Lanigan on RJ's Semiotic Theory

Lanigan, Richard L. 1991. Roman Jakobson's Semiotic Theory of Communication. Revised version of a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association (77th, Atlanta, GA, October 31 - November 3, 1991).

For most of this century, Roman Jakobson's name will have been synonymous with the definition of communication as a human science, i.e., communicology. I use the future perfect sense, will have to be synonymous, because Jakobson is indeed the modern source of most of what we theorize and practice as human communication. And yet, he will be the source of how we shall come to understand communication in the future as the theoretical and applied use of semiotic principles of epistemology. In short, what we know about communication and how we shall understand it in years to come is the accomplishment of Roman Jakobson. (Lanigan 1991: 2)
Proceeding happily with more hope and fanfare than actual results. This was obviously written before the paradigm shift from Jakobson to Peirce, or at least before Lanigan became aware of it.
Jakobson's point can be summarized and illutrated with a simple comparison of the key features of both communication and information as (1) an account of human choice (an eidetic capacity to judge appearances) and (2) an account of human practice (an empirical capacity to judge appearances). Obviously, the ability to choose is a theoretical capacity, while that of practice is an applied capacity. I use the term capacity here in C. S. Peirce's sense of semiotics, i.e., the human recognition of sign function embodied in a symbol (Lanigan 1988). (Lanigan 1991: 3)
Nope, Lanigan was well aware of Peirce. "Eidetic" is related to mental imagery. The aspect of choice is also what biosemioticians premise the semiotic treshold on (e.g. life is about choices, while lifeless material is dominated by causal processes).
[...] communication is a code phenomenon, while information is a message phenomenon as [...] Jakobson corrects Shannon and Weaver. (Lanigan 1991: 4)
I would have thought these relations were reverse, as communication implies an exchange of messages while information can be viewed as a codification of non-messages.
Within the context of Jakobson's "human sciences model" [...], there is a disciplinary hierarchy moving from linguistics as the study of verbal (i.e., oral) messages, on to semiotics as any type of message, but with the verbal implied, and next, on to the study of any messages as the structural scope of social anthropology and economics, then finally to any form of life as a message exchange system in biology. Indeed, these are the parameters of a theory, the only theory of communication that deserves the name "theory" rather than model. The information model hardly compares on this accourate theory scale! (Lanigan 1991: 4-5)
I knew that on the narrower point of the concaving rings of fields poetics is above linguistics, but I did not know that the biosemiotic field can be appended to the social field. It does make a lot of sense. With the model and theory distinction I would rather argue that Jakobson attempted a communication model while Ruesch was about communication theory (his questions were more thorough than Jakobson's scheme but he didn't diagram his questions).
While Jakobson as a linguist naturally believed in the linguistic sign as the starting place for analyzing the phenomenological nature and function of discourse, his own researches convince us that a semiotic language is the origin of a theory of communication. The proof lies with his own priority for distinctive features as an eidetic phenomenon of realization, i.e., a combinatory inclusion (the distinctive both/and choice), prior to the actualization of a phenomenon as empirical (the redundancy of either/or practice). Simply put, the code as semiotic is prior to the message as linguistic. (Lanigan 1991: 5)
So choice and practice are Lanigan's selection and combination, or even langue and parole. The priority of code is arguable but I get that he's drawing on the passage that says something like the addresser has the code with which he creates the message while the addressee has the message and must deduce the code (I'm paraphrasing, of course.)
Only a code (semiotic) grounds the eidetic combination of "addresser" (speaker) and "interpreter" (thinker) as linked by an empirical message (linguistic). The reverse case, where the empirically linguistic is primary is, indeed, information. (Lanigan 1991: 5)
Thus, the addresser communicates messages while the addressee interprets the information within the message.
No code is available for interpretation because the empirical interpreter as addressee cannot simultaneously view him or herself as an other addresser. Simply put, the addresser both chooses a code (for a message) so that contact (for a context) exists with an addressee and the addresser practice the idea of a code by being the first interpreter of what is said orally. (Lanigan 1991: 5)
This is a mighty fancy way to say that autocommunication precedes intercommunication.
The emotive function of the oddresser is in fact an eidetic display of distinctive (code) features (message) as primary modeling so that, in turn, messages may be coded. (Lanigan 1991: 5)
A neat idea, but false. The emotive function is a semantic function. Bühler warned that if the "semantic" in such a statement is neglected (as Jakobson actually did) then it becomes impossible to avoid pseudo-problems. So, no, the emotive function has very little to do with an eidetic display of distinctive features. The emotive function is a semantic function of the linguistic sign (message). One must not forget that Jakobson's language functions are about the meaning of the linguistic sign, not about the semiotic nature of each component as such.
On the other hand, information is a condition of referential "circularity" in which messages refer to messages and codes refer only to codes. This is the state of the addressee. By inclusive combination, the conative function of the addressee is, in fact, an empirical display of redundancy (message is message) features (code is code) as secondary modeling. This is to say, the addressee must work from the empirical message manifest as language (speech; logos) back to the eidetic code manifest in speech (thought; mythos). (Lanigan 1991: 6)
What? I understand that this is the continuation of the passage that I paraphrased above but, seriously, what? There is no such thing as "the conative function of the addressee". There is the conative semantic function of language structures oriented towards the addressee (e.g. imperatives, vocatives, etc.), but the addressee him- or herself has very little to with it. This is where it becomes apparent that Jakobson's scheme was meant for speech analysis, not communication analysis.
Unless the listener hears the sounds, the place of the linguistic among the other semiotic codes cannot be determined. An interpersonal communication proof from everyday life will suffice here. We all get written telephone call memo notes; we did not hear the caller, so we cannot function as interpreters, which means we are not addressees. The behavioral result, we do not call back; because the message was not part of our conduct of code recognition. (Lanigan 1991: 6)
This is just absurd. First of all, what in the world are "written telephone call memo notes"? Dear jesus, was 1991 that long ago? Secondly, the addressee and the interpreter are not the same. Addressing someone does not necessitate them acting as interpreters. Jakobson's corpus is proof of this: the conative function can be found most often (if not solely) in his analyses of poems, wherein the addressee is a literal addressee, someone for whom the poem was written, or who was addressed in the poem. I can very well write a poem addressed to God. This fact does not necessitate the existence of God nor that he/she/it interpret my poem. Cf. the "celestial addressee" in his analysis of one of Dante's sonnets (Jakobson & Valesio 1981[1966g]: 190).
First, let me discuss the metalinguistic function of the code. Any code operates as symbolic. It is a semiotic function in which one message stands for another. Simple enough, but badly misunderstood when the message per se is symbolic as is the case in language. Simplistic behaviorism is of absolutely no use here because we are in the human world of the symbolic where actions mean, not simply are. (Lanigan 1991: 6)
Let me obfuscate further: language operates as logonomic; it is a renvoi of duplex structures operating as microlinguistic fabula. I am disappointed in this paper, if not in Lanigan. His suggestion to combine Ruesch and Lotman caught me off guard a few years ago and that left a very positive impression. Now I see that he read a few papers by Jakobson and began revising the functions without perhaps fully understanding them yet. I do hope my own work won't come off as if I had a poor grasp of the complexities involved in Jakobson's work. (My paper on the phatic function is going nowhere fast, so this may actually be the case.)


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