Roman Jakobson: A Pioneering Linguist and Literary Theorist

Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) was a prominent Russian-American linguist and literary theorist, born on 11th October 1896 in Russia. He was actively involved in two influential linguistic circles: the Moscow Linguistic Circle, a group of social scientists active from 1915-1924, and the Prague Linguistic Circle, which focused on structuralist literary analysis.

Challenging the Bolshevik Revolution and Pursuit of Freedom

Jakobson was critical of the Bolshevik Revolution, as he believed it stifled creative freedom and encouraged conservatism and orthodoxy. Consequently, he fled Prague in 1939 and sought refuge in Denmark. Eventually, in 1949, he moved to Harvard University in the United States.

Communication Functions of Language

Roman Jakobson defined six essential "Communication Functions" of language, each serving a unique purpose:

1. Referential Function

This function pertains to referring to context, mental states, or situations.

2. Poetic Function

The poetic function focuses on conveying a message for its own sake, embracing aesthetics and the process of communication.

3. Emotive Function

The emotive function involves expressing the sender's mental state and emotions through language.

4. Conative Function

The conative function refers to the use of language to issue imperatives or directives to the recipient of a message.

5. Phatic Function

The phatic function emphasizes language's role in facilitating interaction between the sender and receiver. It includes light chats about politics or casual conversations between people.

6. Metalingual Function

The metalingual function is the use of language to discuss language itself, treating it as a 'code' or system of communication.

Contributions to Linguistic Typology and Linguistic Universals

Besides his work on communication functions, Roman Jakobson made significant contributions to Linguistic Typology, a branch of linguistics that involves the structural classification of languages. He also explored Linguistic Universals, identifying patterns common to all languages, such as the presence of nouns and verbs in every language.

Markedness: Embracing Uniqueness and Artistic Freedom

Jakobson introduced the concept of "markedness," which denotes entities that stand out as different from the regular form. This idea rejects homogeneity and encourages non-conformity. Markedness serves as a metaphor for artistic freedom, allowing the expression of ideas outside conventional norms and peer-pressure.

Notable Works

Roman Jakobson's influential works include:

  • On Linguistic Aspects of Translation, 1959
  • Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics
  • The Framework of Language, 1980
  • Questions de Poetique, 1973
  • Six Lectures on Sound and Meaning, 1978
  • The Sound Shape of Language, 1979
  • Verbal Art, Verbal Sign, Verbal Time, 1985
  • Language in Literature, 1987
  • “Shifters and Verbal Categories.” On Language, 1990

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