Language in Literature (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
If by no other measure than sheer longevity and productivity, Roman Jakobson would have to be counted among the most significant figures in literary study of the twentieth century. A precocious student of languages as a youth, he was among the founders of the Moscow Linguistic Circle in 1915 and a supporter of its St. Petersburg counterpart, the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOJAZ), established the following year. A decade later, he would be among the originators of a similar group in Prague. Ferociously learned, possessed of prodigious energy, and above all single-mindedly committed to the project of establishing methodologically sound bases for the study of literature, Jakobson labored tirelessly from his teens to his death at age eighty-six to discover the secrets of literary language and codify them into principles that could stand the test of science.
Why literature? Jakobson’s training in Oriental languages might well have led to a distinguished career in linguistics, and indeed, his contributions to certain branches of that discipline (notably phonology) are far from negligible. As a teenager Jakobson circulated among the literary and artistic avant-garde of prerevolutionary Russia. It was in this milieu that his tastes and, one might also say, his convictions were largely formed. To comprehend Jakobson’s long career, remarkable despite the range of topics and disciplines on which he wrote and for its unwavering commitment to a...
(The entire section is 1968 words.)
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