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Hugh Bredin ROMAN JAKOBSON ON METAPHOR AND METONYMY Roman jakobson's "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasie Disturbances" is a fundamental text in the Structuralist corpus, and has been extremely influential in studies of metaphor, in literary criticism, in philosophy of language, and in the theory and description of culture.1 It is not just its thought, but its language also, that has proved persuasive: here it was that Jakobson drew his famous distinction between metaphor and metonymy; and in some circles, to call a thing (say a social or religious ritual) "métonymie" or "metaphoric" is instantly illuminating. It would be taken to explain something of its inner structure and character, its relation to other rituals, and its relation even to other cultural artifacts and practices. Yet a thoughtful reading of the paper brings a sense of discomfort. There are certain obscurities in its most basic concepts, a suspicious neatness in its distinctions , a careless loosening of the notions of metaphor and metonymy, that provoke caution. Intellectually brilliant and innovative, it tempts us to follow where it leads;2 but it is the pedestrian purpose of this article to subject the text to a more rigorous scrutiny than is customary, to see whether its obscurities can be eliminated, its thought clarified, and whether metaphor and metonymy yield to the explanation, and sustain the weight, that they have been given. The main purpose ofJakobson's paper is to formulate a theory on the basis of which we may interpret and classify the various types of aphasia, that is, types of pathological language disorders. The theory in question is one which he espoused in a number of other papers as well as the one examined here, and in the exposition that follows reference will be made to them also wherever it may be useful.3 Every speech event, according toJakobson, requires the intermingling of two types of operation. One is the selection of the linguistic items that are to be employed in the utterance; the other is the combination of these selected items into 89 90Philosophy and Literature completed utterances. Jakobson provides us with the following illustrative example. If, for instance, I intend to tell something about my father, I have to make a conscious or subconscious choice of one of the possible terms — father, parent, papa, dad, daddy; then, if I want to say that he is in bad shape, again I select one of the suitable words: ill, sick, indisposed, not healthy, ailing. Selections are one aspect of the twofold event, and the combination of the two selected verbal entities, "Father is sick," is its other aspect, (p. 308) Two things are worth singling out for mention here. One is clear from the quotation just given: that selection and combination do not occur consecutively, but intermingle at every point; it is their cooperation, not their successive operancy, that produces speech. The other is that they operate and cooperate at every level of speech. "Father" is made up of phonemes, each of which has been selected and combined with the other phonemes. But each of the phonemes is itself a product of selection and combination. So too are any longer items — morphemes, words, phrases, sentences, each on its own level (pp. 233-34). Finally, chunks ofdiscourse such as stories, or explanations, are combinations of selected sentences. In all speech, at every level, selection and combination are fundamental and ubiquitous. Closely associated with the notions of selection and combination are those of similarity and contiguity. With characteristic brevity, Jakobson writes, "Selection is based on similarity, and combination on contiguity" (p. 292). When a speaker selects a particular word for incorporation in a sentence he is preparing to utter, he does not select it from the whole storehouse of his vocabulary. Rather, he selects it from a set of similar words — a substitution set, as Jakobson calls it (p. 244). Thus, in the example cited, "father" is chosen from the substitution set {father, parent, papa, dad, daddy . . .}, and "sick" from the substitution set { ill, sick, indisposed, not healthy, ailing . . . }. The notion of similarity is a very wide-ranging one, as is evident in this remark: "The entities among which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 89-103
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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