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12 - Verbal communication - Part 3

  In this unit, we will examine the other three elements of the communication system along with their three functions:

ON THE NET - english

  1. message (poetic function)
  2. contact (phatic function)
  3. code (metalinguistic function).

  Factors of verbal communication 1:

ADDRESSER ------------------ MESSAGE ----------------- ADDRESSEE

  Fundamental functions of the verbal communication 2:
EMOTIVE ------------------ POETIC ----------------- CONATIVE

Poetic function

  In the previous unit, we affirmed that an utterance is built by selection (syntagmatic axis) and combination (syntagmatic axis). Well, JAkobsón states that «The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination» 3. In simpler words, we can say that, in poetry, the principles of syntactical construction - rules that prevent certain types of contiguousness - are sometimes ignored, and syntagmatic construction (verse composition) occurs by referring to the paradigmatic repertoire. Here is an example. Although it is in Italian, it should be clear that its importance is in the sound of word and word combinations, not in their denotative meaning:

Chi mai grida in Crimea
dai crinali violacei?
Quale ardente chimera
incrimina la pace?
Lacrime di Crimea!
La chimera dilegua
oltre le creste cremisi
col grido della tregua. 4

  "Le creste cremisi" is an example in which two words, in this case "creste" and "cremisi", are close on the paradigmatic axis (they both begin with accented "cre"), while they are not a common combination on the syntagmatic axis. The repetition of the string "cri", and its absence when the reader is induced to expect it ("chimera", with the "r" sound in a different position so that the quick reader is induced to read again "Crimea" instead of "Chimera", or "crinali", which is easier to read as "crimali") is one of many points of this poetic texture that flows on its own, without any syntagmatic concern. Poetic discourse is based on collocation, meter, paronomasia, displacement, and actual or feigned parallelism. If one tries to translate this passage into prose, or into English, one realizes at once what is not always apparent.

  It can be, therefore, inferred that the poetic function is based on the message, which becomes important as such, almost regardless of the other six elements of the communication.

  It is important to keep in mind that the poetic function can be found even in a prose text. In this case, the poetic function is not the dominant, but it can be found under the layers of the other (more important) functions. Here is an example taken right from the JAkobsón's text we are dealing with.

['] in metalanguage the sequence is used to build an equation, whereas in poetry the equation is used to build a sequence 5.
  We can see that the two phrases, separated by "whereas", have a parallel construction, and are characterized by the chiastic exchange of "sequence" and "equation". Parallelism and chiasmus are peculiar to the poetic function, even in an essay - where the poetic value is definitely of secondary importance.

The phatic function

  Some messages are not relevant to the MESSAGE in the center of the table above: their main aim is to maintain the contact with the addressee. Good examples could be sentences like "Hello?" or "Can you hear me?" (speaking by phone) or, again, sentences that aim at prolonging a contact, a conversation. In an elevator, for instance, the contact with other people is an end in itself and its function is that of avoiding some embarrassing minutes of silence: the sentence "It's a nice day, isn't it?", disguised as a question, is merely a way of making some kind of conversation. An answer like "Yes, but yesterday it was less windy" actually means ("Yes, I am ready to keep a contact with you, provided that, in our relationship, we will limit ourselves to formal exchanges").
  In fact, the term "phatic" originates from the Greek term phatikós, which means "statement, utterance".
  Before learning to speak - according to JAkobsón - the infants learn the phatic function: when they understand that, by pronouncing a syllable or a vowel, there's someone who responds to them, who tries to get in touch with them, by replying, by making interpretations in a loud voice, by exchanging glances (eye contact), they are induced to make certain sounds in order to establish a contact (preverbal communication).

The metalinguistic function

  When language is used to talk about language itself (code), the communication is metalinguistic. A good example would be: "What are you saying? Are you speaking in English or what?".
  The same occurs when language is used to explain the meaning of a word. This is called autonymy, i.e. a word that refers not to its signified but to itself, to the signifier.
  By "metalinguistic function", we mean an utterance in which the addressee gives or ask for information about the code.
  The reader is not supposed to know the meaning of "metalinguistic function", which is explained in our example. It is apparent that the locution above cannot refer to its signified, because the latter is supposed to be unknown to the reader.
  In other words, autonymy is a sort of "short circuit" of the usual signifier-signified relationship. The signified is mentioned, but not to trigger possible associations with likely meanings: the signifier is temporarily "off", "deactivated"; it is only a sound or a sign that do not refer to anything, because we are talking about its cross-references, its links.

Bibliographical references

JAkobsón R. Language in Literature.
Ed. by Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy. Cambridge (Massachusetts), Belknap Press, 1987.

JAkobsón R. Linguistics and poetics. In Language in Literature.
Ed. by K. Pomorska and S. Rudy, p. 62-94. Cambridge (Massachusetts), Harvard University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-674-51028-3.

Scialoja T. La mela di Amleto.
Milano, Garzanti, 1984.