Introduction to Roman Jakobson

Waugh, Linda R. and Monique Monville-Burston 2002[1990]. Introduction to Roman Jakobson, Selected Writings. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings I: Phonological Studies. Third edition. Introduction by Linda R. Waugh & Monique Monville-Burston. Berlin; New York: Mouton, v-lxiii.

His favorite topic in all of these writings is language, in all of its manifestations. It provides the center for all of his work, thus uniting subjects as diverse as the grammar of poetry, verse patterns, aphasia, child language, distinctive features, acoustic phonetics, grammatical meaning, language typology and universals, neurolinguistics, semiotics, glossolalia, proverbs, language and culture, Slavic epic studies, the early history of the Slavic Church, Czech Hagiography, the names of Slavic Gods, and so forth. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: v)
The linguistics of Jakobson is indeed bordering on lingu-ism.
And in 1917 Sergej Karcevskij returned to Moscow from Geneva, bringing with him the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the founders of modern linguistics. Here Jakobson found affinities with his own views, in particular the overarching notion of language as a system of signs. The sign (signum, in the Latin terminology that Jakobson favored) is composed of a signifier (sound form, signans and a signified (meaning, signatum). The signifier is perceptible ("sensuous" or "sensible"); the signified is conceptual (see 1949h). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xiii)
Thus when R. Kantor criticized his first presentation in America as being about medieval philosophy, he might have arrived at this idea through Jakobson's use of these Latin terms.
In those years, too, the students of linguistics at Moscow University were discussing the newest developments in the phonology of language. They learned, in particular, to distinguish between linguistic meaning (signatum) and extralinguistic reference (denotatum; RJ 1962c:631); they absorbed the strong Russian tradition of Hegelian and post-Hegelian dialectics, which stressed the importance of antinomies (dichotomies). Jakobson adopted the ideas of Edmund Husserl (1913) and Anton Marty (1908) on universal grammar as the only firm theoretical basis for linguistic work (Holenstein 1976a, 1987). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: ix)
Something to keep in mind when again venturing into Charles Morris's behavioristic semiotic, where these are signification and denotation.
The Prague Circle, which is known as the cradle of the structuralist movement, became a major force in twetieth-century linguistics. It stood for both a functional and a structural view of language. Language serves for communication; from this fact, Praguians claimed, comes the fundamental "need to analyze all the instrumentalities of language from the standpoint of the tasks they perform" (RJ 1963d). Language is a system with an internal structure suited to these communicative tasks. Indeed, it was Jakobson who first coined the term "structuralism" in 1929 (republished as RJ 1971c711), as a cover term for this viewpoint.
Were we to comprise the leading idea of present-day science in its most various manifestations, we could hardly find a more appropriate designation than structuralism. Any set of phenomena examined by contemporary science is treated not as a mechanical agglomeration but as a structural whole, and the basic task is to reveal the inner, whether static or developmental, laws of this system. What appears to be the focus of scientific preoccupations is no longer the outer stimulus but the internal premises of the development; now the mechanical conception of processes yields to the question of their functions.
The basic unit of this structural-functional whole is the linguistic sign. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xii)
Although Jakobson named this viewpoint "structuralist", a good case could be made for it being indeed inherently functionalistic.
Jakobson and Trubetzkoy endeavored to establish the notions of phoneme and phonological system as fundamental concepts for linguistics. Together they developed a set of principles, all of which are based on the fact that a phonological system is a structural whole (rather than a mere agglomeration of disparate elements). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xiii)
Their co-written (and somewhat cryptic) theses should probably be re-read while keeping this in mind.
Jakobson also became convinced that "linguistic changes are systematic and goal directed, and ... the evolution of languages shares its purposefulness with the development of other socio-cultural systems" (RJ 1980d; see Galan 1985, Liberman 1987). A teleological approach to language change is thus essential. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xv)
I wonder if anyone will come to a similar conclusion in terms of nonverbal communication? At the moment the only aspect that I can think of is the development of technology (from handwriting to keyboards and from mouse-operations to touchscreens, for example) and it's effect of hand gestures.
Jakobson, however, regarded the two sides of a dichotomy as complementary and all dichotomies an independent of one another. He argued that linguistics must study parole, and his work on the roots of sound change in synchrony led him to claim that synchrony can be both static and dynamic. Any state of language thus presents a dynamic synchrony. Changes in progress are manifested as stylistically and socially marked variants (sometimes called functional dialects) in the system of a language at a given time: for example, old-fashioned versus newfangled, more careful versus more sloppy, "allegro" versus "largo" speech. In this way Jakobson insisted on the inclusion of time as an element of synchronic structure - in particular of phonological structure (RJ 1980d). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xvi)
More exposition on the permanent dynamic synchrony.
By incorporating both invariance (context-independent meaning) and variation (context-specific meaning), he gave the basis for the interrelation of what later were to be considered two disciplines, semantics and pragmatics. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xvii)
Compare these to Anton Marty's notions, autosemantic and synsemantic.
For example, the falling together ("syncretism") of two or more categories - such as the accusative and genitive case for animate nous in Russian - is semantically motivated (see RJ 1936a). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xvii)
Aaaand a purely linguistic definition of syncretism.
Indeed, he argued that the phoneme is a combination (bundle) of distinctive features; it is composed of diverse primitive signaling units and can itself be incorporated into larger units such as syllables and words. It is simultaneously a whole composed of parts and is itself a part that is included in larger wholes (see RJ 1963c). Hierarchy, then, is the fundamental structural principle (see Caton 1987:230). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xvii)
I was wondering why it is sometimes mentioned (even in this text) that Jakobson was influenced by the Gestalt theory and it's part-whole relations stuff, and why there don't seem to be any mentions of this in his selected writings. It is because the hierarchy that Jakobson imputes on most anything embodies this part-whole relation.
Jakobson made a further step in his definition of the phoneme and the distinctive feature: they are signs. Their signified is "(mere) otherness," or pure differentiation: they serve merely to distinguish words.
Since words are also signs, phonemes and features are pure "signs of signs," unlike all other types of signs, which have some content. By using such definitions, he placed these phonological elements in a much broader context. He claimed that language is a completely semiotic system, a system of signs from the largest components (discourses) to the smallest ones (the distinctive features). "An important structural particularity of language is that at no stage of resolving higher units into their component parts does one encounter informationally pointless fragments" (RJ 1963c). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xviii)
Compare this to Charles Morris's negation of "metasigns". Also, compare this to the scheme in the theses of the semiotics of culture (Uspenskij et al. 1973). It must be pointed out that "signs of signs" here are not "signs about signs" but rather something "signs on one level that constitute 'larger' signs on a higher level".
For the Prague Circle, functionalism and structuralism were inseparable. Jakobson himself described his theory of language as one in which function (language as a tool for communication) and structure (language as a lawful governed whole) are combined (RJ 1963d): language is structured so as to be suitable for communication. During his Prague period the structural aspect chiefly concerned him. But during the mature phase of his intellectual career, especially the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, there was a shift of emphasis: he devoted more attention to a "means-ends" approach and began to build a model of "language in operation" (RJ 1964e). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxii)
More on functionalism/structuralism. It may be possible to compare these to the semiotics of culture. The structural aspect is certainly present - e.g. culture as a supraindividual whole - but the function of culture is a bit more difficult to tackle.
Many years before, as mentioned above, he had begun rethinking this antinomy, reacting against Saussure's definition of these terms as contradictory: while langue for Saussure was social, homogeneous, and static, parole was individual, heterogeneous, and subject to change. Jakobson contended that these two equally necessary aspects of language should not be conceived of as absolutely separated. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxii)
That is, language/code/type as invariant and speech/message/token as variant.
Jakobson received another impetus for this repudiation of Saussurian doctrine from a very different source: communication theory (RJ 1961a, b). Intrigued by work in the mathematical theory of communication, information theory, and cybernetics, he reflected on the dynamics and the complexity of the communication process in society (RJ 1974d). He was particularly drawn by the "modern, less ambiguous terminology" afforded by this trend (RJ 1971c:718), so much so that he championed the new terminology wholeheartedly: langue and parole were henceforth "code" and "message"; speaker and addressee, "encoder" and "decoder"; production and comprehension, "encoding" and "decoding"; stylistically marked variants, "stylistic subcodes"; and so on (RJ 1953c, 1966d). Recognizing the theoretical richness of communication theory, he also placed it in the broader context of a theory of pragmatics, that is, his theory of the "functions of language." (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxii-xxiii)
Around the time he mentioned that he read basically everything available on the subject.
For most linguists and philosophers at the time, the purpose of communication was referential. But for Jakobson and the Prague School, "Reference is not the only, nor even the primary goal of communication" (Caton 1987:231). Language is rather a system of systems suited to various communicative goals. These goals in turn are correlated with the act of communication in which language is used. Jakobson had inherited from the psychologist Karl Bühler (1934) the tripartite schema of the speech event as necessarily encompassing the following three factors: (1) a speaker (an encoder), (2) an addressee (a decoder), and (3) a thing referred to, which Jakobson generalized to the notion of context. Through his work on poetry, he had already added a fourth factor, namely, (4) the message, the particular instance of parole being communicated by the speaker to the addressee. Jakobson's initial insight was to define four functions of language and to show that, within the message, each function is related to one of the four factors: (1) the emotive (expressive) function corresponds to focus on the speaker; (2) the conative function, focus on the addressee; (3) the referential (cognitive) function, focus on the context; and (4) the poetic (aesthetic) function, focus on the message. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxiii)
Here the functions are said to "focus" on something. In Jakobson's own formulation, there is a "set" or Einstellung towards something, with relevant - I think - implicit consequences for thinking about communication and his function.
At this time Jakobson added two more factors in speech communication: (5) the code that is common to speaker and addressee, and (6) the contact between them, the medium by which they communicate. The two additional functions, then, are (5) the metalingual (metalinguistic) function, corresponding to focus on the code, and (6) the phatic function, focus on the contact. In his presidential address at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in 1956, he presented for the first time his sixfold typology of the speech event and the corresponding functions (published as RJ 1976c; see also RJ 1960c, 1981c). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxiii)
This exposition presents the components and functions in a weird order - perhaps in the actual order that they were corroborated? Since I will most likely have to read (or re-read) the relevant publications, I'll note the references here: 1976c = "Metalanguage as a Linguistic Problem"; 1960c = "Linguistics and Poetics"; and 1981c = "My Favorite Topics".
On the other hand, he distinguished the two operations used for production and comprehension: selection (substitution) and combination (also called contexture). In order to produce utterances, speakers have to select linguistic items from sets and combine them into larger wholes, thereby creating contexts; in their turn, addressees have to comprehend the combinations and discern which items were originally selected. On the other hand, Jakobson contrasted two types of relations in language structure, similarity (all types of equivalence) and continuity (temporal and spatial neighbourhood): linguistic items belong to classes or types that share properties, and they always appear in a context. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxiv)
The passage goes on to discuss how this distinction is also embodied in the distinction of metaphor/metonym, which we should already be well familiar with. It is notable that in the communication process, the speaker selects and then combines, but the listener has to comprehend the combinations and discern which iterms were originally selected. It is yet again doubtful whether we actually go through these operations or not. I'm mostly interested in how to distinguish or unite context and contexture, especially with reference to the Gehring's contextual function (1910).
According to this projection principle, parallelisms between equivalent units help to structure the poetic text; tropes built on similarity, such as metaphor, are more likely to be found in poetry, whereas metonymy is more characteristic of prose. In the latter, focus is on some other facet of the speech event, and contiguity is the essential contsructional principle. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxv)
This is the most comprehensive (understandable, sense-making) explanation of the projection principle I've read. One could even match the poetic function with a statement such as "In the literary function, the relation of contiguity is projected from the axis of selection to the axis of combination".
For Peirce, any semiotic behavior is to be seen not as the outcome of a static system but rather as a dynamic process in which the essence of a sign is its interpretation, that is, its translation, by some further sign. Jakobson henceforth defined the signatum as that which is "interpretable" or "translatable" (RJ 1959b, c). He characterized the Peircian approach as "the only sound basis for a strictly linguistic semantics" (RJ 1976c:118) and stipulated that this widened definition of translation was an essential aspect of language and thus a crucial question of linguistic theory (RJ 1959b, cf. 1930b). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxvii)
I'm not very fond of the translation principle, Peirce emphasized interpretation (e.g. the interpretant). Jakobson's turn to translation here seems rather as a means to consolidate Saussurean semiology with Peirce's "dynamic" view of semiosis.
As schematized in Figure 4 (inspired by a similar diagram in Holenstein 1976a:187), linguistics (the study of communication by any verbal message whatever) incorporates poetics (the study of poetic verbal messages) and is itself included in semiotics (the study of communication by any messages), which in its turn is part of a larger study of communication, involving social anthropology, sociology, and economics (RJ 1990: chapt. 27). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxviii)
Now I must add poetics to his scheme of concatenating disciplines.
Communication theory also gave Jakobson, the information theorist E. Colin Cherry, and Halle a much stricter mathematical definition of the rhetorical concept of redundancy (RJ 1953a). They used it to clarify the notion of contextual variation: while the invariants (phonemes) are bundles of distinctive features, the additional properties of contextual variants are characterized by redundant features. The latter are aspects of sound that are nondistinctive but relevant for perception because they serve to support and enhance the distinctive features (RJ 1952c, 1966a). The aspiration of /p/ in English (as in [ph]), for example, is a redundant feature that enhances its differentiation from nonaspirated /b/. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxix)
Here we have redundancy operating like an intrinsic (or in a Peircean sense, degraded) form of the metalingual function. Just think of those everyday occurrences when someone misheard a word you said and in reply to their metalingual query ("What does that mean?") you pronounce the word again more emphatically (that is, enhance the distinctive features involved).
His interests were far from antiquarian: he studied the past insofar as it was of relevance to the present and to the future. In keeping with his approach to the history of languages, his point of view was always a prospective one. He constantly searched in his predecessors for the germs of various ideas of modern linguistics, especially his ows (see Stankiewicz 1977). Perhaps the most famous of the trophies of this hunt are his (re)discovery and (re)appraisal of the work of the forerunners of modern linguistics. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxxiv)
I like to think that my own work has a similar aim.
His fascination with time as a structural factor was combined with Peirce's reflections on time as related to icon, index, and symbol (RJ 1980b). Icons are "the accomplished image of an experience that is already past; while the index is linked to an ongoing experience in the present. The symbol, however, always possesses a general meaning and is based on a general law; everything that is truly general is related to the indefinite future ... It is a potentiality whose mode is esse in futuro" (RJ 1980d:91-92). Thus, the Futurist Jakobson of the 1910s joined the futurist Jakobson of the 1980s. For him, all words are symbols; thus, "the word and the future are indissolubly linked" (RJ 1980d:92, emphasis added). This view meant, in particular, that his work - words about words - was a legacy to the future (Ivanov 1983), a vast program of work in progress. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxxxv)
Although this discussion is very general, I do believe that time and space viewed as "semiotic value" have great potential within them.
"A renewal is fruitful only when it goes hand in hand with tradition," Jakobson wrote (1975d:186), quoting Stravinsky. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xli)
Good quote is good.
The widely used concepts of feature, binary opposition, markedness, redundoncy, and universal, for example, have become the untellectual property of beginners in linguistics, often without the acknowledgement that they originated in or were fostered by Jakobson's work. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xlii)
Why is redundancy in this list? Oh (I googled). It appears that he brought this term to the fore in his work with Halle and Cherry in the early 1950s. He distinguishes distinctive features and redundant features (e.g. "signs of signs" above). Redundancy in this sense is synonymous with "morpheme structure rules".
Viewing language as a relational whole and a communicative tool with many functions, Jakobson emphatically objected to any reductionism in its study and opposed any "rigid confinement of research" (1971c:712). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xliii)
That is, language as a system of systems.
The category of shifters and the complementary concept of deixis continue to be used in verbal and nonverbal morphology, and their implications reflected upon and explored. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xliv)
What in the world is this?
The ethnography of communication (see Hymes 1962, 1964a, b, 1972, 1975, Gumperz and Hymes 1964, 1972, Bauman and Sherzer 1974) has also taken its inspiration from Jakobson's multifunctional perspective on communication (Caton 1987:251). His schema of the speech event, components and functions, has been more or less taken for granted and elaborated on by scholars in this field. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xlvii)
Like I need any more reasons to include Dell Hymes in my readings list?
Following Jakobson, Eugene Nida (1964:3) divides the general field of translation into three parts: intralingual (paraphrasing), interlingual (translation proper), and intersemiotic (transmutation from one semiotic system to another). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xlix)
Towards a Science of Translating (1964) is available online.
Jakobson's work has also been influential in the emergence of semiotics as a scientific discipline in the Soviet Union (see Rudy 1986). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: lix)
Which is why we are reading him here in Estonia today.
Lévi-Strauss's work on kinship reveals various Jakobsonian themes: the notion of system and relational structure, laws of compatibility and incompatibility, typology, teleology, relational invariance, the unconscious nature of social structure, the use of mathematics in structural analysis, and componential analysis (Lévi-Strauss 1945; see alse 1951, 1952, 1953). (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: lx)
Something similar could be said about Lotman's work, especially when it comes to understanding culture as a "relational structure".


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