Varenne: Selections from "Concluding statement..."

Roman Jakobson

"Concluding statement: Linguistics and poetics."

in Style in language. Edited by T. Sebeok, T. Sebeok. New York: Wiley1960

[full text]

factors involved in verbal communication (p.353):

ADDRESSER --------------------------------------- ADDRESSEE

six basic functions of verbal communication (p.357):

EMOTIVE ----------------------------------------- CONATIVE

Note that, 40 years later, the "referential" function is best understood as an "indexical" function since it is now agreed that the relationship between a putatively meaningful communicative act and the world outside the act is always mutual: neither "context" nor "message" determines the other. Thus all expressions, including non-deictic ones, must be taken to be indexes pointing at one aspect of the world that it thereby constitutes as "its" context even as it relies on the features of the world to gain its own meaning. [From 'I' as index pointing at a speaker to the speaker giving qualities to 'I']


A distinction has been made in modern logic between two levels of language, "object language" speaking of objects and "metalanguage" speaking of language. But metalanguage is not only a necessary scientific tool utilized by logicians and linguists; it plays also an important role in our everyday language. Like Moliere's Jourdain who used prose without knowing it, we practice metalanguage without realizing the metalingual character of our operations. Whenever the adresser and/or the addressee need to check up whether they use the same code, speech is focused on the code: it performs a METALINGUAL (i.e., glossing) function. "I don't know you—what do you mean?" asks the addressee, or in Shakespearean diction, "What is't thou say'st?" And the addresser in anticipation of such recapturing questions inquires: Do you know what I mean?" Imagine such an exasperating dialogue: "The sophomore was plucked." "But what is plucked ?" "Plucked means the same as flunked." "And flunked?" "To be flunked is to fail in an exam." "And what is sophomore?" persists the interrogator innocent of school vocabulary. "A sophomore is (or means) a second-year student." All these equational sentences convey information merely about the lexical code of English; their function is strictly metalingual. Any process of language learning. in particular child acquisition of the mother tongue, makes wide use of such metalingual operations; and aphasia may often he defined as a loss of ability for metalingual operations. (p. 354)

see also an earlier version of this

Note also that the "metalingual" function can be understood to cover all aspects of language politics, from feminists insisting on transforming the default use of pronouns in English, to policies in favor of or against bilingualism in school, to the granting of special authority to something like the Academie Francaise, etc..


We have brought up all the six factors involved in verbal communication except the message itself. The set (Einstellung) toward the MESSAGE as such, focus on the message for its own sake, is the poetic function of language. This function cannot he productively studied out of touch with the general problems of language, and, on the other hand, the scrutiny of language requires a thorough consideration of its poetic function. Any attempt to reduce the sphere of poetic function to poetry or to confine poetry to poetic function would be a delusive oversimplification. Poetic function is not the sole function of verbal art hut only its dominant, determining, function, whereas in all other verbal activities it acts as a subsidiary, accessory constituent. This function, by promoting the palpability of signs, deepens the fundamental dichotomy of signs and objects. Hence, when dealing with poetic function, linguistics cannot limit itself to the field of poetry. "Why do you always say Joan and Margery, yet never Margery and Joan ? Do you prefer Joan to her twin sister?" "Not' at all, it just sounds smoother." In a sequence of two coordinate names, as far as no rank, problems interfere, the precedence of the shorter name suits the speaker, unaccountably for him, as a well-ordered shape of the message.

A girl used to talk about "the horrible Harry." "Why horrible?" "Because I hate him." "But why not dreadful, terrible, frightful, disgusting?" "I don't know why, hut horrible fits him better." Without realizing it, she clung to the poetic device of paronomasia.

The political slogan "I like Ike" /ay layk ayk/, succinctly structured, consists of three monosyllables and counts three diphthongs /ay], each of them symmetrically followed by one consonantal phoneme /..l..k..k/. The make-up of the three words presents a variation: no consonantal phonemes in the first word, two a round the diphthong in the second, and one final consonant in the third. A similar dominant nucleus /ay/ was noticed by Hymes in sonic of the sonnets of Keats. Both cola of the trisyllabic formula "I like / Ike,' rhyme with each other, and the second of the two rhyming words is fully included in the first one (echo rhyme). /layk--iayk/, a paronomastic image of a feeling which totally envelops its object. Both cola alliterate with each other, and the first of the two alliterating words is included in the second: /ay/—/ayk/. a paronomastic image of the loving subject enveloped by the beloved object. The secondary, poetic function of this clectional catch phrase reinforces its impressiveness and efficacy. (p. 354-55)


Note that this is not refering to actual speakers or addressees but rather to the linguistic means by which any statement indicates who/what is the author/subject and who/what is the addresse or audience. This is, among other things, must lead analysts to investigates modes of address.

This page is used in my course Culture and Communication
March 12, 2013 [1998]