Jakobson: “Linguistics and Poetics” and “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles”

In his essay “Linguistics and Poetics” Roman Jakobson argues that poetics and linguistics are integral parts of one another and should be viewed and studied as such.

In the short essay “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles” Jakobson asserts that there are two main parts of language: selection and substitution which works with metaphor, and combination and contexture which works with metonymy.

In his essay, Jakobson begins by explaining  the basic parts of both linguistics and poetics in an attempt to point out to the reader the similarities that exist between them. He argues that the basic parts of linguistics; addresser, message, context, contact, code and addressee, unknowingly combine elements of poetics. These elements are visible in the word choice of the addresser, and thus will shape the message as well as its context, contact and code, and impact the addressee in a particular way. Jakobson gives many examples of the ways in which poetics affects this basic linguistic function, such as in literature, famous speeches, children’s tales and rhymes and even our everyday speech. In the second essay, Jakobson utilizes the example of aphasia, a language disorder, to argue that language exists in two main forms. These forms, selection and substitution and combination and contexture, contain devices such as metaphorin the former and metonymy in the latter which works within these different areas of language to strengthen the language as a whole.

I found Jakobson’s argument in the first essay, “Linguistics and Poetics” to be extremely interesting. I have never thought that linguistics and poetics are inherently combined, but after reading Jakobson’s essay I began to see examples of this in our everyday lives. The examples given in his essay are especially strong and forceful, and strive to demonstrate to the reader that, while they may not be aware of it, poetic devices are interwoven into the linguistics of our everyday lives. I particularly liked the example given of Caesar’s famous words: “Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) (38).” Jakobson argues that the reason these words became so famous is because of the cadence, rhythm, and repeating vowel sounds of the words – all poetic devices. I also really liked Jakobson’s application of his argument to everyday life in his example of the little girl who called a boy she did not like “Horrible Harry.” When asked why she called him horrible instead of other similar adjectives the girl responded by saying that “horrible” sounds better. As Jakobson explains “without realizing it, she clung to the poetic device of paronomasia” (37).

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