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Roman Jakobson, linguistica e poetica

Edoardo Esposito
Stefania Sini
Marina Castagneto

Il tempo grande di Roman Jakobson

Roman Jakobson’s Poetics in China: 2000-2015

Liu Dan

Texte intégral

This paper has been presented as a conference paper for International Conference Roman Jakobson: Linguistics and Poetics in Italy in 2015. Further revisions have been added after the conference.

1. Introduction

1Roman Jakobson had never visited China during his lifetime, yet his theories have already travelled to China and drawn great interests from the Chinese academia. As a matter of fact, the earliest study on him in China can be dated back to the 1980s.The current study will focus on Jakobson in China since the new millennium. Being a great linguist, semiotician, literary critic and theorist, Roman Jakobson has always been the focus of study in the fields of linguistics, literature, and translation studies. The paper first gives an overall survey of Jakobsonian studies in China. Since 2000, researches on Jakobson in China have approached Jakobsonian studies from diversified angles. The second part of the paper centers on Chinese scholars’ studies on some of the key areas of study related to literature and literary criticism and theory, i.e. Jakobson’s poetic function, the concept of literariness, grammar of poetry, metaphor and metonymy, and comparative studies between Jakobson and other outstanding literary theorists. It is hoped that such an analysis will provide a more concrete image of Jakobson in China from the year 2000 to 2015.

2. Overall Survey of Jakobsonian Studies in China since 2000

2.1 Studies from the perspectives of linguistics, translatology and semiotics

2Since 2000, there have been more than 75 journal articles, 11 degree theses, 1 newspaper article and at least 2 books related to Jakobson studies from different perspectives in China. They approached Jakobson studies from the angles of linguistics, literary criticism and theories, translation studies, and communication studies and so on. Among the researches published in China we could trace some of the central topics under discussion in Chinese academic circles.

2.1.1.Linguistics perspective

  • 2 Tian Xing, On Jakobson’s Succession and Development of Saussure’s Opposition Principle, «Journal o (...)
  • 3 Gu Wenwen, On Linguistic Interpretation of Artistic Symbols, MA Dissertation, Shangdong Normal Uni (...)

3While exploring Jakobson’s contribution in the field of linguistics, Chinese scholars compare and explore his succession and development of Saussure’s linguistic principles. For example, Professor Qian Jun (2002) studies the relationship between Jakobson and Saussure from the perspective of linguistic history and further explores the problems existing in the study of linguistic history. Similarly, Tian Xing (2007) published an essay entitled On Jakobson’s Succession and Development of Saussure’s Opposition Principle, in which she maintained that «Jakobson explored the functions of language and their relationship from the communicative perspective, and has made great contribution to the turning of linguistics from formalism to functionalism».2 In his effort to surpass the limitations of Saussure, Jakobson creatively develops Saussure’s opposition principle. Based on Jakobson’s functional viewpoint, the paper discusses Jakobson’s succession and development of Saussure’s opposition principle on the level of the construction of functional system, the dialectical relationship of the functional system and the functioning of phonological system. Gu Wenwen (2008) made a comparative research between Saussure and Jakobson’s language structure diagram with the purpose of analyzing art symbols from the perspective of linguistic interpretation. According to Gu’s analysis, Jakobson holds the idea that «researches on language structure and those on artistic symbol performance can be combined together through the intermediary of thought».3 This MA dissertation elaborates the art symbol’s performance deviation for several influential factors through examples, which demonstrate the practice of analyzing art symbol method from linguistics perspective.

4There are also researches related to Jakobson’s contribution to neurolinguistics, the concept of hyperphoneme, and the concept of mark. For example, Ni Chuanbin (2013) summarizes Jakobson’s contribution from three aspects, namely, aphasia, child language development and neurolinguistics. Qu Changliang (2013) studies the concept of hyperphoneme from the angle of correlativity and functional opposition. Nie Na (2007) adopts the vector space to formulate mathematical modeling of Jakobson’s theories on features of phoneme distinctions. Qian Jun (2000) and other Chinese scholars have studied Jakobson’s concept of mark by tracing the development of this concept from Jakobson, Chomsky, and Lyons.

2.1.2 Translation studies

5Jakobson’s essay on translation On Linguistic Aspects of Translation has been a focus of study for Chinese scholars in the field of translation studies. They try to explain the implication of Jakobson’s translation theory by reading closely Jakobson’s essay and explored such topics as linguistic or semiotic fact, translation classification, semiotic message equivalence and the research of translatability. Li Yunxia (2005) summarizes Jakobson’s translation theory and comments on the arguments raised in the essay A Summary and Comment on Jakobson’s Translation Theory. Chen Yihua (2006) studies the relevance theory in Jakobson translation theory. He states that Jakobson, from the framework of semiotics, discusses the classification and layers of translation, language discrepancies, and equivalence, thus concludes that Jakobson’s translation theory is closely related to the relevance theory. Li Jing (2009) holds the idea that Jakobson approaches translation from the perspective of linguistics and introduces such concepts as Jakobson’s classification of translation, meaning of language, equivalence theory, translatability and untranslatability. Thus the essay concludes a new perspective has been revealed by Jakobson in the area of translation theory. Meanwhile, the essay also mentions that Jakobson’s translation theory is quite abstract and he does not provide specific examples to illustrate the application of his theory into translation practice. Therefore, how to appropriately apply Jakobson’s translation theory into translation practice remains a big question mark. Wu Di (2011) examines the equivalence of English-Chinese translation from the perspective of semiotics. Jakobson divides translation into three categories, namely, intra-lingual translation, inter-lingual translation, and inter-semiotic translation. Then Wu’s essay cites four examples to illustrate how this trichotomy of translation could be applied in English-Chinese translation. Unfortunately, the essay does not explore in depth the background in which such an idea was put forward by Jakobson and the real implications of the three types of translation. Thus the examples given are not really convincing.

2.1.3 Semiotic studies

  • 4 Jiang Fei, “The Fourth Basic Sign Type”: On the Aesthetic Cultural Semiotics of Roman Jakobson, «S (...)
  • 5 Yang Jianguo, Poetics and Myth: A Semiotic Approach to Roman Jakobson’s Poetics, «Foreign Literatu (...)
  • 6 Ibidem, p. 18.

6Jiang Fei (2014) believes that Jakobson’s most remarkable contribution to semiotics is that he synthesized the views of Saussure, the Prague Linguistics Circle and the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce. In his theories of aesthetic cultural semiotics, verbal arts and non-verbal arts must be treated in the total context of semiotics. Thus, poetics must be turned from aesthetic-poetics to aesthetic-arts and even aesthetic cultural semiotics. After transforming and compensating for Peirce’s ‘Trichotomy of Sign’, Jakobson creatively advances the theory of ‘The Fourth Basic Sign Type’. This constructs «a particular paradigm of aesthetic autonomy in the modern cultural context, making an important contribution to the study of contemporary semiotics»4. It is quite significant for Chinese cultural studies or cultural poetics, which emphasize the concept of ‘aesthetics’. Moreover, in his essay on poetics and mythology, Yang Jianguo discusses Jakobson’s poetics discourse from the perspective of semiotics: «As a second-order semiological system myth is endowed with parallelistic structures similar to poems».5 At the same time myth today is also a discourse of aesthetic modernity and constitutes an important part of the modernist culture. According to Yang, Roman Jakobson’s poetics is just such a myth: «Viewed as a hyper-textual semiotic system his poetics shows a parallelistic structure that is peculiar both to poems and to myths».6

2.2 Researches from the perspectives of literary poetics

7Researches from the perspectives of literary poetics form an important part of Jakobsonian studies in China. Generally speaking, some of the key concepts raised by Jakobson have been analyzed by Chinese scholars. Among others, poetic function, literariness, metaphor and metonymy, grammar of poetry are the frequently visited terms in journal articles in China. To be more specific, since 2000, 6 Chinese journal articles and dissertations have devoted to the analysis of poetic function, about 20 on literariness, 4 on grammar of poetry, and 12 on metaphor and metonymy. Moreover, Chinese scholars have also carried out some comparative studies. They compared Jakobson with some outstanding literary theorists, Bakhtin, Husserl, Shklovsky, Roland Barthes to name just a few, to shed more light on the interpretation of Jakobson’s literary theories. As Jakobson’s poetics will be our focus in the current paper, detailed comments shall be presented in the next section.

3. Literary studies on Jakobson’s poetics in China since 2000

3.1 Studies on poetic function

  • 7 Zhao Xiaobin, Poetic Function, «Foreign Literature», 1, 2014, p. 159.

8Professor Zhao Xiaobin carried out some researches on Jakobson’s poetics and published a book entitled Studies on Jakobson’s Poetics. She analyzes the concept of poetic function not only in this book, but also in her journal article entitled Poetic Function. This paper appears in an important column in a very prestigious Chinese Journal on foreign literature, and the column is devoted to the detailed analysis of some key literary terms. She argues that the poetic function is a significance concept in Jakobson’s study of poetics, which serves the purpose of bridging formalism and structuralism. In many of his writings on poetics, Jakobson gave theoretical explanations and undertook practical analyses of this concept. Professor Zhao’s paper focuses on the two interpretations of poetics function and analyzes and elaborates on the concept of referentiality and projection hence induced. It also makes clear the relationship between various terms, such as self-referenticality, multiplicity of functions, dominance and trans-functionalism. Besides stating the special attention poetics function deserves in the aesthetic study of language arts, the paper does not hesitate to point out «the self-contradiction between Jakobson’s own definitions of the concepts, so as to reveal the intention and extension of Jakobsonian paradigm of poetic study».7

  • 8 Yang Jianguo, Jakobson’s Poetics in the Horizon of Aesthetic Modernity, Doctorate Dissertation, Na (...)

9Yang Jianguo’s doctorate dissertation entitled Jakobson’s Poetics in the Horizon of Aesthetic Modernity has Roman Jakobson’s poetics as the object of study, and aims to look into the inter-connection between Jakobson’s poetics and the evolution of modernity in Western society. The dissertation’s focus is not to clarify whether a set of hypothesis in Jakobson’s poetics are valid or not, but to delve into the historical forces behind the formation of the hypotheses. The third chapter of his dissertation focuses on Jakobson’s concept of poetic function. In this chapter entitled Function, the writer furthers discusses «structure and function», «Jakobsonian concept of linguistic functions», «poetic function» and lastly «Poetic function and modern radical aesthetics». After clarifying the two often intermixing terms (structure and function), Yang tries to trace the evolution of Jakobson’s functional linguistic ideas, especially the evolution of his ideas on the poetic function. Then, the chapter tries to give a reinterpretation of his definition of poetic function, with its being situated in the context of modernist culture: «With a comparison with Adorno’s aesthetic theory, Jakobson’s definition of the poetic function shows as part of the radical aesthetics of modernism».8 Therefore, he does not only trace the development of the term poetic function, more importantly, he also wants to illustrate how this concept can be understood in the context of modernistic aesthetics.

  • 9 Tian xing, On Jakobson’s Poetic Function of Verbal Art, «Foreign Languages and Their Teaching», 6, (...)
  • 10 Ibidem.

10In an essay written by Tian Xing, the writer focuses her study on Jakobson’s viewpoint of artistic function. Roman Jakobson has explored the verbal art from the structural-functional perspective. According to Tian, «the dynamic linguistic functions not only involve the external social contexts, but also act as the internal structure of language whose interactions constitute the linguistic and literary changes taking place on both synchronic and diachronic levels, thus reveals the essence of the verbal art».9 Jakobson’s functional view of the verbal art «puts emphasis on an open multiplicity of functions instead of the closed monotonicity, and on the dominance of the poetic function instead of the detachment of the verbal art».10 The paper thus concludes that Jakobson’s idea of poetic function simultaneously deepens our thought about language and literature and their mutual relationships.

3.2 Studies on Grammar of Poetry

11In discussing Jakobson’s grammar of poetry, two journal articles by Tian Xing are quite thought-provoking. One of the essays is entitled The Grammatical Charm in Poetry: Theory and Practice of Jakobson’s ‘Grammar of Poetry’. In this essay, Tian (2008) proposes that Jakobson’s ‘Grammar of Poetry’ is both poetic theory and critical practice. It differs from the humanistic study of poetry, and reconsiders the generation of meaning of literary works from the perspective of language structure and function through grammatical analysis of poetry. Jakobson’s analyses of two of Pushkin’s lyrics indicate that the grammar in poetry has unique charm: the interactions of the opposite grammatical categories not only construct a poem, but also contribute to its semantic explanation. Therefore, the theory and practice of ‘Grammar of Poetry’ express the pursuit of Jakobson as a linguist towards literary science, and expand the academic vision of the related fields of poetry, language and literary criticism.

12Another essay by Tian Xing (2009) focuses on the application of Jakobson’s poetic function to the explanation of traditional Chinese poetry. This essay is divided into three main parts. The author first introduces Jakobson’s concept of ‘poetic function’. Then the second part explains the poetic function of Chinese poetry by citing three examples. In her opinion, the principle of equivalence can be applied in the discussion of the three Chinese poems chosen. In the last part of the essay, Tian explores the relationship between Jakobson’s poetic function and traditional Chinese poetics. Thus the essay draws the conclusion that poetics function can not only help reveal the charm and beauty of traditional Chinese poetry, but also bring enlightenment to Chinese traditional poetic studies.

3.3 Studies on the concept of literariness

13Jakobson’s concept of ‘literariness’ has always been a focus of study for Chinese scholars. The early discussion on it can be dated back to 1980s. A renowned Chinese scholar named Qian Jiaoru published an essay entitled Literariness and Defamiliarization. Two Important Theoretical Frameworks in Early Russian Formalism in 1989. In this essay, Professor Qian tries to interpret literariness and defamiliarization in the context of early Russian formalism so that Chinese readers in the 1980s could have the opportunity to know the basic meaning of these two key terms.

  • 11 Alex Preminger, Terry Brogran e Frank Warnke, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics(...)
  • 12 Zhang Hanliang, “Literariness” and Comparative Poetics: An Excavation on Knowledge, «Comparative L (...)

14Recently, this concept again occupies a focal point in literary study in China. Hu Tao in his essay entitled R. Jakobson and Literariness explores the fundamental meaning of literariness. He argues that there’s something doubtful about the prevalent belief about Jakobson and the concept of ‘literariness’. The important values and status that the concept now has made people ignore the research on its origins. Thus he tries to approach its concept from its origin. In his viewpoint, we should go back to Jakobson’s original texts, namely, The Latest Russian Poetry (1919) and A Postscript to the Discussion on Grammar of Poetry (1980) to explore what Jakobson really means when he used the term ‘литературность’ in Russian or ‘literariness’ in English. In The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993), literariness is explained as «In Jakobson’s words, “the subject of literary scholarship is not lit. in its totality, but literariness, i.e. that which makes of a given work a work of lit”».11 Thus the paper concludes that if we read the original text carefully, we may easily find that Jakobson did not present the concept deliberately, and Russian Formalists did not accept it extensively. The relationship between the concept and ‘making strange’ was constructed by later researchers. He also notes in Zhang Hanliang’s essay “Literariness” and Comparative Poetics: An Excavation on Knowledge, Zhang boldly suggests that there is a potentially underlying political text, that is, the coinage of ‘literariness’ originates from an echoing of Lenin’s word partignost in English or Dangxing in Chinese.12 Therefore, it is safe to say the current usage of literariness in China or Wenxuexing in Chinese is actually originated from its usage in Chinese in 1930s, and is the result of a selective mistranslation when introducing Western literary theory into Chinese context.

15Similar to this viewpoint, Ji Jiandao (2013) in his essay An Analysis of Jakobson’s Concept of Literariness discusses the origin, development, and interpretation of this concept in different contexts. As a research subject for literary studies, literariness can be explained from three aspects. First, literariness indicates the literary features of a piece of work; thus we should study its textuality; second, it implies scientific features which emphasize the form of a literary work. Thirdly, literariness also indicates creative features, for we cannot ignore the diachronic features of a literary form. Therefore in exploring the connotation of literariness, we should approach it from the angle of linguistics and emphasize the poetic function of a literary work.

16Moreover, there are a significant number of essays devoted to the reinterpretation of this concept in different contexts. Professor Shi Zhongyi (2000) published an essay entitled Literariness in My Eyes, which categorized the definition of literariness into five types, i.e. formalistic definition, pragmatic definition, structuralistic definition, literary ontological definition and defining the term in literary narrative context. This essay really provides some enlightening viewpoints on this term and provides an overall picture of literariness in different periods of times. Also, there are essays devoting to the construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of this term, and in particular, some essays try to understand this term in the current context, which call for people’s awareness of applying the term in the interpretation of current literary creations.

3.4 Studies on the concept of metaphor and metonymy

  • 13 Wu Hongmiao, Similarity and Contiguity: Jakobson’s Metaphor and Metonymy, «Yangtze River Academic» (...)

17Similarity and Contiguity: Jakobson’s Metaphor and Metonymy by Wu Hongmiao is worth mentioning when we deal with Chinese scholar’s study on the concept of metaphor and metonymy. Wu traces the origin of the two concepts to the French literary circle. Jakobson defines metaphor as similarity, thus indicates a paradigmatic relation, whereas metonymy as contiguity thus indicates a syntagmatic relationship. After explaining the two concepts, Wu states that «when tracing the evolution of metaphor in culture and poetry, metaphor enlarges the gap between the subject and its metaphorical object».13 While metonymy tends to be more scientific and objective, it will come back to metaphor ultimately.

18Wang Ping (2015) explores metaphor and metonymy put forward in Jakobson’s famous essay Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances. Enlightened by his own study on aphasia, Jakobson develops Saussure’s theory of binary opposition and brings metaphor and metonymy into literary studies. This paper treats the two terms as a combination in analyzing literary language and enlarges the scope of application. Guo Lin (2011) discusses metaphor and literary theories in her doctorate dissertation. In the second chapter of her dissertation, she explores the function of metaphor in forming the meaning of a literary text. She traces the importance of metaphor in such new critics as William Empson who regards metaphor as the first and fundamental category of ambiguity. Then she discusses metaphor in the context of Russian formalism and structuralism, represented by Shklovsky’s concept of defamiliarization and Jakobson’s poetic function. Last but not least, this chapter ends by analyzing Ricoeur’s study of metaphor in the context of hermeneutics. Zhao Tianmin (2014) approaches metaphor and metonymy from four areas of studies, i.e. in rhetorics, in aphasia, in poetics and in stylistics. His paper also tries to demonstrate the influence of Jakobson’s concept of metaphor and metonymy on Roland Barthes and Russian semiotician Yuri Lotman.

3.5 Comparative study on Jakobson and other literary theorists

  • 14 Jiang Fei, A Comparative Study between Jakobson’s poeticity-bound pattern and Bakhtin’s context-bo (...)
  • 15 Ibidem.

19Jakobson and Bakhtin, as contemporary Russian famous philologists, use linguistics to research literature, but finally create different poetic theories for different linguistic positions, metalinguistics and linguistics. Jiang Fei (2015a) makes a comparative study between Jakobson’s ‘poeticity-bound’ pattern and Bakhtin’s ‘context-bound’ pattern. According to Jiang Fei, in Jakobson’s ‘poeticity-bound’ pattern, poeticity is the dominant factor of poetry to make a linguistic message into poetry; the symbolic message itself is underlined, which has the distinct of relative autonomy and decontextualized. In Bakhtin’s ‘context-bound’ pattern, the context where the sender and the receiver are located is determined priority; all literary elements are ‘contexted’ and parts of social ideology.14 Accordingly, Bakhtin believes poetry is lack of intrinsic-dialogism, whereas in the Jakobson’s analysis of «six basic function of verbal communication», poetic message itself contains not only the monologue-style symbolic self-referentiality (poeticity), but also intrinsic-dialogism which is determined by the sender and receiver. Thus these two qualities are both independent and closely related.15

  • 16 Jiang Fei, Roman Jakobson’s Linguistic Poetics and Husserl’s Phenomenology Philosophy, «Research o (...)

20In another essay, Jiang Fei (2015b) compares Roman Jakobson’s linguistic poetics with Husserl’s phenomenology philosophy. In the context of anti-psychologism linguistics research in the early 1900s, based on Husserl’s phenomenological philosophy, Roman Jakobson started his own structural linguistics research of integrity, intentionality and meaning. More importantly, he applied the linguistic theory to his literary research,eventually forming linguistic poetics based on phenomenology and structuralism: «As an application-oriented theorist, Roman practiced Husserl’s phenomenological thoughts by combining concrete linguistic phenomena with literary texts».16 The key to the success of Roman Jakobson’s structural linguistics poetics lies in his application of abstract theory to concrete literary works.

  • 17 Yang Yan, The Coexistence of Humanism and Scientism in the Russian Formalist Poetics - A Compariso (...)

21Yang Yan (2014) explores the coexistence of humanism and scientism in the Russian Formalist Poetics and makes a comparative study between Shklovsky’s poetics and Jakobson’s poetics. Though the Russian formalist poetics is of great importance to the 20th century western literary criticism, it appears as a collective group in the numerous academic researches, and very few researches have been done into the individual members’ contribution to the poetics or into the differences between them. Shklovsky and Jakobson are such individual representative figures of the Russian formalist poetics, and they had a common goal of poetics and research method. Moreover, their poetic researches both relied on linguistic approaches to pursue ‘scientification’, but «in constructing concrete theories, they differed greatly from each other, and gradually demonstrated different theoretical trends: humanism and scientism».17 Based on this, Yang’s paper makes a comparative study on the poetic theories of the two masters of formalism.

  • 18 Bu Zhaoxia, On self-referentiality: from Jakobson to Roland Barthes, «Foreign Literature», 5, 2006 (...)

22Bu Zhaoxia (2006) in her essay on self-referentiality studies the development of this concept from Jakobson to Roland Barthes. She maintains that this concept has significant yet complex meanings in its development from Russian Formalism to French Structuralism, and even to post structuralism. The first part of her essay devotes to explore how this concept was put forward in Jakobson’s speech Linguistics and Poetics in 1958, from which she summarized two layers of meanings, one is to ‘draw people’s attention to literary works itself’ and the other refers to literary works’ function of updating consciousness.18 As for Barthes, self-referentiality can be observed in two aspects. As a literary critic, he discusses self-referentiality while commenting on features of some literary works. Meanwhile, self-referentiality can also be observed in some literary writings, especially in the writings of Brecht and Grillet. Therefore, for Jakobson, self-referentiality emphasized raising new ideas on how literature and reality could refer each other, whereas for Barthes, the relationship between literature and reality is mainly demonstrated in ideology.

3.6 Translation and travelling of Jakobson’s literary theory

23Besides literary studies on Jakobson, some Chinese scholars also worked on the Chinese translations of some important essays on and by Jakobson, which have contributed greatly to the influence and reception in China. For instance, Professor Shi Zhongyi from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences translated Tzvetan Todorov’s essay Dialogue and Monologue: Bakhtin and Jakobson into Chinese and got it published in «Russian Literature and Art», a journal in China in 2007. Professor Qian Jun from Peking University published a Chinese translation of anthology of Jakobson’s essays on linguistics. In the second edition of the book, he divides the essays selected into three categories. The first is entitled Basic Theory and Concepts of General Linguistics, the second part Studies on Phonology and the third Studies on Grammar.

24Professor Zhou Qichao’s essay (2012) Contemporary Foreign Literary Theory Developed in Interdisciplinary Studies and Travelling in Cross-cultures aims to analyze how contemporary foreign theories are showing their influences in different disciplines and different cultures. Taking the travelling of Jakobson’s theory as an example, the article traces how Jakobson develops his theories in different periods of time in his residences in Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and America, revealing the importance of studying literary theory’s acceptance in foreign contexts.

4. General Features of Jakobsonian Studies in China

25Chinese scholars in the fields of linguistics, literary studies, translation studies, and communication studies have contributed from different perspectives to the interpretation of Jakobson’s theories. Their researches demonstrate the following features.

4.1 Diversified topics

26As we can tell from the above analysis, Chinese scholars from different disciplines approach Jakobson from various angles. Usually, those researches are conducted by the following three groups of people. First, there are university professors of Russian language and literature, professors of English language and literature, and professors of Chinese and comparative literature. Then, some research fellows in some research organizations also contribute greatly to Jakobsonian studies. Finally, some graduates, doctorate and post-doctorate candidates also focus their thesis project on Jakobsonian studies. Consequently, their studies can fulfill diversified purposes. Some of the researches focus on introducing and analyzing the basic concept in Jakobson theories. Some try to find the origination of Jakobsonian linguistic study. Still there are studies which aim to apply Jakobson’s theories in the context of Chinese linguistic and literary criticism.

4.2 Discrepancies in quality and quantity

27Another feature of the current studies on Jakobson indicates the discrepancies in quality and quantity. Some of the researched conducted so far have given detailed elaborations and explorations, while some others remain introductory remarks, or even simply repetitions of the previous studies. In the former group, we can read well-reasoned and detailed analysis; while in the latter, we can only find pure introductory remarks, which call for deep analysis and systematic studies.

  • 19 Yang Jianguo, Jakobson’s Poetics in the Horizon of Aesthetic Modernity, Doctorate Dissertation, Na (...)
  • 20 Tian Xing, A Theoretical Research on Jakobson’s Poetics Function, Doctorate Dissertation, Nanjing (...)

28As for the layouts of research publications, most of the researches are, which was published in the form of journal articles, with very few book-length publications. As a matter of fact, there is only one monograph on Jakobson’s poetics, which was published by Professor Zhao Xiaobin in 2014. The main body of her book is divided into six chapters. Chapter One traces the origins of Jakobsonian poetics to modern poetics, Saussure, modern philosophy and modern literary studies. Then in the following two chapters, she devotes to the discussion of Jakobsonian poetics from linguistics and poetics in general, and such specific areas of studies as folk art, mythology, semiotics, and aphasia. Chapters Four and Five aim to apply Jakobsonian poetics to literary critical analysis. Chapter Four devotes to the analysis of poems written by Pushkin, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok, Shakespeare, Philip Sidney and William Blake. Chapter Five analyzes some poets’ writing of essays by exploring the poetic features of essays. The last chapter of her book first compares Jakobson with Bahktin, and then Michael Riffaterre’s critical comment on Jakobson is introduced to reveal the dialogue between text theory and communicative theory. The last two parts of this chapter points out how Jakobson analyzes the relation between poetic texts and contexts, and finally how Jakobson comments on Mayakovsky’s creative writing by presenting a detailed analysis of Jakobson’s essay On The Generation that Squandered its Poets. Since this is the first book-length study on Jakobson’s poetics, Professor Zhao’s work exemplifies a comprehensive and systematic study with detailed researches. Besides this, we are also glad to read some doctorate dissertations on Jakobson in recent years. Among them, three are worth mentioning. Hu Tao (2013) focuses on the concept of literariness. Yang Jianguo aims to look into the inter-connection between Jakobson’s poetics and the evolution of modernity in Western society by analyzing four key terms, i.e., structure, function, text and metaphor.19 Tian Xing studies Jakobson’s poetic function.20 Each of these doctorate dissertations focuses on one central and important aspect of Jakobson’s theories, and tries to demonstrate a systematic organic whole in Jakobsonian canon.

4.3 Insufficient Chinese translations of Jakobson’s poetics

29Translated Chinese versions of Jakobson’s writings could indeed broaden his readership in China. But unfortunately, we just have had one Chinese collection of Jakobson’s writings so far. As we mentioned previously, Professor Qian Jun’s Chinese translation of Jakobson’s representative essays in linguistics has been the only one published so far. The fact that Jakobson published his essays in different languages requires Chinese translators to translate his essays from different foreign languages.

30Moreover, Chinese translations of works on Jakobson can help Chinese readers get to know the latest analysis of Jakobson’s theories by international scholars. For example, in 2015 thirty-two scholars from more than 10 countries and areas gathered together in Milan and Vercelli for “International Conference Roman Jakobson: Linguistics and Poetics”. This conference was jointly held by The University of Milan (Università degli studi di Milano) and The Eastern Piedmont College at Vercelli (Università del Piemonte Orientale). The conference participants from about 10 countries and regions in the world approached Jakobson and his theories from the angles of linguistics, semiotics, poetics, history, philosophy and so on, thus have conducted researches from the multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional and multi angle interpretations. The working languages of this international conference are English, Italian, Russian and French. As there are limited number of people who are capable of mastering multiple languages in China, it is very necessary for Chinese translators to work together to translate those articles written in non-general languages into Chinese.

5. Conclusion

31As we can see from the above analysis, Chinese scholars have approached Jakobson’s theories from different aspects since the new millennium. Though Jakobsonian studies in China have a comparatively shorter history, starting from the 1980s, we are very excited to see that researchers from linguistics, translatology, poetics, and semiotics contribute greatly to the introducing, commenting and analyzing Jakobson’s theories, thus broaden the horizon for common readers in China.

  • 21 The present author has carried out her post-doctorate research project on a comparative study of J (...)

32Nevertheless, given the thoughts that some of the researches conducted so far remain to be introductory remarks and lack of creative and original analysis, the following future perspectives shall be taken into consideration for Chinese scholars who wish to further the study. First, we still need systematic introduction and survey on Jakobson’s theoretical contributions. More importantly, Chinese scholars need to have direct dialogues and communications with international scholars so as to get to know the latest researches in the international academic circle; meanwhile, scholars from other nations could get to know Chinese responses and voices. Secondly, publication of Chinese translations of essays and works by and on Jakobson should be further promoted. Indeed, besides working on the Chinese translations of Jakobson’s writings, Chinese translators with different working languages should work on the Chinese translations and publication of works on Jakobson from English, Russian, French, Germany, Italian languages and so on. Finally, there should be more studies on understanding Jakobson in the context of Chinese literary studies. It is necessary to carry out some comparative studies on the acceptance of Jakobson’s theories in China and in other nations.21 We sincerely hope that Jakobson’s literary legacy can demonstrate its influence in the Chinese literary context. With scholars’ due efforts, Jakobsonian research can provide us with a prominent case study of the significance of travelling of literary theory.


2 Tian Xing, On Jakobson’s Succession and Development of Saussure’s Opposition Principle, «Journal of Sichuan International Studies University», 2, 2007, p.98.

3 Gu Wenwen, On Linguistic Interpretation of Artistic Symbols, MA Dissertation, Shangdong Normal University, 2008.

4 Jiang Fei, “The Fourth Basic Sign Type”: On the Aesthetic Cultural Semiotics of Roman Jakobson, «Signs & Media», 2, 2014, p. 172.

5 Yang Jianguo, Poetics and Myth: A Semiotic Approach to Roman Jakobson’s Poetics, «Foreign Literatures», 1, 2011, p. 11.

6 Ibidem, p. 18.

7 Zhao Xiaobin, Poetic Function, «Foreign Literature», 1, 2014, p. 159.

8 Yang Jianguo, Jakobson’s Poetics in the Horizon of Aesthetic Modernity, Doctorate Dissertation, Nanjing University, 2011, p. 5.

9 Tian xing, On Jakobson’s Poetic Function of Verbal Art, «Foreign Languages and Their Teaching», 6, 2007, p.13.

10 Ibidem.

11 Alex Preminger, Terry Brogran e Frank Warnke, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, New Jersey, Princeton University Press,1993.

12 Zhang Hanliang, “Literariness” and Comparative Poetics: An Excavation on Knowledge, «Comparative Literature in China», 1, 2012, pp.19-34.

13 Wu Hongmiao, Similarity and Contiguity: Jakobson’s Metaphor and Metonymy, «Yangtze River Academic», 2, 2008, pp. 93-98.

14 Jiang Fei, A Comparative Study between Jakobson’s poeticity-bound pattern and Bakhtin’s context-bound pattern, «Russian Literature and Art», 2, 2015a, p. 28.

15 Ibidem.

16 Jiang Fei, Roman Jakobson’s Linguistic Poetics and Husserl’s Phenomenology Philosophy, «Research of Chinese Literature», 2, 2015b, p. 14.

17 Yang Yan, The Coexistence of Humanism and Scientism in the Russian Formalist Poetics - A Comparison between Shklovsky’s and Jakobson’s Poetics, «Russian Literature and Art», 2, 2014, p. 57.

18 Bu Zhaoxia, On self-referentiality: from Jakobson to Roland Barthes, «Foreign Literature», 5, 2006, pp.73-79.

19 Yang Jianguo, Jakobson’s Poetics in the Horizon of Aesthetic Modernity, Doctorate Dissertation, Nanjing University, 2011.

20 Tian Xing, A Theoretical Research on Jakobson’s Poetics Function, Doctorate Dissertation, Nanjing Normal University, 2007.

21 The present author has carried out her post-doctorate research project on a comparative study of Jakobsonian studies in China and in the English-speaking countries, focusing on the interpretations and reception history of some of the key Jakobsonian concepts.


Beijing Language and Culture University: dliu201212[at]


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