Langue and Parole: code and message; Roman Jakobson's

Lenguaje # Tradition linguistics. Dialogue. Evolution of language

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Throughout this paper we are trying to develop one of Roman Jakobson´s works, which is part of a book called Langue and Parole: Code and Message. But before starting with it we will give a brief account of his biography.

Roman Jakobson was born in Moscow, in 1896, an died in Boston 1982. He was the founder of the Prague School and developed their theoretical and practical concerns into new areas of study. He was also Professor of Russian at the Higher Dramatic School in Moscow. In 1941 he went to the U.S.A. He taught there Slavic languages and literature, then general linguistics at Harvard.

The book destroys some old-fashioned ideas that accompanied linguistics until XX century. First of all, he tries to widen the reading public of these kind of books. The long tradition in linguistics was only aimed at people related with it such as writers, critics and of course, linguistics. It was not until the Renaissance that linguistic books were beginning to be written in vernacular, although the normal language continued to be Latin. Latin was used basically because it was considered the language by which knowledge should be developed, and it also helped to spread through the world the new theories as a lingua franca. But, although it could be read everywhere, the readers were just a few, because just a few people could read in Latin and it was moreover an expecialised field. With the new tendencies for linguists in using their mother tongue, this barriers were removed, but they created new ones. Instead of a foreign language, they used a complex and nearly hermetic grammar and lexicon. This contributed to maintain a small group or readers. But this tendency changed with Saussure and especially with Roman Jakobson. They, as good teachers, tried to communicate the things they knew to the maximum number of people. That is why they do not use a very complex syntax, and they try to explain very plainly every possible dark point in their theories, using also a lot of examples to make the issue even more clear. It is obvious that they have to use technical language, because this literature is a technical one, but they define every term used without letting anything supposed.

The second basic point in his work is that he tries to focus the linguistic matters from a relative point of view. Every previous linguist, based his theory in one aspect of a problem. For example Neogrammarians developed only the so called historical linguistics, asserting that synchrony was not an appropriate linguistic. The only important field was the development of a language and its changes throughout history. Saussure, for example detached very precisely what he called langue and parole, as the general rules of a given language and it individual utterances. The first one was very clearly related to the community and the other to the individual. Jakobson will show us that the borders of these two elements are not so clearly established.

A third important point that strikes our mind when reading the text is that Jakobson does not use the terms of his Communication Theory. He uses normal terms as speaker, listener, dialogue, speech, etc. He does not use the technical words brought to linguistics by him such as addresser, addressee, message, code, etc. This can have two different causes: the first one, and less probable, is that he tries to present his achievements as clear as possible, without inserting different or new terms as the ones used until then. The second cause, and for us the most possible, is that the has not developed this theory yet, and that is why, obviously, he can not use this terms.

The text itself is developed in a very plain and understandable way. He starts giving us a rough introduction of linguistics until the XX century and showing us the “old” linguistic points of view. Then he places himself in the very root of linguistics, the nature of language and the importance of taking into account the function of it. From there, he goes to the dichotomy of langue and parole,(one of the pillars of modern linguistics), presenting new approaches to it. Then he speaks about the dialogue and the basic communicative problems of change and evolution in a language.

By this brief presentation of the subjects related in the text, (that later on will be more deeply analysed), we can appreciate that he follows a clear order, with an introduction, development and conclusion. If we had come across the manuscript of this chapter instead of being in a book, we would have though that it was a pack of class-notes from a teacher or a student. Another point that supports this idea is that the titles are very condensed and we can foresee not only the issues referred to but also the goals reached.

Going back to his way of theorising, we has seen that he normally does not make up ideas from nothing. He tries to base his new approaches on previous ones. Jakobson will re-create them, modifying their weak points or he will take them as correctly formed and from there he will extend them. He also makes a lot of references to other authors, something that tells us that he is very well versed in this field and what is more important, something that will help him to renew linguistic studies from past achievements.

Now we are going to make a summary of the goals he has reached in this book.

One of the first points he emphasises in is that language is something practical. It is a tool for human civilization and, like a bus, (he gives us this fine example), and “...the important thing for any tool, be it a machine or a language, is its function”. Then, from this point, he presents another way of studying language, which is to analyse the constituent parts of it, from the point of view of their functions and their mutual relationships; in the same way as we should consider all the basic elements of a bus in relation to the requirements of transportation.

This does not mean that we have to study the language of individual as the only linguistic reality and the language of a community as merely a scholarly abstraction, as it was done in the second half of XIX century. Language itself should be the most studied and fertile field of linguistics, but without forgetting the individual utterances.

Jakobson also criticises Saussure of atomising his theory. But to what an extent, was it Saussure´s theory. We know that it was transcripted by his students from his classes and that the book has got some confounding ideas. The book would be very different if it were Saussure himself the one who wrote it.

From this point, Jakobson goes to the dichotomy of langue and parole re-building Saussures´s theory. In it, ( Saussure´s ), he detached langue and parole asserting that the first was a potential capacity and a collective pattern, while the second was a realised utterance of personal manifestations. Jakobson re-takes this theory remarking their connection. The individual has got in himself this collective pattern and he conforms language through it. Langue can be analysed form the individual point of view, because as Jakobson said: “The linguistic values approved by collective consent still need the personal consent of the speaker”. On the other hand parole needs at least two people to be uttered ( we will see later on that the basic act of parole is dialogue). By the so called dialogue the roles of speaker and listener (he does not yet uses the terms addresser and addressee), are interchanged so it is an interpersonal or social phenomenon. Moreover, langue implies continuity, it removes the temporal separation and the discontinuity between acts of parole. Langue is a kind of diachronic element that links past, present and future while parole is synchronic, it is just a momentary utterance. Having reached to this point, we can only differ langue and parole by their potential and realised values and the diachronic and synchronic opposition as a cause of it..

Re-taking the dialogue as the main approach to parole, Jakobson states that acquisition of language in children starts in dialogues, also observed by Bloomfield in his book The Study of Language, 1933. He studied how children started to speak in a way that reminded monologues, although it only aimed to perform their capability of speaking, for being better understood in future dialogues.

Furthermore, Jakobson, analyses monologues as a preeminently intersubjective issue, because although there is not alternation of roles, the listeners are active characters. They react in their way, interpret, approve or repudiate the monologue. He also mentions the classic plays, in which the actors talked to an audience, but forgetting that in the Aristotelian theory of mimesis he mentions the drama as the genre that is most similar to reality because there were only dialogues to present actions.

From there, he takes the difficult task of analysing inner language or the language of the mind. In this section of his studies, we can appreciate the influence of modern psychology and, of course, Freud´s. He affirms that inner language is neither a full nor an autonomous language. It is only completed when exteriorised through conversation. Even the affective language is controlled by our social group.When we come across a certain situation we chose among a given bundle of expressions though it seems individual and unpredicted.

The speech of an individual not only differs him from the rest of members of his group, but also contrast it with different social groups. (Here, we can foresee his way of defining phonological elements, by their opposition. Also shared by all functionalists). Taking this into account, we can appreciate two forces that interact: the first one remarks the differences between an individual and his community, and the second one the unity shared by language. The union is given by forming part of a community and the difference because we are unique individuals. Saussure only saw the spatial dimension of the matter, but Jakobson inserted the temporal concept. Someone is not only distinct from his-her neighbours but also from his-her ancestors. These previously said forces will also affect the time.

Talking about the evolution of language, Jakobson asserts that we have got in our mind all the new creations. So the evolutions of a language do not occur when talking (in parole), because all those elements were previously and potentially there. In this point I have to disagree with him. In our minds we have got an infinite number of possibilities and changes.But it is only in the moment we exteriorise them when they can be shared by other individuals and “inserted” in language. If not, they would never act. It is like saying that someone is a “good painter” because he-she has in his-her mind very good pictures. But its is only by painting them that the people can admire his-her work and he-she become a “good painter”.

Going a bit further, I think that in this case, Jakobson has played with the words to place Saussure out of his meaning. Extracting from the text Saussure´s quotation we can read: “It is parole which causes langue to evolve”. By this he clearly asserts that every change in langue must come through parole. Only when we utter this changes we have got in our minds or in other languages (something forgotten here when talking about the evolution of a language is the loaning) they can be known and shared by other people, and can be transferred to the field of langue. But Jakobson says relating to Saussure´s sentence: “Consequently, the source of an innovation must be sought in langue. Thus, we see that Saussure himself unwittingly refutes his own affirmation that the source of all changes is to be found in parole”. Jakobson is playing with Saussure´s words, with the help that they are placed separately in the text and we would not remember exactly the words. But as I said lately, it is not what Saussure said.

He also affirms that a change will be lost if a community does not accept and share the given change. Firstly they are only some members the ones that utter the change. The second step is remarked by a co-existence of two forms, the new and the old one. If the change fructifies, the old use will tend to be lost.

From there, he goes back again to the point that the source of changes are placed in langue. He supports this idea alleging that the speakers of a language are “profoundly ignorant” of the complex system of it but they use it correctly. So as Saussure said the “laws” are placed in the subconscious, and the changes ultimately are done there. This is the real linguistic activity for most linguists. But he points out, very smartly, that literary language is recognised because these changes are conscious. That is why they could have being repudiated by scholars as not pure and uncontrolled.

Another conclusion he reaches is that the value of a word changes by its repetition. And the more a word is repeated the quicker it changes the meaning. Then its uses become automatic ones and the users do not find the meaning they want to express. Thus, they have to find new words to fill the gap created by the previous one.

At the end, he places a conclusion,. A summary of his ideas to be even easier for his readers to distinguish the basic points of his book.

An essay on Roman Jakobson´s Langue and Parole: Code and Message.