LINGUIST List 4.1053

Wed 15 Dec 1993

Sum: Jakobson quotation

Editor for this issue: <>


  • Becky Passonneau, answer to Jakobson query

    Message 1: answer to Jakobson query

    Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1993 10:32:34 answer to Jakobson query
    From: Becky Passonneau <>
    Subject: answer to Jakobson query

    I recently posted a query about a latin phrase attributed to Jakobson for a student, Vasileios Hatzivassiloglou. Here is his summary of the responses:

    ================================================================= I had asked the list for a translation of the latin phrase "Linguista sum: linguistici nihil a me alienum puto", which was attributed to Roman Jacobson.

    >From the 32 responses I received, I have put together the following:

    The meaning of the phrase is "I am a linguist; nothing linguistic is alien to me", and apparently R. Jacobson paraphrased a famous earlier line "Homo sum; homini nihil a me alienum puto", meaning "I am human; nothing human is alien to me."

    I got different responses as to the authorship of the original line, with a majority of the 18 people who gave an author (14) attributing it to the 1st century A.D. Roman playwright Terentius (later known as Terence), who in his "Heauton Timorumenos" play included the line "Homo sum; homini nihil a me alienum puto" (I.i.25), meaning "I am human; nothing human is alien to me." (Thanks to Duncan MacGregor, Seamus Cooney, Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, Geert Craps, and Jill Hart for identifying the play.). The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations also attributes the phrase to Terence (thanks to Seamus Cooney for reporting that). Cicero, Horace, Plautus, and Virgil also got one vote each for the authorship of the original line.

    According to Bill Anderson, an Africanist, there is the related phrase "Africanae nihil a me alienum puto", where "linguistic" is replaced by "African". Connoly/ (sorry, no name in the message) has also heard the variation "Linguista sum: humani nihil [or "nihil humanum"] a me alienum puto", which obviously places an even broader claim.

    As to where the Jacobson quote appeared, Donald Freeman points to Jacobson's "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics," in Thomas A. Sebeok, ed., *Style in Language*, Cambridge, Mass: Technology Press & John Wiley & Sons, 1960, p. 377 where he quotes himself as having said that at a 1953 conference at Indiana University (the citation is Claud Levi-Strauss, Jakobson, C. F. Voegelin, and Sebeok, *Results of the Conference of Anthropologists and Linguists*, Baltimore [no publisher given], 1953, [no page number given]). Geert Craps refers to the original appearance of the Jacobson quote in the Conference of Anthropologists and Linguists (1953), as well as its being reprinted in the "Selected Writings, Volume 2: Word and Language.", The Hague/Paris, Mouton, 1971 (p. 555). David Stampe also points to that volume. Dick Oehrle points to Jacobson's paper "Linguistics and Poetics" (see Jakobson, Language in Literature, Harvard, 1987, page 93), which he closes by repeating the quote from the 1953 conference.

    Linda Waugh mentioned that she recently gave a talk where she cited this Jacobson quote!

    As to the grammaticality of the quote, Tim Pulju, Alexis Manaster Ramer, and Arcady Borkovsky had criticisms on the formation of the obviously non-latin "linguista" and "linguistici". On the other hand, Jill Hart praised Jacobson's word formation.

    Thanks again to all the people who responded:

    Duncan MacGregor ( Enrique Torrejon ( Norberto Moreno-Quiben ( David Stampe (stampeuhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu) Bill Anderson ( Tim Pulju ( Michael Convington ( Anna Morpurgo Davies ( Donald C. Freeman ( Alexis Manaster Ramer ( Kenjiro Matsuda ( Douglas Purl ( Jean-Francois Delannoy ( Larry Rosenwald ( Seamus Cooney ( Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy ( Steven Schaufele ( John Kinder ( Geert Craps ( John Beaven ( Jill Hart ( Mary Neff ( John Cowan ( Dick Oehrle ( Wayles Browne ( Bert Peeters ( Hans den Besten ( Linda Waugh ( Arcady Borkovsky ( Margaret Winters ( Connoly/