Haberland's Manual

It is no wonder I didn't know about Haberland's by now three decade critique. He added a reference to his own work on the subject to the stubby Wikipedia page on Phatic expressions just a few months ago. It's a good thing he did. There are literally thousands of secondary and tertiary sources out there and finding something like this is like finding a needle in a haystack. Or, to paraphrase, like finding an insightful critical note in a chorus of mindless repetitions.

Haberland, Hartmut 1996. Communion or Communication: A historical note on one of the "founding fathers" of pragmatics. In: Sackmann, Robin and Monika Budde (eds.), Theoretical Linguistics and Grammatical Description: Papers in Honour of Hans-Heinrich Lieb on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday. Asterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 163-166.

"But there also seems to be a tendency to ascribe to Malinowski a term he never used, that of "phatic communication". In this brief note, I should like to clarify the relationship of "communion" and "communication" as it appears in Malinowski." (Haberland 1996: 163-164)

Someone noticed! Hopefully this will bring much-needed clarity.

"It [Malinowski's essay] contains a gently worded but quite fundamental critique of Ogden and Richards' semiotic model which is one of the many subtly, or less subtly, different triangle models of the linguistic sign going ultimately back to the Stoa." (Haberland 1996: 164)

Will someone ever give exact references to where this damn triangle model originates from? The reference given here reads "cf. Christensen (1962: 45)" and the title is An essay on the unity of Stoic philosophy.

"But the point that Malinowski wants to make is that such a complex sign relation is a cultural product not to be found in all societies and all uses of language. In primitive languages, sound can relate directly to the object or situation, and is therefore not yet a symbol, properly speaking (Malinowski 1923: 324)." (Haberland 1996: 164)

I'm not sure how (ostension)? [Wordplay: semitoic estonsion. Also: semi-Stoa] But the general critique seems to follow the same logic as elsewhere, namely the lapse of the referential function as defined (very strictly) by Ogden and Richards. If the implications here are on spot, this would mean that phatic communication is veritably subsymbolic.

"speech is the necessary means of communion; it is the one indispensable instrument for creating the ties of the moment without which unified social action is impossible." (1923: 310)
Jakobson remarks that infants acquire the phatic function of language as the first; they are "prone to communicate" before they can deal with "informative communication". The terminology seems to have shifted here: "communication" has a much more general ring for Jakobson while Malinowski's "communication" has been redressed by Jakobson (1960: 356) as "informative communication". (Haberland 1996: 164)

Yup, I've reiterated the consequences of this shift throughout this blog for some years now, only to be bested by someone 15 years ahead of me.

"So phatic communion is communion by speaking: there are other forms of communion, and Malinowski points out that "the communion of words is the first act to establish links of fellowship" [...] (Haberland 1996: 165)

Yes, but, now, what is communion?

"While phatic originally meant little more than 'by words', 'through language' or 'linguistic', it has progressively taken on much more weight, the decisive step being Jakobson's 'phatic function' of language. Here, 'phatic' cannot just mean 'by words', 'through language' or 'linguistic' - the whole term would be empty or tautological in this interpretation. In Jakobson's terminology, 'phatic' has shed its etymological anchoring and has metonymically absorbed the meaning originally carried by 'communion'. It is not a long way from here to 'phatic communication'." (Haberland 1996: 165)

Wow. This exact tautology is the basis for my accusation that "phatic" has been subject of a century-long process of illegitimate terminological diffusion. The metonymic absorption of "phatic" by "communion" surprised me, but I'm not sure what to do with it yet.

"In this sense Malinowski is to be credited with having paved the way for modern pragmatics. But Malinowski's own use of the term 'pragmatic' does not foreshadow uses of the term as we know it from Carnap on. Although he refers to the "essentially pragmatic character" of language, this means little more to him than that language "is a mode of behaviour" or "element of concerted human action". 'Pragmatic' relates to 'behavior' and 'action' like 'phatic' relates to 'language' and 'speaking'. In spirit, Malinowski was certainly a precursor of modern pragmatics, but he was so avant le mot." (Haberland 1996: 165)

This is encouraging for my pragmatic reinterpretation of Malinowski's phatic communion, because instead of pragmatics "from Carnap on", I'd subscribe to older strains in Peirce, James, Bentley, and Dewey.

Haberland, Hartmut 1984. A Field Manual for Readers of "The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages" by Bronislaw Malinowski. ROLIG-papir 31: 17-51.

This contribution is a collection of material - in a way, my "Malinowski file" - which took shape in the Spring of 1984, when I gave a course on Speech Act Theory at the Department of Linguistics, University of Copenhagen. (Haberland 1984: 17)

Due to necessity to organize materials for finally writing a paper on the concept of phatic cummunion I recently created my own Malinwski file, though with a narrow focus on the part of the essay dealing with phatic communion (second part of section IV, which fits neatly on one A4 page).

There is only one little catch here: Jakobson seems to imply that for Malinowski, there is a function of language called 'phatic'. This makes sense in Jakobson's framework. Jakobson equates "speech event" and "act of linguistic communication" (1960: 353), therefore it makes sense to single out a 'phatic function' of language and to talk about 'phatic communication' if a message is primarily concerned with the contact factor in verbal communication. (Jakobson doesn't talk about 'phatic communication' himself, but I gather that this is the way he has been understood.) But for Malinowski, the opposition is not between 'phatic communication' and 'communication' otherwise; it is between 'communion' and 'communication'. (Haberland 1984: 18)

I came to realize all these things in 2014, exactly three years ago from now and more or less exactly three decades after these contradictions were articulated here. Since I've dealt with these issues for some time now I'll articulate them as follows:

One is a function of language, the other a function of speech. More pointedly, one pertains to the hierarchy of linguistic functions and the other is a social function of a particular type of speech. In my mind, one is exemplifying meaningless, and therefore purely social, uses of language and the other is demonstrating that the meaningless social use of language carries a function unnoticed before by semanticists. These overlap and the difference is minute, but very relevant in consequence of what kind of units of analysis are delineated in the 21st century under the label "phatic", the followers of one looking at language and the other interaction.

I have solved the latter contradictions for myself by viewing the three main subtypes of phaticity as interrelated but distinct conceptualizations: phatic communion, phatic communication and phatic function. I place La Barre's phatic communication before phatic function because La Barre had published his insights by 1954 and Jakobson first sketched his scheme in 1956. Here's a visual diagram by Joseph Corneli (personal communication):

For Malinowski, if language is not used for communicating (that is, for communicating ideas or thoughts), then it serves a different purpose, namely that of communion, the creating of ties between people. (Haberland 1984: 18)

Quoted PC 9.3, "Indeed there need not or perhaps even there must be anything to communicate" with reference to the ending of 9.1, "does not serve any purpose of communicating ideas". This is one of the three negations of earlier functions (Ogden and Richards' version in the same book) and is often interpreted as lacking "informational content". The difference between ideas, thoughts and information could be furthered in this regard with help from information sciences.

Since this communion is established through language, Malinowski coins for it the term 'phatic' [...]. What is special about phatic communion, is therefore not that it is phatic, but that it is not communication (in Malinowski's, not in Jakobson's sense of 'communication'). Malinowski might as well have called it 'linguistic communion' without making a different point. (Haberland 1984: 19)

This metonymic extension of "phatic" into "communion" is especially troubling in phatic technology studies where the Jakobsonian sense prevails and phaticity stands for "contact" instead of languaging activity. The term has dissasociated from its etymology.

This might sound like haggling about terminology. The dialogue Jakobson adapted from Dorothy Parker is, after all, an example of phatic communion in Malinowski's sense. But I think that a discussion of Malinowski's original idea brings forth something which tends to be missed out in Jakobson's approach, namely that language is not only a means of conveying thought ("communication"), but also a mode o behaviour ("action"). (Haberland 1984: 19)

In the 1930s he became much interested in Africa; was closely associated with the International African Institute; visited students working among Bemba, Swazi, and other tribes in eastern and southern Africa; and wrote the introduction to Jomo Kenyatta's book Facing Mount Kenya (1938), prepared as a diploma thesis under his supervision. (Kenyatta became president of Kenya in 1964.) (Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition 1974, in Haberland 1984: 21)

This would explain Malinowski's prevalence in African Studies and his indirect hand in Mau Mau.

Malinowski acknowledges that the triangle model of the sign put up by Ogden and Richards (where "Symbol", "Thought or Reference", and "Referent", i.e. the 'object', are placed in the three corners of the schema) has its merits, but it is only applicable to a very special situation of language use. (Haberland 1984: 46)

Here I disagree. Ogden and Richards carried on Peirce's triadic conception of the sign and Malinowski added to this schema by negating the existing functions but Malinowski's own view does not seem in conflict with the Peircean model in itself - the three aspects of the model by themselves may be irrelevant (i.e. the object is in the immediate context and thus superfluous, the goal is not to incite new thought or interpretant, and the symbols used are formulaic) but it is still a case of semiosis, of sign-action.


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