Roman Jakobson, "Selections"

[Jakobson (1896 - 1982) was a founder-member of the Moscow Linguistic Circle; in 1920 he moved to Czechoslovakia and helped found the Prague Linguistic Circle, the source of foundational work in Structuralist Linguistics and Poetics. He moved to the U.S., where he lived and taught {usual East-coast ivy-ish suspects} until his death.

The first selection is from "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Disturbances," published in 1956. The second selection is from Style in Language (1960; first delivered at a conference in 1958. Because the second piece is very, very long, I've made many cuts -- I hope you'll still get the idea of his argument and method {and I would be happy to lend a more complete version to anyone who wishes to read it}. Both selections are transcribed from the Jakobson pieces in the David Lodge anthology, cited in some previous ER readings; the page range for the Jakobson stuff is 32 - 61.]

    "The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles"

    1. The varieties of aphasia [severe language disorder] are numerous and diverse, but all of them lie between the two polar types just described. Every form of aphasic disturbance consists in some impairment, more or less severe, either of the faculty for selection and substitution or for combination and contexture. The former affliction involves a deterioration of metalinguistic operations, while the latter damages the capacity for maintaining the hierarchy of linguistic units. The relation of similarity is suppressed in the former, the relation of contiguity in the latter type of aphasia. Metaphor is alien to the similarity disorder, and metonymy to the contiguity disorder.

    2. The development of a discourse may take place along two different semantic lines: one topic may lead to another either through their similarity or through their contiguity. The metaphoric way would be the most appropriate term for the first case and the metonymic way for the second, since they find their most condensed expression in metaphor and metonymy respectively. In aphasia one or the other of these two processes is restricted or totally blocked -- an effect which makes the study of aphasia particularly illuminating for the linguist. In normal verbal behavior both processes are continually operative, but careful observation will reveal that under the influence of a cultural pattern, personality, and verbal style, preference is given to one of the two processes over the other. [Jakobson here describes some word-association experiments that bear out his assertions . . .]

    3. In verbal art the interaction of these two elements is especially pronounced. Rich material for the study of this relationship is to be found in verse patterns which require a compulsory parallelism between adjacent lines, for example in Biblical poetry or in the Finnic and, to some extent, the Russian oral tradition. This provides an objective criterion of what in the given speech community acts as a correspondence. Since on any verbal level -- morphemic, lexical, syntactic, and phraseological -- either of these two relations (similarity and contiguity) can appear -- and each in either of two aspects [substitutive and predicative], an impressive range of possible configurations is created. Either of the two gravitational poles may prevail. In Russian lyrical songs, for example, metaphoric constructions predominate, while in the heroic epics the metonymic way is preponderant.

    4. In poetry there are various motives which determine the choice between these alternants. The primacy of the metaphoric process in the literary schools of romanticism and symbolism has been repeatedly acknowledged, but it is still insufficiently realized that it is the predominance of metonymy which underlies and actually predetermines the so-called "realistic" trend, which belongs to an intermediary stage between the decline of romanticism and the rise of symbolism and is opposed to both. Following the path of contiguous relationships, the realist author metonymically digresses from the plot to the atmosphere and from the characters to the setting in space and time. He is fond of synecdochic details. In the scene of Anna Karenina's suicide Tolstoy's artistic attention is focused on the heroine's handbag; and in War and Peace the synecdoches 'hair on the upper lip' and 'bare shoulders' are used by the same writer to stand for the female characters to whom these features belong.

    5. The alternative predominance of one or the other of these two processes is by no means confined to verbal art. The same oscillation occurs in sign systems other than language. A salient example from the history of painting is the manifestly metonymical orientation of cubism, where the object is transformed into a set of synecdoches; the surrealist painters responded with a patently metaphorical attitude. Ever since the productions of D. W. Griffith, the art of the cinema, with its highly developed capacity for changing the angle, perspective, and focus of 'shots,' has broken with the tradition of the theater and ranged an unprecedented variety of synecdochic 'close-ups' and metonymic 'set-ups' in general. In such motion pictures as those of Charlie Chaplin and [the Russian film pioneer Sergei] Eisenstein, these devices in turn were overlayed by a novel, metaphoric 'montage' with its 'lap dissolves' -- the filmic similes.

    6. [More on aphasia, and examples from Russian folktales, which to me don't do real well in translation.]

    7. The Russian novelist Gleb Ivanovic Uspenskij (1840 - 1902) in the last years of his life suffered from a mental illness involving a speech disorder. His first name and patronymic, Gleb Ivanovic, traditionally combined in polite intercourse, for him split into two distinct names designating two separate beings: Gleb was endowed with all his virtues, while Ivanovic, the name relating a son to his father, became the incarnation of all Uspenskij's vices. The linguistic aspect of this split personality is the patient's inability to use two symbols for the same thing, and it is thus a similarity disorder. Since the similarity disorder is bound up with the metonymical bent, an examination of the literary manner Uspenskij had employed as a young writer takes on particular interest. And the study of Anatolij Kamegulov, who analyzed Uspenskij's style, bears out our theoretical expectations. He shows that Uspenskij had a particular penchant for metonymy, and especially for synecdoche, and that he carried it so far that "the reader is crushed by the multiplicity of detail unloaded on him in a limited verbal space, and is physically unable to grasp the whole, so that the portrait is often lost" (Kamegulov 1930).

    8. To be sure, the metonymical style in Uspenskij is obviously prompted by the prevailing literary canon of his time, late nineteenth-century 'realism'; but the personal stamp of Gleb Ivanovic made his pen particularly suitable for this artistic trend in its extreme manifestations and finally left its mark upon the verbal aspect of his mental illness. [Jakobson next compares his own ideas about language to Freud's about the 'dreamwork.']

    9. Similarity in meaning connects the symbols of a metalanguage with the symbols of the language referred to. Similarity connects a metaphorical term with the term for which it is substituted. Consequently, when constructing a metalanguage to interpret tropes, the researcher possesses more homogeneous means to handle metaphor, whereas metonymy, based on a different principle, easily defies interpretation. Therefore nothing comparable to the rich literature on metaphor can be sited for the theory of metonymy. For the same reason, it is generally realized that romanticism is closely linked with metaphor, whereas the equally intimate ties of realism with metonymy usually remain unnoticed. Not only the tool of the observer but also the object of observation is responsible for the preponderance of metaphor over metonymy in scholarship. Since poetry is focused upon the sign, and pragmatical prose primarily upon the referent, tropes and figures were studied mainly as poetic devices. The principle of similarity underlies poetry; the metrical parallelism of lines, or the phonic equivalence of rhyming words prompts the question of semantic similarity and contrast; there exist, for instance, grammatical and anti-grammatical but never agrammatical rhymes. Prose, on the contrary, is forwarded essentially by contiguity. Thus, for poetry, metaphor, and for prose, metonymy is the line of least resistance and, consequently, the study of poetical tropes is directed chiefly toward metaphor. The actual bipolarity has been artificially replaced in these studies by an amputated, unipolar scheme which, strikingly enough, coincides with one of the two aphasic patterns, namely with the contiguity disorder.

    "Linguistics and Poetics"
    10. I have been asked for summary remarks about poetics in relation to linguistics. Poetics deals primarily with the question, What makes a verbal message a work of art? Because the main subject of poetics is the differential specifica [specific differences] of verbal art in relation to other arts and in relation to other kinds of verbal behavior, poetics is entitles to the leading place in literary studies.

    11. Poetics deals with problems of verbal structure, just as the analysis of painting is concerned with pictorial structure. Since linguistics is the global science of verbal structure, poetics may be regarded as an integral part of linguistics. [Etc., etc., etc. Jakobson claims that poetic devices belong to other arts as well, such as cinema.] In short, many poetic features belong not only to the science of language but to the whole theory of signs, that is, to general semiotics. [. . .]

    12. Likewise, a second objection contains nothing that would be specific for literature: the question of relations between the word and the world concerns not only verbal art but actually all kinds of discourse. Linguistics is likely to explore all possible problems of relation between discourse and the 'universe of discourse': what of this universe is verbalized by a given discourse and how is it verbalized. The truth values, however, as far as they are -- to say with the logicians -- 'extra-linguistic entities,' obviously exceed the bounds of poetics and of linguistics in general.

    13. [Jakobson continues, introducing the idea of 'synchronic poetics' to complement Saussure's idea of 'synchronic linguistics.]

    14. Language must be investigated in all the variety of its functions. Before discussing the poetic function we must define its place among the other functions of language. An outline of those functions demands a concise survey of the constitutive factors in any speech event, in any act of verbal communication. The ADDRESSER [speaker, author] sends a MESSAGE [the verbal act, the signifier] to the ADDRESSEE [the hearer or reader]. To be operative the message requires a CONTEXT [a referent, the signified], seizable by the addresses, and either verbal or capable of being verbalized; a CODE [shared mode of discourse, shared language] fully, or at least partially, common to the addresser and the addressee (in other words, to the encoder and decoder of the message); and, finally, a CONTACT, a physical channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication.

    15. [Let me summarize the next part of Jakobson's argument. He claims that each of these six factors determines a different function of language. In brief:

    —the REFERENTIAL function is oriented toward the CONTEXT
    —the EMOTIVE (expressive) function is oriented toward the ADDRESSER
    — the CONATIVE (action-inducing, such as a command) function is oriented toward the ADDRESSEE
    — the METALINGUAL (language speaking about language) function is oriented toward the CODE
    — the POETIC function is oriented toward the MESSAGE for its own sake.

    Jakobson mentions that these functions often coexist in the same aural or verbal text. But they are hierarchized. Poetry depends on the poetic function {duh . . .} but lyric poetry is "intimately linked with the emotive function," epic poetry with the referential function, etc.]

    16. What is the empirical linguistic criterion of the poetic function? In particular, what is the indispensable feature inherent in any piece of poetry? To answer this question we must recall the two basic modes of arrangement used in verbal behavior, selection and combination. If 'child' is the topic of the message, the speaker selects one among the extant, more or less similar, nouns like child, kid, youngster, tot, all of them equivalent in a certain respect, and then, to comment on this topic, he may select one of the semantically cognate verbs -- sleeps, dozes, nods, naps. Both chosen words combine in a speech chain. The selection is produced on the base of equivalence, similarity and dissimilarity, synonymity and antonymity, while the combination, the build up of the sequence, is based on contiguity. The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination. Equivalence is promoted to the constitutive device of the sequence. In poetry one syllable is equalized with any other syllable of the same sequence; word stress is assumed to equal word stress, as unstress equals unstress; prosodic long is matched with long, and short with short; word boundary equals word boundary, no boundary equals no boundary; syntactic pause equals syntactic pause, no pause equals no pause. Syllables are converted into units of measure, and so are morae or stresses.

    17. [This is just the beginning of how Jakobson analyses poetry -- or, perhaps, 'describes' poetry is a better way to put it. I'll give you a little taste, and then sign off on this selection.] Although rhyme by definition is based on a regular recurrence of equivalent phonemes or phonemic groups, it would be an unsound oversimplification to treat rhyme merely from the standpoint of wound. Rhyme necessarily involves the semantic relationship between rhyming units ('rhyme fellows' in Hopkins' nomenclature). In the scrutiny of a rhyme we are faced with the question of whether or not it is a homoeoteleuton, which confronts similar derivational and/or inflexional suffixes (congratulations - decorations), or whether the rhyming words belong to the same or to different categories. Thus, for example, Hopkins' fourfold rhyme is an agreement of two nouns -- 'kind' and 'mind' -- both contrasting with the adjective 'blind' and with the verb 'find.' Is there a semantic propinquity, a sort of simile between rhyming lexical units, as in dove - love, light - bright, place - space, name - fame? Do the rhyming members carry the same syntactic function? The difference between the morphological class and the syntactic application may be pointed out in rhyme. Thus in Poe's lines, "While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of someone gently rapping," the three rhyming words, morphologically alike, are all three syntactically different. Are totally or partly homonymic rhymes prohibited, tolerated, or favored? Such full homonyms as son - sun, I - eye, eve - eave, and on the other hand, echo rhymes like December - ember, infinite - night, swarm - warm, smiles - miles? What about compound rhymes (such as Hopkins' enjoyment - toy meant' or 'began some - ransom'), where a word unit accords with a word group?

    18. [I'll leave you with that question and end this selection.]