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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown

Communication theory:

Of or relating to Roman Jakobson's model of the process of communication (reproduced below).

Context (referential)
Message (poetic)
Addresser
(emotive)

Addressee
(emotive)
Contact (phatic)
Code (metalingual)

According to Jakobson, "the Addresser sends a message to the Addressee. To be operative the message requires a Context referred to ("referent" in another, somewhat ambiguous nomenclature), seizable by the Addressee, and either verbal or capable of being verbalized; a Code fully, or at least partially, common to the Addresser and Addressee (or in other words, to the encoder and decoder of the message); and, finally, a Contact, a physical connection between the Addresser and Addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication." If communication is oriented toward context, then the referential function dominates ("Ottawa is the capital of Canada"); if it is oriented toward the Addresser of the message, then the emotive function dominates ("I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!"); if it is oriented toward the Addressee of the message, then the conative function dominates ("Watch Out for that falling brick!"); if it is oriented toward Contact, the establishment of a rapport between Addresser and Addressee so that the lines of communication are kept open, then the phatic function dominates ("What terrible weather we've been having"); if it is oriented toward code, then the metalingual function dominates ("Understand what I mean?"); and, last, if it is oriented toward the message for its own sake, then the poetic function dominates ("The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age"). The important implication of Jakobson's theory is that meaning does not reside in the message per se; it is part of the total act of communication, not a stable entity which passes, uncontaminated, from Addresser to Addressee.


© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
Hypertext and HTML by Christopher Douglas
University of Toronto English Library
Director: Ian Lancashire.
Last modified: March 31, 1997