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Roman Jakobson: (Moscow, 1896 – Boston, 1982)

Roman Jakobson

Roman Jakobson, (Moscow, 1896 – Boston, 1982) Russian linguist and philologist. Before his graduation in 1918 he participated in the creation of the Moscow Linguistic Circle (1915) and of the Society for the Study of the Poetic Language of Leningrad (“Opoyaz”, 1917), the two main centers of diffusion of the movement that would later be known as “Russian formalism.”

In these areas he began to deal with the problems of language, art theory and their relationships. In the early twenties he moved to Prague (in 1923 he was appointed professor of Russian philology, and in 1937, in Brno, he was from ancient Czech literature), and published the most interesting results of this first phase of his studies: The new Russian poetry , of 1921, and On the Czech verse, with particular reference to the Russian verse , of 1923.

In these works, especially in the second, his vision of poetry was clearly affirmed as a linguistic system dominated by specific laws of his own, in which a distinction between significant and non-significant elements is always confronted, and also the use of these for poetic purposes.

The interest in literary phenomena will be a constant of Jakobson’s studies: in his Observations on the prose of the poet Pasternak , of 1935, he emphasized (later he returned to these topics in his studies on aphasia) the global and dialectical relationship between “metaphor “(similarity) and” metonymy “(contiguity), two opposite and complementary guidelines based on the bipolarity of one’s own language, and in 1942 he dealt with poetics in Unknown Verses of Maiakovsky . Roman Jakobson

In Closing statements: Linguistics and Poetics (1958) he defined six functions of language, based on the constitutive factors of each linguistic process: “referential” function, context-oriented, “emotive” to the sender, “connotative” to the receiver, “factual” to the contact, “metalinguistics” to the code and “poetic” to the message. Poetics, as a study of this function, must be considered an integral part of linguistics.

Already in Prague, Jakobson had begun to be interested in phonology. In 1926 he was among the founders of the Prague Language Circle; In 1928 he participated in the First International Congress of Linguistics in The Hague, where he presented a general program of functional and structural linguistics, prepared together with Karcevski and Trubetzkoy , with particular attention to phonology, and which gave the first analytical demonstration of the existence of phonemic systems.

The originality of this position resides in the reconduction of the phonemes, until then considered in an atomized way, to a phonetic principle in which they can be defined through their distinctive lines. In different works, among which are the contributions to the fourth and sixth International Congress of Linguistics (Copenhagen, in 1936, and Paris, in 1948) he developed this theory until he reached the last general manuals: Preliminaries to Speech Analysis (with C Fant and M. Halle, 1952) and Fundamentals of language (with M. Halle, 1956).

Jakobson also tried to extend the concept of binary opposition to other aspects of language, based on two studies of structural morphology Zur Struktur des russischen Verbums (1932) and Beitrag zur allgemeinen kasuslehre (1936), and therefore was the first and the few who dealt with diachronic phonology in Remarques sur l’évolution phonologique du russe compared to celle des centers langues slaves (1929) and Prinzipien der historischen Phonologie (1931).

In 1939, after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, he moved to Scandinavia: there he published Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze (1941), where he framed his theories within a unitary consideration of the pace of acquisition and loss of language. In 1941 he traveled to the United States, where, finally, he settled. He taught first in New York, at L’École Libre des Hautes Études and at Columbia University, and later between 1947 and 1957 at Harvard and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he finally stayed.

Among his more than seven hundred works, the main compilation is Selected Writings , in eight volumes. In 1963 an anthology of his General Linguistic Essays was published in Paris , which allows him to capture the general intention of his studies and the diversity of his interests. Other articles from 1956 and 1957 are found in The development of semiotics.

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