Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roman Jakobson on Metaphor & Metonymy

Matthew Zapruder mentioned Roman Jakobson in regards to my post of a clip from Rosmarie Waldrep’s Dissonance, so I went looking for it.

I found this description of Roman Jakobson’s “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Disturbances” from “Jakobson, method, and metaphor: a Wittgensteinian critique”:

In his well-known essay "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances" Roman Jakobson presents a theory of language based on certain empirical observations and discoveries. Jakobson examines aphasia, a disorder of language use, which he characterizes as consisting of two more fundamental types of disorder. These coincide with what he considers to be the bases and underlying processes of languages as such. These are the metaphoric and metonymic processes that govern all verbal activity and indeed even human behavior in general. Every case of aphasia involves an impairment of the metaphoric or metonymic activities, and every case exhibits at least one of these traits. Normally these two processes occur continuously and interactively in language, though the individual speaker places greater emphasis on one or the other in accord with his or her preferences and predilections. Metaphor and metonymy are the defining poles of language: all linguistic expression lies somewhere between these extremes.

Looking around a bit further, I found this, a messy scan from the 1971 revision of the essay (I think), available here:



The varieties of aphasia are numerous and diverse, but all of them lie between the two polar types just described. Every form of aphasic disturbance consists in some impairment, more or less severe, either of the faculty for selection and substitution or for combination and contexture. The former affliction involves a deterioration of metalinguistic operations, while the latter damages the capacity for maintaining the hierarchy of linguistic units. The relation of similarity is suppressed in the former, the relation of'" contiguity in the latter type of aphasia. Metaphor is alien to the similarity disorder, and metonymy to the contiguity disorder.

The development of a discourse may take place along two differ­ent semantic lines: one topic may lead to another either through their similarity or through their contiguity. The METAPHORIC way would be the most appropriate term for the first case and the METONYMIC way for the second, since they find their most condensed expression in metaphor and metonymy respectively. In aphasia one or the other of these two processes is restricted or totally blocked - an effect which makes the study of aphasia particularly illuminat­ing for the linguist. In normal verbal behavior both processes are continually operative, but careful observation will reveal that under the influence of a cultural pattern, personality, and verbal style, preference is given to one of the two processes over the other.

In a well-known psychological test, children are confronted with some noun and told to utter the first verbal response that comes into their heads. In this experiment two opposite linguistic pre­dilections are invariably exhibited: the response is intended either as a substitute for, or as' a complement to, the stimulus. In the latter case the stimulus and the response together form a proper syntactic construction, most usually a sentence. These two types of reaction have been labeled SUBSTITUTIVE and PREDICATIVE.

To the stimulus hut one response was burnt out; another, is a poor little house. Both reactions are predicative; but the first creates a purely narrative context, while in the second there is a double' connection with the subject hut: on the one hand, a positional (namely, syntactic) contiguity, and on the other a semantic similarity.

The same stimulus produced the following substitutive reactions: the tautology hut; the synonyms cabin and hovel; the antonym palace, and the metaphors den and burrow. The capacity of two words to replace one another is an instance of positional similarity, and, in addition, all these responses are linked to the stimulus by semantic similarity (or contrast). Metonymical responses to the same stimulus, such as thatch litter, or poverty, combine and con­trast the positional similarity with semantic contiguity.

In manipulating these two kinds of connection (similarity and contiguity) in both their aspects (positional and semantic) - select­ing, combining, and ranking them - an individual exhibits his personal style, his verbal predilections and preferences. In verbal art the interaction of these two elements is especially pronounced. Rich material for the study of this relationship is to be found in verse patterns which require a compulsory PARALLELISM between adjacent lines, for example in Biblical poetry or in the Finnic and, to some extent, the Russian oral traditions. This provides an objective criterion of what in the given speech com­munity acts as a correspondence. Since on any verbal level ­morphemic, lexical, syntactic, and phraseological - either of these two relations (similarity and contiguity) can appear - and each in either of two aspects, an impressive range of possible configurations is created. Either of the two gravitational poles may prevail. In Russian lyrical songs, for example, metaphoric constructions predominate, while in the heroic epics the metonymic way is preponderant. In poetry there are various motives which determine the choice between these alternants. The primacy of the metaphoric process in the literary schools of romanticism and symbolism has been repeatedly acknowledged, but it is still insufficiently realized that it is the predominance of metonymy which underlies and actually predetermines the so-called 'realistic' trend, which belongs to an intermediary stage between the decline of romanticism and the rise of symbolism and is opposed to both. Following the path of contiguous relationships, the realist author metonymically digresses from the plot to the atmosphere and from the characters to the setting in space and time. He is fond of synecdochic details. In the scene of Anna Karenina's suicide Tolstoi's artistic attention is focused on the heroine's handbag; and in War and Peace the synecdoches "hair on the upper lip" and "bare shoulders" are used by the same writer to stand for the female characters to whom these features belong.

The alternative predominance of one or the other of these two processes is by no means confined to verbal art. The same oscilla­tion occurs in sign systems other than language.25 A salient example from the history of painting is the manifestly metonymical orientation of cubism, where the object is transformed into a set of synecdoches; the surrealist painters responded with a patently metaphorical attitude. Ever since the productions of D. W. Griffith, the art of the cinema, with its highly developed capacity for chang­ing the angle, perspective, and focus of 'shots', has broken with the tradition of the theater and ranged an unprecedented variety of synecdochic 'close-ups' and metonymic 'set-ups' in general. In such motion pictures as those of Charlie Chaplin and Eisen­stein,26 these devices in turn were overlayed by a novel, metaphoric "montage" with his "lap dissolves" - the filmic similes.


At 7/12/2011 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Rosmarie WALDROP. G. C. Waldrep's name is spelled in the manner you suggest in your post. Very interesting post otherwise!


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