Papers from Jakobson's SW (4)

Jakobson, Roman 1971 [1964]. Visual and Auditory Signs. In: Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 334-337.

Visual sign patterns are either confined to a merely concomitant, subsidiary role, such as gestures and facial expressions, or - e.g., letters and glyphs - these semiotic sets constitute, in J. Lotz' terminology, parasitic formulations, optional superstructures imposed upon spoken language and implying its earlier acquistition. (Jakobson 1971 [1964]: 334)
Visual sign patterns are subsidiary only when viewed as subsidiary. A good case can be made for autonomous visual signs, as gestures and facial expressions occur independently of verbal speech as well. Calling writing parasitic is just offensive - writing actually bestows greater semiotic freedom than does speech; it is more economic (in terms of energy consumption) and writing creates signs that are stored on permanent media.
Using C. S. Peirce's division of signs into indexes, icons and symbols, one may say that for the interpreter an index is associated with its object by a factual, existential contiguity and an icon by a factual similaruty, whereas there is no compulsory existential connection between symbols and the objects they refer to. A symbol acts "by virtue of a law". Conventional rules underlie the relations betwee nthe diverse symbols of one and the same system. The connection between the sensuous signans of a symbol and its intelligible (translatable) signatum is based on a learned, agreed upon, customary contiguity. Thus the structure of symbols and indexes implies a relation of contiguity (artificial in the former case, physical in the latter), while the essence of icons consists in similarity. (Jakobson 1971 [1964]: 335)
Another reiteration of Peirce in Jakobson.
Strictly speaking, the main difference among the three types of signs is rather in the hierarchy of their properties than in the propertios themselves. (Jakobson 1971 [1964]: 335)
I'm still not sure if this is really the case or if Jakobson is seeing hierarchies where there are none.
Both visual and auditory perception obviously occur in space and time, but the spatial dimension takes priority for visual signs and the temporal one for auditory signs. A complex visual sign involves a series of simultaneous constituents, while a complex auditory sign consists, as a rule, of seriol successive constituents. (Jakobson 1971 [1964]: 336)
Sounds obvious, but these categories should be compared to our homely discrete/continuous distinction.
Even a motion picture continually calls for simultaneous perception of its spatial composition. The verbal or musical sequence, if it is to be produced, followed and remembered, fulfills two fundamental requirements - it exhibits a consistently hierarchical structure and is resolvable into ultimate, discrete, strictly patterned components designated ad hoc (or, in Thomas Aquinas's terminology, significantia artificialiter). (Jakobson 1971 [1964]: 336)
This distinction even shows up here, although in a subtle form.

Jakobson, Roman 1971 [1967]. On the Relation between Visual and Auditory Signs. In: Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 338-344.

I returned to this problem after reading newspaper reports about Xruščev's recent declarations on modern art, his sharp and dictatorial protest against nonrepresentational, abstract painting. It was clear that he really has a violent aversion to this kind of pictures, and the question inevitably arises in our mind, why do we so often meet this outraged reaction, this superstitious fear and inability to grasp and accept nonobjective painting? (Jakobson 1971 [1967]: 339)
Could it be that N. Khrushchev was simply aware of the fact that CIA funded Abstract Expressionism as a cultural 'weapon' in the Cold War? E.g. this.
A young specialist in linguistics and poetics, M. Arosnos, worked at the end of the 1920's at Radio Leningrad among the experimenters who were trying to diversify and enrich the broadcast programs by complementing the words and music of the radio dramas with reproductions of natural sounds and various noises. These attempts proved, however, to be totally in vain. People were not capable of discriminating different noises and assigning them to their sources. It was unclear to the listener whether they were hearing thunder or trains or breaks. They knew only that it was noise and nothing more. (Jakobson 1971 [1967]: 339-340)
Could it not be that the sound equipment of teh 1920s was simply not advanced enough for this task? Modern sound technicians spend countless hours to create soundscapes for movies, for example. If Aronsons conclusion were absolute, and "vision plays a much greater role than audition", then this would not be necessary and we would make do with "silent films" with speech.
All human beings except those with pathological conditions speak. Speechlessnesse (aphasia universalis) is a pathological state. On the other hand, illiteracy is a widespread, in some ethnic groups even general, social condition. Why is it that visual word messages are, so to say, a suprstructure, a "parasitic formation" upon the universal phenomenon of spoken language? Why are all other forms of human communication only secondary and optional? Either they are, as in the case of writing, mere substitutes for oral communication, or they are only concomitant, subsidiary vehicles, like, for example, gestures or facial expressions. These facts demand elucidation. (Jakobson 1971 [1967]: 340)
Well, I would venture a guess that speech is universal because it is "bodily" - you can speak with "what God gave you". But you need external equipment for writing - not only paper and pencils, pens, etc. but books to read and aquire written language from. The 21st century problem is that we have all this incredible technology that makes papers and pencils superfluous or even antique, yet touchscreen technology is not the ideal means for writing. Many people who communicate via text messages every day are still basically illiterate, as their common form of writing involves extreme abbreviations. My favorite example: "wooooow yr,,,, i cnt do it bt I jst luv 2 b lyk dt,,,".
...both music and language present a consistently hierarchical structure, and, second, musical as well as verbal signs are resolvable into ultimate, discrete, rigorously patterned components which, as such, have no existence in nature but are built ad hoc. (Jakobson 1971 [1967]: 341)
What does the hierarchical structure of music consist of? And what are the "ultimate, discrete, rigorously patterned components" of music? Keep in mind that musical notation is just as "parasitical" to music as writing is to speech. Very generally, music is organized sound. There is no need for it to be organized hierarchically, whatever that may mean; and the great variety of music, from noise to rap, doesn't really allow for a unitary... minimal "unit".
In the fifth century Bhartrhari, the great master of Indic linguistic theory, distinguished three stages in the speech event. The first is the conceptualization by the speaker which implies no time sequence; the message as a whole may be simultaneously present in the mind of the speaker. What follows is the performance itself which, according to this scholar's treatise, has two faces - production and audition. Both of these activities are naturally sequential. This stage yields to the third one, namely the stage of comprehension, where the sequence appears to be changed into a concurrence. The sequence must be seized and experienced by the interpreter at one and the same time. (Jakobson 1971 [1967]: 343)
Quite neat. First I think what to say, then I say it - at the same time the receiver hears it - and then understands it.

Jakobson, Roman 1971 [1953]. Pattern in Linguistics (Contribution to Debates with Anthropologists). In: Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 223-228.

If topology is defined as the study of those qualitative properties which are invariant under isomorphic transformations, this is exactly what we did in structural linguistics, especially in phonemics, without realizing that, mutatis mutandis, we were making topology, like Jourdain, who spoke in prose, yet was completely ignorant that it was called prose. (Jakobson 1971 [1953]: 223-224)
A definition of topology that might explain the use of this notion (as well as "isomorphism") in Lotman.
The attitude of the communication engineer coincides with the attitude of the member of a speech community who participates in a speec hexchange within this community and interprets signals received from a sender. This receiver is a decoder, and the decoder is not a cryptanalysti, although the two notions are often confused. The usual addressee of a message is a decoder, whereas the cryptanalyst is an unusual, marginal addressee, if not simply an eavesdropper. (Jakobson 1971 [1953]: 224)
Something similar could be said about the nonverbalist who observes other people without their knowledge.

Jakobson, Roman 1971 [1961]. Introduction to the Symposium on the Structure of Language and Its Mathematical Aspects. In: Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 568-569.

Attacking, since the 1870s, the crucial question of the relation between continuity and discreteness in language, Badouin de Courtenay attempted to utilize in the study of language some of the basic notions of contemporaneous mathematics, and in his historical survey of linguistics, published in 1909, he expressed his conviction that this study would become ever closer to the exact sciences. Upon the model of mathematics it would, on the one hand, deploy "ever more quantitative operations" and, on the other hand, develop "new methods of deductive thought". In particular "just as mathematics converts all the infinites to denumerable sets amenable to analytic thought", Badouin expects somewhat similar results for linguistics "from improved qualitative analysis". (Jakobson 1971 [1961]: 568)
It is quite likely that Juri Lotman followed this guy, as he worked in Tartu from 1883 to 1893 and from 1900 to 1918 in St. Petersburg. Here are some articles in Estonian about him:
  • Smirnov, Savvati 1958. J. Baudouin de Courtenay tegevus Tartu-perioodil. Keel ja Kirjandus 12: 747–753.
  • Pullat, Raimo 1974. Baudouin de Courtenay kirjad Tartu-perioodist. Keel ja Kirjandus 4: 254–255.
  • Alvre, Paul 2004. Pilk kahe keelemehe pikale kirjavahetusele. Keel ja Kirjandus 11: 862–864.


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