly “the poetic function of language” (1073). Why can’t linguists limit their inquiry to poetry itself when they are dealing with the poetic function of language? Similarly, why can’t they limit discussions of poetry solely to the poetic function? What examples of the poetic function does Jakobson offer, and how do they help us understand what is meant by “the poetic function”? Finally, how do epic poetry, lyric poetry, and second-person poetry necessarily involve forms of address or referentiality that go beyond the poetic function?

9. On 1074 (“Now that our cursory description…”), Jakobson addresses the poetic function of language in somewhat more detail, writing that “selection” and “combination” are “the two basic modes of arrangement used in verbal behavior….” Ordinarily, he explains, selection works by “equivalence,” while combination centers on “contiguity.” His definition of the poetic function is that it “projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination,” and he also states that “Equivalence is promoted to the constitutive device of the sequence.” How do you explain Jakobson’s meaning here? Essentially, what purpose does the poetic dimension of language serve? In responding, you may find it useful to refer to the Norton editors’ commentary on page 1065, where they discuss this very topic.

10. General question: In our selection from “Linguistics and Poetics,” Roman Jakobson examines what he believes to be the six basic functions of language, with the poetic function being perhaps the most important to him. Why does he find this function so interesting, even though he by no means downplays the others? If in this course we have read formalist authors such as Cleanth Brooks (Leitch 1179-95), John Crowe Ransom (Leitch 899-911), or William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley (Leitch 1195-1211), what affinity between Jakobson and these American formalists can you find with regard to his analysis of the poetic function of language?

“Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” (1956)

V. The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles

1. On 1074-75 (“The varieties of aphasia are…”), Roman Jakobson examines the concept of aphasia or, as the editors say, “Loss of the ability to use or understand speech” (1074 footnote 1). How does he describe the two varieties of aphasic disturbance that can befall a person? (1075) What specific kind of loss is involved in the respective varieties? How does Jakobson tie the terms metaphor and metonymy to the general “semantic lines” (1075) or lines of meaning along which a discourse may progress? When a person has aphasia, Jakobson says, “one or the other of these two processes is restricted or totally blocked” (1075). What does he also suggest even about “normal verbal behavior” with respect to the metaphoric and metonymic poles of language? How do the sample psychological test responses he provides reinforce this suggestion?

2. On 1075-76 (“In verbal art the interaction of these…”), how does Jakobson apply his bipolar terminology to literary art, which he calls “verbal art” (1075)? With regard to poetry, what does he suggest about the preponderance of the metaphoric pole in Romanticism and Symbolism and the metonymic pole in Realist fiction? What kind of artistic and narratival choices does the latter emphasis involve?

3. On 1076-77 (“The alternative predominance of one…”), what examples does Jakobson offer of the way a person’s preference for one linguistic pole or the other manifests in art forms beyond literature, such as painting and film? Beyond this kind of extension, why does Jakobson believe that the “bipolar structure of language” (1076) as well as aphasia deserve close study by experts in linguistics and other major fields? In his view, what benefits could flow from such intensive study? (In responding, it may be helpful to refer to Jakobson’s footnote 7 on 1077.) Finally, what point does he draw from his own analysis of a Russian folk tale that uses parallelism for comic effect? (1077)

4. On 1077-78 (“The Russian novelist Gleb Ivanoviĉ…”), Jakobson refers to the Russian novelist Gleb Ivanoviĉ Uspenskij, who, late in life, suffered from “a mental illness involving a speech disorder” (1077). What was the specific incapacity from which he suffered, and how did it affect his style as a novelist? What effect does such a style tend to have upon readers?

5. On 1078 (“A competition between both devices…”), Jakobson suggests that there is always “[a] competition between both devices, metonymic and metaphoric” operative in symbolic processes of any kind. He then raises an interesting question; namely, why have theorists long ignored “the question of the two poles” and chosen to focus mainly on the metaphoric pole rather than the metonymic one, even to the point at which the relevant theories and studies in question seem almost aphasic? What is Jakobson’s response to this question—why is metonymy more difficult to handle than metaphor, and what leads researchers to favor metaphor over metonymy?

6. General question: In “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances”: V. “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles,” Roman Jakobson suggests that the metaphoric and metonymic functions of language are fundamental, if very different, constituent elements of linguistic usage, and that both deserve careful attention lest fields such as linguistics and literary studies suffer for the neglect of one or the other. Look into the etymology of the terms “metaphor” and “metonymy,” tracing them back to their Greek and Latin roots. What do the variations on the meaning of these words, when thus traced, add to your understanding of these two linguistic devices, or rather—to follow Jakobson’s phrasing—modes of language?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

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