[Jay]kob[z]on and Beyoncé

Roman Jakobson states that the poetic function of language “cannot be productively studied out of touch with the general problems of language; and, on the other hand, the scrutiny of language requires a thorough consideration of its poetic function. Any attempt to reduce the sphere of the poetic function to poetry or to confine poetry to the poetic function would be a delusive oversimplification” (1150).

Yet, what exactly does this all mean?

For starters, Jakobson is asserting that we should not limit the poetic function of language to poetry or vice versa because that would be reducing the capabilities of poetic function (perhaps to avoid from such confusion Jakobson should have gave this function of language another name, but I digress).

A definition of poetic function is now needed. The poetic function of language focuses on “the message for its own sake” (1150). Jakobson gives us a perfect example of this: a woman uses the phrase “horrible Harry” to talk about some (unfortunate) lad named Harry, yet when asked why she does not use the words “dreadful, terrible, frightful, or disgusting,” (words that carry essentially the same meaning as horrible) the woman is unable to determine why she uses “horrible” instead (maybe because Horrible Harry has a better ring to it) (1151). Through this, the woman in the example provided by Jakobson is exercising her use of the poetic function in language.

Although Horrible Harry is aesthetically pleasing, it is not a poem, yet it relies on the poetic function of language. Interestingly slogans and advertisements rely on this function of language as well. The message of advertisements can be said to showcase its poetic function. To fully understand this, I think it is important that we also keep in mind that language is not fully restricted to words, it can also be body language, or even symbols.

Here is an example of an advertisement that I argue uses the poetic function of language:


Here we are met with the well-known singer Beyonce draped in a satin red, dare I call it, dress? She is gazing at us seductively, hair blowing, hand grazing her neck, dress exposing just enough, manner. In between her chest we see the slogan “Catch the fever,” playing with the title of her fragance HEAT. Now if we put this all together, the message (or poetic function) that the viewer receieves from this advertisement is that if they buy and apply HEAT onto their bodies, they too will “catch the fever” and become sensual and desired as Beyonce is depicted, passionate and hot as the color red and slogan indicates. Here we can examine why the advertisers chose to state “Catch the fever” as opposed to “Get the fever” although both essentially mean the same thing, they carry different poetic effects. “Catch” to me, paired with the image, insinuates something that is desirable and within reach but one just has to go out an obtain it (through a quick travel to a local department store).

Works Cited

Jakobson,Roman. “Linguistics and Poetics.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Lietch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 1144-1152. Print.

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