Phatic Jakobson

Jakobson, Roman 1981[1960d]. Linguistics and poetics. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings III: Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry. The Hague (etc.): Mouton de Gruyter, 18-51.

There are messages primarily serving to establish, to prolong, or to discontinue communication, to check whether the channel works ("Hello, do you hear me?"), to attract the attention of the interlocutor or to confirm his continued attention ("Are you listening?" or in Shakespearean diction, "Lend me your ears!" - and on the other end of the wire "Um-hum!"). This set for CONTACT, or in Malinowski's terms PHATIC function, may be displayed by a profuse exchange of ritualized formulas, by entire dialogues with the mere purport of prolonging communication. Dorothy Parker caught eloquent examples: "'Well!' the young man said. 'Well!' he said. 'Well, here we are', he said. 'Here we are', she said, 'Aren't we?' 'I should say we were', he said, 'Eeyop! Here we are'. 'Well!' she said. 'Well!' he said, 'well'." The endeavor to start and sustain communication is typical of talking birds; thus the phatic function of language is the only one they share with human beings. It is also the first verbal function acquired by infants; they are prone to communicate before being able to send or receive informative communication. (Jakobson 1981[1960d]: 24)
I've been working on this passage for a long time now, but today I'd like to take up the Dorothy Parker excerpt. My intention is too look into how much David Abercrombie might have influeced this section of the definition of the phatic function. I've ordered the latter's book through interlibrary loans. Until it gets here, I'll revisit Roman Jakobson's use of the term "phatic". For although I have read several of his Selected Writings in full, and manually searched for notes on "phatic" in several others, I've yet to use automated seach for this task. Thus, this time around I installed Recoll, a desktop full-text search tool, and let it index all of Jakobson's Selected Writings that I previously had downloaded from De Gruyter when it was available for my university for a few weeks. // Also, I finally took up comparing this passage in "Metalanguage..." and this one, and the former is different by only a few words: "thus the phatic function of language is the only one they share with human beings when conversing with them." The bold part is missing here but present in "Metalanguage as a Linguistic Problem" (Jakobson 1985[1976e]: 115). This could have been a relevant piece of information when I wrote my paper about the "talking birds" note and the work of Hobart Mowrer.

Waugh, Linda R. and Monique Monville-Burston 2002[1990]. Introduction to Roman Jakobson, Selected Writings: On Language: The Life, Work and Influence of Roman Jakobson. 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.

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. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xxiii)
Here we have Waugh and Monville-Burston affirming that the phatic function focuses on the communicative contact.
Scholars now believe that not only should the learner be taught the code of the target language but also should be made aware of practical importance of the emotive, conative, and phatic functions and of pragmatic and social factors. (Waugh & Monville-Burston 2002[1990]: xlix)
And here they add that phatic utterances have practical importance and are involved with pragmatic and social factors. Also, this is probably where I first got the impression that metalingual and phatic functions were the latest additions to the scheme (anyone familiar with Bühler and Mukarovsky could have deduced this). My further hypothesis is that both of these later additions were inspired by Gregory Bateson, whose metacommunication covers the meta- aspect of both code and relationship (cf. Ruesch & Bateson 1951).

But that seems to be all! The only other occurrences of "phatic" in Roman Jakobson's Selected Writings are the following:
  • In the "Index of Subjects" of SW VII, referring to uses in "Metalanguage as a Linguistic Problem".
  • In the "Index of Subjects" of SW III, referring to uses in "Linguistics and Poetics".
  • Listed among "The cardinal functions of language - referential, emotive, conative, phatic, poetic, and metalingual [...]" in "Language in Relation to Other Communication systems".
  • In the "Index of Subjects" of SW II, referring to the above mention.
  • Listed when Jakobson recalls that in his study "Linguistic and Poetics" he "attempted to outline the six basic functions of verbal communication: referential, emotive, conative, poetic and metalingual" in "Verbal Communication".
  • Listed among "the assemblage and reversible hierarchy of diverse concurrent verbal functions and operations (referential, conative, emotive, phatic, poetic, metalinguistic)" in "Linguistics in Relation to Other Sciences".
So, basically, Jakobson named the phatic function as one of the cardinal functions of language, wrote one single paragraph about it, and later merely referred back to it. It is possible that he elaborates his definition of phatic elsewhere in another language, perhaps in the paper about Polish illustrations of language functions, but without knowing Polish it is impossible to access. This is a dead end. Another possible route is to search for the use of "contact" and look for instances where it might elaborate his definition of the phatic function.

Jakobson, Roman and Linda R. Waugh 1987[1967e]. Language and Culture. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings VIII: Major Works 1976-1980. Completion Volume 1. Berlin; New York: Mouton, 101-112.

Yet if we accept the standpoint that cultural values are transmitted by learning, then what is to be said about language? Is it a cultural fact? Evidently language is transmitted by learning, and of course the acquisition of the child's first language implies a learning contact between the infant and his parents or adults in general. If, moreover, one has to learn a second or further language, it requires a relation between people who learn one from the other. Among the definitions of culture current in anthropological literature, we also find an assertion that the principal way of diffusion for cultural goods is through the word, through the medium of language. Does this statement apply also to language itself? Of course, language is learned through the medium of language, and the child learns new words by comparing them with other words, by identifying and differentiating the new and previously acquired verbal constituents. (Jakobson 1987[1967e]: 103)
This may be valuable for elaborating how the phatic function is "the first verbal function acquired by infants; they are prone to communicate before being able to send or receive informative communication" (above, in the original definition).
Linguists see now, with an ever greater clarity, that the study of a language cannot stop at its limits, and that we are faced with the vital phenomenon of languages in contact. The further experience of linguistic science reveals that interlingual ties are not confined to a territorial contact, since, furthermore, there exists a cultural contact between languages, independent of geographical contiguity. Such contact becomes an even stronger international and universalistic bent and force, both in cultural and in linguistic aspects. (Jakobson 1987[1967e]: 112)
Although abundant in tokens of "contact", this excerpt is valuable for cultural semiotics, because this is exactly what cultural semiotics deals with (mostly in semiospheric terms).

Jakobson, Roman 1971[1969c]. Linguistics in Relation to Other Sciences. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 655-696.

The question of presence and hierarchy of those basic functions which we observe in language - fixation upon the referent, code, addresser, addressee, their contact, or, finally, upon the message itself - must be applied also to the other semiotic systems. (Jakobson 1971[1969c]: 661)
This is exactly the kind of stuff I'm looking for when searching for "contact", as sometimes he refers to the phatic function through the so-called "factor" (i.e. phatic function is set on the contact factor, just as the metalingual function is set on the code factor). But, still, this is something I already know by heart - Jakobson urges us to study these functions in other communication systems but refrains from doing so himself. The end result being that since no-one really understands Jakobson clearly enough to undertake the kind of analysis he had in mind, people took his scheme of linguistic functions, viewed it as a communication model, and did very little with it.
The variable radius of communication, the problem of contact between the communicants - "communication and transportation" - aptly advanced by Parsons as the ECOLOGICAL aspect of the systems, prompts certain correspondences between language and society. Thus, the striking dialectal homogeneity of nomads' languages bears an obvious relation to the wide radius of nomadic roaming. In hunting tribes, for long periods hunters remain out of communication with their women but in close contact with their prey. Hence, their language undergoes noticeable sexual dimorphism reinforced by the multiform taboo changes which hunters introduce in order not to be understood by animals. (Jakobson 1971[1969c]: 669-670)
The radius of communication is one of the most likeable aspects of Jakobson's writings. For me it links up neatly with the "different levels of abstraction" Ruesch (1951a: 4) talks about.
However, the hierarchy of both factors is opposite: learning for children, and heredity for fledgelings, cubs, or other young animals acts as the determining factor. The infant cannot begin to talk without any contact with speakers, but as soon as such contact is established, then whatever the environmental language is, the child will acquire it, provided he has not passed his seventh year, whereas any further language can be learned also during the adolescence or the mature age. (Jakobson 1971[1969c]: 674)
Again, the role of linguistic contact in child language acquisiton. With such numerous mentions, one could think that this might have been the true stuff of the phatic function for Jakobson. Is it not possible that when writing about contact between communicants what Jakobson really had in mind was something more akin to the metalingual function, but on a grander scale?

Jakobson, Roman 1971[1944a]. Franz Boas' Approach to Language. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 477-488.

Perhaps the long inattention of his colleagues to Boas' favorite idea was partly his own fault. He often presented his discoveries as a mere criticism of current theories. News on the discovery of America would be given by Boas as a refutation of the hypothesis of a shorter route to India, while data on the new part of the world would be mentioned only casually. He fervently insisted on "the limitations of the comparative method", but he did not strive to make clear that in fact his outlook upon diffusion was designed first of all to widen the scope of historical comparison and to develop a historical geography of the linguistic world. Historical research, as Boas recognized perfectly well, "remains equally valid, whether we assume purely genetic relationship or whether we ask ourselves whether by contact languages may exert far-reaching mutual influences" (1936). (Jakobson 1971[1944a]: 486)
Exactly the kind of thing that provokes the above hypothesis. But that is that. This here precedes the suggestion that "there exists a cultural contact between languages, independent of geographical contiguity" (above). Also, this: Vogt. H. 1954. Contact of Languages. Word 10: 365-374.

Jakobson, Roman 1971[1970d]. Language in Relation to Other Communication Systems. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 697-708.

The structural characteristics of language are interpreted in the light of the tasks they fulfill in the various processes of communication, and thus linguistics may be briefly defined as an inquiry into the communication of verbal messages. We analyze these messages with reference to all the factors involved, namely, to the inherent properties of the message itself, its addresser and addressee, whether actually receiving the message or merely meant by the addresser as its virtual recipient. We study the character of the contact between these two participants in the speech event, we seek to elicit the code common to the sender and to the receiver, and we try to determine the convergent traits and the differences between the encoding operations of the addresser and the decoding competence of the addressee. Finally, we look for the place occupied by the given messages within the context of surrounding messages, which pertain either to the same exchange of utterances or to the recollected past and to the anticipated future, and we raise the crucial questions concerning the relation of the given message to the universe of discourse. (Jakobson 1971[1970d]: 697)
There is a lot to unpack here. First of all, the reason why Jakobson practically forsake the phatic function after defining it may be that he did not find structural characteristics of language that are "phatic". Unlike "expressive features" and other such structural characteristics pertaining to the emotive function, the "phatic features" are largely invented by later authors (e.g. pragmatic markers like backchannels, contact checks, and vocatives/dysphemisms). Nevertheless, phatic utterances do fulfill various tasks in processes of communication (i.e. establish, prolong, or discontinue communication). Secondly, the actuality or virtuality of the addressee or recipient seems like a phatic matter - in case of autocommunication, the addresser intends to be his or her own addresse (achieving "contact" with oneself). But it is also the case that "the character of the contact" is under-theorized by Jakobson himself, and seeking "to elicit the code common to the sender and to the receiver" is more akin to his competence, which yet again poses the question whether really he might have meant "linguistic contact" instead of "communicative contact" when speaking of phatics. But let that be, yet again (there is little to substantiate this hypothesis beyond the topic of "Languages in contact and linguistic borrowing", which is best embodied in Uriel Weinreich's 1953. Languages in Contact). And lastly, the part about context once again affirms my interpretation that context is a purely linguistic construct in Jakobson's view. It pertains to surrounding messages, either in the recollected past or in the anticipated future. It is markedly not about the nonverbalized situation (e.g. the extra-linguistic realm in which the speakers find themselves but about which they do not talk - in other words, the airplane loudly flying above the speakers does not belong to the context in Jakobson's sense if it's not remarked upon).
When envisaging the roles of the participants in the speech event, we have to discern the several essential varieties of their interconnection, namely, the fundamental form of this relationship, the alternation of the encoding and decoding activities in the interlocutors, and the cardinal difference between such a dialogue and a monologue. A question to be studied is the increase in the "radius of communication", e.g. the multi-personal exchange of replies and rejoinders or the extended audience of a monologue which may even be addressed "to whom it may concern". (Jakobson 1971[1970d]: 697)
The problem here is that although he talks about interconnection and relationship, he is dealing with the narrow situation of verbal communication. These are "linguistic roles" - whether you are the one talking or the one listening. Nevertheless, the radius of communication is an inherently phatic issue, concerning the nature of contact.

Jakobson, Roman 1981[1964e]. Language in Operation. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings III: Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry. The Hague; Paris; New York: Mouton, 7-17.

Here a further oxymoron, a new contradiction, is advanced by the poet: he assigns to this solitary speech the widest radius of overt communication, but realizes at once that this exhibitionistic widening of the appeal may "endanger the psychological reality of the image of the enlarged self confronting the notself", as it was later to be formulated by Edward Sapir. (Jakobson 1981[1964e]: 14)
This is indeed one of the very few papers that are explicitly useful for untangling the phatic function, since it contains a reference to Mowrer. But it neglects to use the term, and any other usefulness must be elicited from metaphors and analysis. Here, for example, he presents same phrases that may be very useful for studying so-called "phatic media culture". Is Twitter not at once the widest radius of overt communication as well as an exhibitionistic widening of the appeal? (Let it be understood that the "appeal" here is Bühlerian term for the addressee's apex, e.g. appeal to a receiver.)
It may be recalled once more that the supreme effect of "The Raven" lies in its daring experimentation with intricate problems of communication. The dominant motif of the poem is the lover's irrevocable loss of contact with the rare and radiant maiden; henceforth no common context with her is conceivable, either on this earth or within the distant Aidenn (the fanciful spelling is needed as an echo for maiden). (Jakobson 1981[1964e]: 14)
Notice the use of "context" in this context. By "common context" he means a speech event, i.e. the lover cannot speak with the maiden anymore.

Jakobson, Roman 1985[1954b]. Slavism as a Topic of Comparative Studies. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings VI: Early Slavic Paths and Crossroads. Part I. Comparative Slavic Studies. The Cyrillo-Methodian Tradition. Berlin; New York; Amsterdam: Mouton, 65-85.

The study of verbal behavior includes not only speech, not only language as it is used by the speech community, but also the attitude of the speakers to their own language, to other languages with which they come into contact, and to language in general. The development of a language and of the society integrated by it may largely depend upon such attitudes. (Jakobson 1985[1954b]: 69)
God damn. These are the kinds of snippets that no-one deals with, since this volume of SW is practically untouched by both linguists and semioticians. It cannot be ignored that Jakobson keeps developing parts of his linguistic theory throughout his works, even on those that deal with slavic mythology. This excerpt here should be the proper matter of metalinguistics.
Studies of Slavism must consider both the linguistic premises and the intellectual, religious and political responses to them, and must treat all these factors in their centripetal and centrifugal aspect (integration sought and counteracted). (Jakobson 1985[1954b]: 85)
Centripetal force seeks integration; centrifugal force counteracts integration. Invaluable insight for the integrationist!

Jakobson, Roman and Linda R. Waugh 1987[1979d]. The Sound Shape of Language. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings VIII: Major Works 1976-1980. Completion Volume 1. Berlin; New York: Mouton, 1-315.

It is worthy of note that even in the unique case of a girl who first came in contact with human language as a teenager, her initial acquisition of speech involved a regular substitution of /t/ for /k/, /n/, and /s/ in all word positions (Fromkin et al. 1974: 89). (Jakobson & Waugh 1987[1979d]: 166)
A philosophical interpretation of all that I've revisited in this post would allow for an elucidation of the phatic function of language as "coming into contact with language as such". In other words, it would appear that it is not the case that the addresser comes into contact with the addressee, but that the addressee comes into contact with the addresser's language, and vice versa.
Universal propensities may be traced in the growth of children's language from its earliest beginnings. It becomes increasingly evident that the production and recognition of contoural features such as intonation which impart an emotional coloring, in particular an expression of displeasure or pleasure, to a sentence, or rather to an entire utterance, and which signal the end of an utterance, appear universally "as the first of the true language periods, following the stages of crying, cooing, and babbling" (Weir 1966: 156ff.). (Jakobson & Waugh 1987[1979d]: 166)
Huh, I didn't expect to find anything phatic here, but in contrast to my complaint above that there don't appear to be any "phatic features", here it appears that these "contoural features" may be exactly that. In other words, these contoural features would contribute to "the detailed management of interpersonal relationships during the psychologically crucial margins of interaction" (Laver 1975: 217). In another sense, these "intonation contours" (as they are called on the next page) form yet another link between the phatic and the emotive functions.
The interrogative intonation combines a cadence with a semicadence - the intonation of the end and that of the continuation: the utterance is finished but requires the response-utterance of the interlocutor. (Jakobson & Waugh 1987[1979d]: 167)
Is this not phatic?

Since I'm already taking up searching "contact", I'll also record some instances that are off-topic but may be useful instances of metalanguage for writing my paper on these issues. (Especially since I'm ultimately intending to write about the imputed contact between Jakobson and Abercrombie.)
  • "While manifold and close connections bind the Slovo with the udel'naja Rus', its language, literature, art (as A. N. Grabar palyably demonstrated), and the entire spiritual and material culture, as well as the historical background and environment, no real points of contact between the Slovo and Catherine's age were detected."
  • "In their reports about the final, disastrous stages of Igor's raid and his rout, the Hypatian Chronicle and the Slowo show particularly distinct and dense points of contact."
  • "Slovo 73 [...] offers two textual points of contact with the end of this battle as recounted in Hyp."
  • "The scholar tangibly demonstrated that if we go this way we inevitably lose all contact with historical reality and then may admit anything [...]"
  • "One may recollect the contact and convergences between the research of F. de Saussure and E. Claparede, the explorer of parts and wholes [...]"
  • "In 1908-1909 the young Scerba (1880-1944) visited Paris, came into direct contact with the leaders of the International Phonetic Association [...]"
  • "In the preface to his book [...] Scerba stated that the conception of linguistic phenomena which he had acquired under the influence of long and close contact with Baudouin de Courtenay was considerably strengthened thanks to A. Meillet's lectures and conversations [...]"
Now I've exhausted the "contact" search results. The radius of communication seems like something that might have potential for phatic theorizing, so I'll search "radius" next.

Jakobson, Roman 1971d. Retrospect. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 711-724.

The uniformity of the code, "sensibly the same" for all members of a speech community, posited by the Cours and still recalled from time to time, is but a delusive fiction; as a rule, everyone belongs simultaneously to several speech communities of different radius and capacity; any overall code is multiform and comprises a hierarchy of diverse subcodes freely chosen by the speaker with regard to the variable functions of the message, to its addressee, and to the relation between the interlocutors. (Jakobson 1971d: 719)
That is, the subcode of language you employ when speaking with a given person depends on your relationship with that person.
In Saussure's opinion, as soon as we approach the question of spatial relations of linguistic phenomena, we leave 'internal' and enter 'external' linguistics. However, the entire development of linguistic geography, areal linguistics, and study of affinities between adjacent languages: this all compels us to consider the spatio-temporal pattern of verbal operations as the integral part of each 'idiosynchronic' system, corresponding to Saussure's coinage. The assidious fieldwork of contemporary linguists has prompted the conclusion that the code used by any representative of a given language or dialect is convertible: it involves different subcodes compliant with the extant variations in the radius of communication. It becomes ever clearer that the code as well as the circuit of messages exhibits a perpetual interplay of conformism and nonconformism (or, in Saussure's terms, force unifiante and force particulariste) both in the spatial and in the temporal aspects of language. (Jakobson 1971d: 721-722)
In other words, any given use of language has a "centripetal and centrifugal aspect (integration sought and counteracted)" (cf. above).

Jakobson, Roman 1971[1969c]. Linguistics in Relation to Other Sciences. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 655-696.

The diversity of interlocutors and their mutual adaptability are a factor of decisive importance for the multiplication and differentiation of subcodes within a speech community and within the verbal competence of its individual members. The variable "radius of communication", according to Sapir's felicitous term (154, p. 107) involves an interdialectal and interlingual exchange of messages and usually creates multidialectal and sometimes multilingual aggregates and interactions within the verbal pattern of individuals and even of entire communities. (Jakobson 1971[1969c]: 668)
It would seem that the choice of code does indeed depend on the linguistic competence of interlocutors. That's obvious enough, one would presume. And apparently "the radius of communication" is Sapir's term and originates from his Selected Writings (1963).

Jakobson, Roman 1971[1964d]. Results of the Ninth International Congress of Linguists. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings II: Word and Language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 593-602.

Yet one can hardly view the socio-linguistic influences on language as merely extrinsic factors. If we approach linguistics as just one among the conjugate sciences of communication, then any difference in the role of communication may evidently have "a potent effect" upon verbal communication. Thus the role assigned to the wider radius of communication by a nomadic society leads both to technological improvements in transportation and to a coalescence of language. (Jakobson 1971[1964d]: 598)
He seems to argue that the "external" linguistics should not be ignored. Phatics is relevant at this point because it originates from an undeniably socio-linguistic viewpoint.

Jakobson, Roman and Morris Halle 1962[1956a]. Phonology and Phonetics. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings I: Phonological Studies. s-Gravenhage: Mouton, 465-504.

The phonemic adjustment may cover the whole lexical stock, or the imitation of the neighbor's phonemic code may be confined to a certain set of words directly borrowed from the neighbor or at least particularly stamped by his use of them. Whatever the adjustments are, they help the speaker to increase the radius of communication, and if often practiced, they are likely to enter into his everyday language. Under favorable circumstances they may subsequently infiltrate into the general use of the speech community, either as a particular speech fashion or as a new pattern fully substituted for the former norm. Interdialectal communication and its influence on intradialectal communication must be analyzed from a linguistic, and particularly, from a phonemic point of view. (Jakobson & Halle 1962[1956a]: 501)
This is eerily similar to Tynyanov's model of literary evolution and Lotman's dynamics of cultural semiotics.
The problem of bridging space stops neither at the borders of distant and highly differentiated dialects, nor at the boundaries of cognate or even unrelated languages. Mediators, more or less bilingual, adapt themselves to the foreign phonemic code. Their prestige grows with the widening radius of their audience and may further a diffusion of their innovations among their monolingual tribesmen. (Jakobson & Halle 1962[1956a]: 501)
What are "translation blocs" (Lotman), or, in some sense, even "phatic experts"?

Jakobson, Roman 1971[1961b]. Linguistics and Communication Theory. In: Selected Writings II: Word and language. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 570-579.

Obviously "the inseparability of objective content and observing subject", singled out by Niels Bohr as a premise of all well-defined knowledge, must be definitely taken into account also in linguistics, and the position of the observer in relation to the language observed and described must be exactly identified. First, as formulated by Jurgen Ruesch, the information an observer can collect depends upon his location within or outside the system. Furthermore, if the observer is located within the communication system, language presents two considerably different aspects when seen from the two ends of the communication channel. Roughly, the encoding process goes from meaning to sound and from the lexicogrammatical to the phonological level, whereas the decoding process displays the opposite direction - from sound to meaning and from features to symbols. While a set (Einstellung) toward immediate constituents takes precedence in speech production, for speech perception the message is first a stochastic process. The probabalistic aspect of speech finds conspicuous expression in the approach of the listener to homonyms, whereas for the speaker homonymy does not exist. (Jakobson 1971[1961b]: 575)
This is where it appears that the sender has the code and constructs the message, and the receiver has the message but must reconstruct the code. Jurgen Ruesch's paper appears in Grinker, Roy Richard (ed.) 1956. Toward a Unified Theory of Human Behavior. Since there's little more to be gained from scanning Jakobson's writings (at least for now), I'll turn to reviews of this book.


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