Jacobson - Metaphor and Metonymy

What makes a verbal message poetic?
What is the poetic function of language?


A. The six functions:

Any given act of verbal communication is composed of six factors:

  1. Addresser (speaker, narrator, author)
  2. Addressee (hearer, reader, viewer, user)
  3. Code (system)
  4. Message (text; discourse, what is being said)
  5. Context (referent; about what?)
  6. Contact (channel of communication; psychological or physical connection)

Corresponding to these six factors, depending on the factor emphasized in a specific message, are six functions:

  1. Emotive (expressive - a cry, a sigh: emphasis on addresser)
  2. Conative (appellative - ordering, begging: emphasis on addressee)
  3. Metalingual (linguistic: focus on code)
  4. Poetic
  5. Referential (denotative - journalistic: focus on context)
  6. Phatic ("hello, hello.."; "are you angry?"- emphasis on contact, clearing channel for communication)

The focus within the verbal message on one of the six factors, creates a message corresponding to a certain function.

All other functions are always there as well but are subordinate to the dominant one.

When the focus is on the message itself the function of the message, according to Jacobson, is poetic.


B. The two operations:

The message construction is based on two simultaneous operations*:

  1. Combination (horizontal) - constructing syntactic links; contexture.
    Relation through contiguity, juxtaposition.
    METONYMY - implying time, cause and effect, a chain of successive events

  2. Selection (vertical) - choosing among equivalent options.
    Relation on basis of similarity, substitution, equivalence or contrast; synonym / antonym.
    METAPHOR - implying space, a-temporal connection, simultaneity.

In poetry - the projection of the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection (metaphor) is used as the major means of constructing a sequence (combination; metonym).

This projection, according to Jacobson, is the defining characteristic of poetry, and it expresses itself in rhyme, meter, symmetries, repetitions, motifs.

The dominant mode in the poetic is therefore that of metaphor. Whereas in Prose - the metonym prevails, the chain of events, the plot, successive actions, a sequence of occurrences**.


*The terms METONYMY and METAPHOR are not used as figures of speech but rather as pervasive forces organizing language.

**The opposition is not an absolute one, but rather a mark of a tendency.


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