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Roman Jakobson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0072

Scope and Contents

While the scope and content notes with each series of guide to the Roman Jakobson papers describe the contents of the collection sequentially, this note provides a topical overview of Jakobson's life and accomplishments and suggests where in the collection material on a topic may be found. Because so much revolves around Czechoslovakia, a discussion of relevant material is first, followed by a description of materials on specific scholarly topics.


Jakobson came to Czechoslovakia as a young man of twenty-four in 1920 as a member of the first Soviet foreign mission. There he continued his education, adopted Czechoslovakia as his cultural homeland, became a professor of linguistics, and established a reputation as a linguistic scholar.

Unfortunately, the collection contains little material from this crucial and formative period of Jakobson's life. In 1939, when he fled to escape Nazi persecution, most of his personal and professional papers were lost. A few items, including correspondence with Count N. S. Trubetzkoy and some of his notebooks of lectures, were hidden by friends and later sent to him in the United States.

As a press attaché of the first communist government in Europe, Jakobson was often viewed with suspicion, both personally and professionally (see Series 7). However, as he continued his studies in Prague and later taught at Masaryk University in Brno, participating actively in the intellectual and artistic life of the country, his contributions won him the respect of his colleagues and new countrymen (see writings about Jakobson between 1920 and 1939).

Jakobson was one of the founders in 1926 of the Prague Linguistic Circle, and he served as vice-president for thirteen years. Originally an association of six linguists, it grew into the most advanced and influential linguistic school of thought in pre-war Europe. Unfortunately, no papers survive from this important era in Jakobson's life.

Also lacking is documentation on Devetsil, an avant-garde group of prominent young poets, writers, and artists who enthusiastically supported new socialist ideas. (They chose for their name the Czech word for a healing herb.) Two poems by Vítězslav Nezval, an outstanding young poet and member of Devetsil, written for Jakobson and probably in Nezval's hand, can be found in General Correspondence (Subseries 8A, box 119c, folder 94). There are also some letters from another member, Jaroslav Seifert, winner of the 1984 Nobel Prize for Literature. These letters are from the 1960s and are filed in Universities - Foreign (Series 3, box 4, folders 19-22). Jakobson's activities as a professor of linguistics at Masaryk University from 1930 to 1939 are documented in lecture notes and course outlines. These provide comprehensive summaries of some of Jakobson's views and research on Czech medieval poetry, Russian phonology and grammar, and the Byzantine mission (Subseries 6B, Unpublished Writings, box 31).

The collection also contains a nearly complete record of Jakobson's scholarly output from the Czech years, copies of and some background material for nearly 300 articles and studies he wrote between 1926 and 1939 (Subseries 6A, Published Writings). He received increasing support from the Czech scholarly community, which recognized his contribution to the development of Czech linguistics and literary analysis (Series 7, box 38).

Jakobson's ties to Czechoslovakia remained strong after his escape in 1939. His respect for Czech culture and tradition were publicized in Moudrost starých Čechů (The Wisdom of the Old Czechs), his detailed defense of Czech culture against the pseudo-scientific attacks promoted by Nazi collaborators (boxes 9 & 10). The work was the result of extensive study and research, reflected partially in previously published articles (1938i, 1939f, & 1939g) and documented further by extensive research notes.

Once in the United States, Jakobson contributed to Czech journals and Czech American newspapers (see Subseries 6a, Published Writings) and spoke out strongly against Czech emigré author Egon Hostovsky for portraying Czech intellectuals as Nazi collaborators in his book Seven Times in the Main Role. Jakobson argued that writers should be held morally responsible for what they publish. This position embroiled him in a debate with other emigrés who advocated artistic freedom under any circumstances. Jakobson's arguments and the fierce attacks of his opponents are well documented (box 32, folders 47 & 48; box 38, folder 48).

After the Communists took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Jakobson's ties with the country were cut off. Under the liberal Dubcek regime, Jakobson was invited to attend the Slavic Congress held in Prague in 1968. His second visit followed the Soviet invasion in 1969 when Jakobson attended a symposium on Constantine the Philosopher. Jakobson sensed that it might be his last visit and delivered an address at the close of the symposium expressing his undiminished affection for the country and heritage in which he had spent his early manhood (Unpublished Writings, box 35, folder 19).

Jakobson continued to correspond with friends in Czechoslovakia. Letters from friends such as linguist Bohuslav Havranek and Ladislav Novomesky, writer, poet, friend, and member of Devetsil, reveal the close ties Jakobson maintained with that country. The correspondence with Jan Mukarovsky, a structuralist and close friend, ends in 1948, when Mukarovsky recanted his former work and rejected his friends.

Topical Areas

Researchers looking for material on specific topics should look first in Published Writings. The documentation of Jakobson's published work is organized chronologically, based on Stephen Rudy's bibliography Roman Jakobson 1896-1982: A Complete Bibliography of His Writings, 1990), but the topical arrangement of Selected Writings can be used as a subject guide. The Published Writings section includes a large amount of notes and background material on the subjects Jakobson wrote about, filed with the appropriate articles. The material in Published Writings is not referred to in this description. See instead the Scope and Contents note for Series 6.

General Linguistics and Structuralism

The term "structuralism" was probably first used by Jakobson at the I International Congress of Linguistics in The Hague in 1928. Jakobson and the Prague Linguistic School developed the structuralist and functional approach to language and the concept of markedness, starting in the area of phonology, which was later extended to morphology and syntax.

Jakobson continued to develop his particular method of structural analysis throughout his career. He first introduced it to American students in his courses at École Libre and Columbia. As an early example we have notes for a course called "Structural Linguistic Analysis" from the 1940s (box 32, folder 38).

The principles of structural analysis and the concept of a synchronic and diachronic view of language are summarized in transcripts of two lectures Jakobson gave in Prague in 1957: "Synchronie a diachronie v jazykovědě" and "Zásady strukturální analýzy" (box 34, folders 37-42). Drafts and numerous notes for an entry for Enciclopedia Italiana in the 1970s summarize Jakobson's most general ideas of structuralism (Unpublished Writings, box 36, folders 1-15).

Jakobson's linguistic studies are represented in the collection by his lectures, of which there are transcripts, tapes, and notes. In 1976-1977 Jakobson presented a number of lectures on the history of linguistics in which he gave an overview of the development of the field. These include "Saussurean and Contemporary Linguistics" of 1965, the "History of Linguistics" series from the 1970s, "Six Decades I have Witnessed" of 1976, "Three Lectures" and "Remarks on Structuralism" of 1976, and "Present Vistas" given at MIT in 1977 (box 36).

Jakobson's early linguistic research was oriented to phonology and done with the cooperation of other prominent linguists such as Horace Lunt, Morris Halle, and Gunnar Fant. This research is documented in materials related to his activities at Harvard and MIT. For more detailed information, see the Scope and Contents note for Universities - United States - Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The records filed under "Linguistics" and "Research Laboratory of Electronics" document research in communication processes (box 3, folders 74 -77 & 80-82).

One of the richest sources on linguistics in the unpublished material is the complete transcript of ten lectures presented at the International Seminar in Linguistic Theory in Tokyo in 1967 (where Jakobson presented his linguistic theories in detail). It is likely that it was for these lectures that Jakobson drew together his notes on various areas of linguistics, now filed in Unpublished Writings, box 35, folders 32-57.

Slavic Studies

During his career, Jakobson made numerous contributions to the study of Slavic antiquities, literature, mythology, and folklore, both oral and written, as well as poetics and comparative studies.

As early as the 1930s, Jakobson was captivated by the Cyrillo-Methodian mission. Course notes from classes taught at Masaryk University in 1936-1937 show that his interest was not only from the linguistic perspective, i.e., Church-Slavonic as the oldest Slavic script and literary language, but from a social viewpoint as well. He saw in the work of Constantine the Philosopher (Cyril) the earliest evidence of attempts at national self-determination and the first manifestation of democratic ideals (box 31, folders 79 & 80). Notes from the 1950s concerning the Christianization of the Slavs offer more insight into Jakobson's views on the significance of the subject (box 33, folders 29 & 30).

While Jakobson's scholarly contributions to Slavic studies were many, his efforts to encourage and support the spread of Slavic programs in the United States and Europe were equal. Once in the United States, Jakobson became a leading figure in the organization of Slavic departments at Columbia and Harvard, and he helped find jobs for many emigrants from Nazi Europe (box 2, folders 13-15 & 29-31). Notes and drafts of courses and lectures on Slavic history and civilization illustrate the material he used to train a new generation of Slavists (Unpublished Writings, box 32).

Jakobson worked to organize Slavists in an international network. Correspondence, work plans, resolutions, minutes, and reports document his organizing efforts and his participation in Slavic conferences, congresses, and symposia. Records of the Slavic International Congresses and the International Committee of Slavists present a picture of an international community of scholars and Jakobson's influence on that community, as well as an outline of the development of Slavic studies in the United States over a period of forty years (boxes 4 & 5). Additional material on Slavic congresses and publications is found in Universities - United States - Harvard University (Dumbarton Oaks, box 2, folder 47). Included is Jakobson's correspondence with his longtime colleague and friend, Byzantine scholar Father Francis Dvorník.

Russian Studies

Jakobson, a Russian native, taught Russian language and literature throughout his life. Notes from his earliest lectures from Brno deal with all aspects of the Russian language, especially Russian phonology (box 31, folders 48-60). The course notes represent the essence of Jakobson's approach to Russian studies, showing all his innovations in linguistics, most significantly the development of his theory of distinctive features.

Jakobson continued to develop his phonological investigation of the Russian language at Harvard in the early 1950s. With Gunnar Fant and Morris Halle, he systematically defined the relationships among all known phonetic features (box 2, folders 55-59; box 6, folders 37 & 38).

Drafts and extensive notes document Jakobson's work on Russian morphology (Russian declension, nouns, and verbs) where Jakobson applied the principles he discovered in his phonological studies. The material documents Jakobson's innovative approach to the study of the structure of the verb and the Russian case system. There are, in all, ten courses on Russian, including a comprehensive set of lecture notes from the Harvard years.

Numerous notes and drafts illustrate his interest in Russian literature. Much of Jakobson's work on Russian epic tradition is documented in his work on the Igor' Tale, the classic epic, the authenticity of which Jakobson demonstrated in 1948 in La Geste du Prince Igor(Scope and Contents note, Published Writings). Jakobson's relationship with his friend Vladimir Maíàkovskii found expression in his structural insights into several of Maíàkovskii's poems (see Published Writings). In an interview with Swedish radio Jakobson remembered him as a friend as well as a poet (box 36, folder 35). There is also a transcript of a discussion at the Institute of World Literatures in Moscow in 1956 where Jakobson talked about his publications about Maíàkovskii and his relationship with Teodor Nette (box 34, folder 36).

Jakobson's work on Russian poetess Marina Tsvetaeva is documented in a response to Simon Karlinsky's review of the English translation of Tsvetaeva's poems. Jakobson analyzed her poem "Pis'm" (A Letter) in detail and drafted a short article criticizing Karlinsky's failure to understand her verses (box 34, folders 94-96; box 35, folder 1). Notes for studies on Pasternak, Esenin, and Pushkin document more of Jakobson's work on Russian poetry (box 35, folders 10, 22-27).

As a major Russian scholar, Jakobson was asked to act as consultant on several projects with other scholars and institutions. Correspondence with Wayne State University, 1963-1967, documents his role as consultant on the publication of a new Russian dictionary (box 4, folder 6) and a Russian textbook published by the Nature Method Center. The textbook's method was based on learning vocabulary and grammatical structure in the situational context (box 30, folders 73-77).

In 1980 Jakobson presented a series of lectures, "Universal Paths of Russian Language, Literature, and Culture," at Wellesley College. Notes for this series summarize his work and views on Russian language and literature (box 36, folders 74-80).


According to Umberto Eco in "The Influence of Roman Jakobson on the Development of Semiotics," Jakobson was "the major catalyst in the contemporary semiotic reaction," and his entire work was a quest for semiotics. Jakobson's linguistic writings testify to that observation.

Jakobson himself did not publish extensively on the subject of semiotics. We have only notes contained in four folders in Unpublished Writings (box 35, folders 65-68). He gave important lectures on the subject, however, such as "Signatum a Designatum" delivered at the Colloque International de Semiologie in Krazmierz, Poland, in 1966, of which we have a draft (box 34, folder 77). There are also notes for "Some Questions of Linguistic Semantics," given in Moscow in 1966, and other lectures given in Chicago and France in 1970 and 1972.

Additional material describing Jakobson's interest in the subject of semiotics is found in records of his participation in semiotic congresses, symposia, conferences, and seminars (box 5, folders 21-23; box 6, folders 4-11), including correspondence with Umberto Eco, Julia Kristeva and others. Some of the letters concern Jakobson's attendance at events and some are related to reviews of books and articles on semiotics, revealing Jakobson's cooperation with the journal Semiotics.


  • 1908 - 1982


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Biographical Note

Roman O. Jakobson, 1896-1982, A.B., Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages, Moscow; A.M. 1918, Moscow University; Ph.D. 1930, Prague University, taught at Masaryk University in Brno, Czechoslovakia, 1933-1939. He fled to Scandinavia when the Nazis invaded and came to the United States in 1941, where he began teaching at l'Ecole Libre des Hautes in New York. He was visiting professor of linguistics at Columbia University, 1943-1946, then was appointed to the Thomas G. Masaryk Chair of Czechoslovak Studies, a position he occupied from 1946 to 1949. In 1949 he joined the faculty of Harvard University, where he was Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and General Linguistics until he became emeritus in 1965. He was concurrently, appointed in April 1957, Visiting Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 1957-1958 and reappointed Visiting Institute Professor for a six month period beginning July 1958. He continued in his role at MIT until he became emeritus in 1970.

Jakobson's role in linguistics is unique. His work helped to define modern linguistics and gain its recognition as an independent science. He expanded the borders of linguistics to incorporate such areas as phonetics, semantics, poetics, Slavic studies, language acquisition and pathology, and mythology. His main contributions were to establish phonological distinctive features, to define constants and tendencies, variants and invariants, to discover unity in variety, with respect for the individual and unique in language. He drew upon the work of earlier linguists, especially Ferdinand de Saussure and Baudouin de Courtenay. However, his concept of linguistics and his introduction of structural methods were original and influenced linguists all over the world.

His written works include books and articles on linguistic subjects, mythology, and epic poetry and metrics, including works on the Igor' Tale. His elaborated theories of language and communication have impacted such disciplines as anthropology, art criticism, and brain research.

Roman Jakobson: A Brief Chronology, compiled by Stephen Rudy

Titles of Jakobson's lectures at congresses and conferences that were later published are not included here; instead, cross-references are provided to Roman Jakobson 1896-1982: A Complete Bibliography of his Writings, 1990.
Born in Moscow September 28, Old Style (October10, New Style), son of Osip Abramovič Jakobson, a prominent industrialist, and Anna Jakovlevna Jakobson, née Vol'pert.
A.B., Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages, Moscow; entered Moscow University.
Along with several students of the Historical-Philological Faculty at Moscow University, Jakobson founded the Moscow Linguistic Circle in March, and served as its President until 1920; organized intensive field work in Russian dialectology and folklore during the summer vacations of 1915 and 1916.
A.M., Moscow University.
Research Associate at Moscow University.
Wrote Novejšaja russkaja poèzija (1921b), May, in Moscow; intended as an introduction to Xlebnikov's Collected Works.
Arrived in Prague, July 10, as translator for the first Soviet Red Cross Mission to Czechoslovakia; remained in Czechoslovakia until the Nazi occupation in 1939, officially becoming a Czech citizen in 1937.
Professor of orthoepy, Moscow Dramatic School.
Novejšaja russkaja poèzija published.
O češskom stixe published.
Prague Linguistic Circle founded, Oct. 6, with Jakobson as its Vice-President.
Attended the First International Congress of Linguists, The Hague, April 10-15 (see 1928b).
Remarques sur l'evolution phonologique du russe comparee a celle des autres langues slaves published.
Began work as head of the East Slavic section (Ostslavisches Referat) of the journal Slavische Rundschau, edited by F. Spina and G. Gesemann and published by Walter de Gruyter and Co., Berlin, from 1929 until 1939
Attended the First International Congress of Slavic Philologists, Prague, Oct. 6-13 (see 1929f).
Attended the International Phonological Conference, Prague, Dec. 18-21.
Suicide of Majakovskij, April 15 (see 1930d).
Ph.D., German University in Prague; dissertation Über den Versbau der serbokroatischen Volksepen (cf. 1933c).
Moved from Prague to Brno, end of the year.
K xarakteristike evrazijskogo jazykovogo sojuza published.
Attended the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Amsterdam, July 3-8 (see 1933c).
Attended the Third International Congress of Linguists, Rome, Sept. 19-26 (see 1935a).
Assistant Professor, Masaryk University, Brno.
Visiting Professor, Masaryk University.
Visited Bulgaria, July-August.
Lectured on "Poetry of the Hussite Period" in the Prague Linguistic Circle, April 29 (see 1936f).
Attended the Fourth International Congress of Linguists, Copenhagen, Aug. 27-Sept. 1 (see 1938h).
Associate Professor of Russian Philology and Old Czech Literature, Masaryk University.
Lectured on the fundamentals of phonological analysis, Prague Linguistic Circle, March 21.
Attended the Third International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, University of Ghent, July 18-22 (see 1939a).
Death of N. S. Trubetzkoy, June 25.
Leaves Denmark for Norway in early September; visiting professor at the University of Oslo.
Arrives in Denmark, April 21; visiting professor at the University of Copenhagen.
Abandons Brno after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, March 15; hides in Prague while awaiting exit visas.
Following the Nazi invasion of Norway on April 9, flees North, entering Sweden at Särna; visiting professor at the University of Uppsala.
Arrives in the United States on June 4, at New York harbor.
Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze (1941a) published.
Worked at the New York Public Library, April-Sept., on organizing its collection of Aleutian language and folklore materials.
Appointed to the Faculté des Lettres, École Libre des Hautes Études, New York, as Professor of General Linguistics, and to the Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire Orientale et Slave as Professor of Slavic Philology; taught there 1942-1946.
Moudrost starých Čechů published.
Visiting Professor of Linguistics, Columbia University.
Founding member of the Linguistic Circle of New York and its journal Word.
Appointed to newly formed Thomas G. Masaryk Chair of Czechoslovak Studies, Columbia University, which he occupied until 1949.
Results of collective work with H. Grégoire and M. Szeftel on the oldest Russian epic published: La Geste du Prince Igor'.
Elected corresponding member of the Societé Finno-Ugriénne, Helsinki and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Appointed Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and of General Linguistics, Harvard University.
Elected hononary member of the International Phonetic Association, the Philological Society (London), and the American Acoustical Society.
Delivered the Ilchester lecture at Oxford on Slavic epic verse, May 10 (see 1952f).
Attended the International Symposium of Anthropology, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, June (see 1953d).
Preliminaries to Speech Analysis, written in collaboration with C. G. M. Fant and M. Halle, published.
Attended the Clark University Conference on Expressive Language (see 1955a).
Elected member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences.
Attended the Third International Congress of Slavists, Belgrade, Sept. 15-Sept. 21 (see 1957h).
Attended the first meeting of the International Committee of Slavists as the American representative, Moscow, May 17-22; while in Moscow lectured on general and Slavic linguistics in America, Moscow University, May 21; On the development of phonetics in America, Linguistic Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, May 23; On Majakovskij, Institute of World Literature, May 24.
President of the Linguistic Society of America.
Fundamentals of Language, co-authored with M. Halle, published.
Elected President of the Permanent International Council for Phonetic Sciences.
Discussion with Niels Bohr on the relation of linguistics to the physical sciences, MIT, Nov. 25; lectured at MIT on "Linguistics and Physics," Nov. 25.
Attended the International Conference on the Life and Work of J. A. Comenius, Prague, Sept. 23-26 (see 1960j).
Attended the Eighth International Congress of Linguists, Oslo, August 5-9 (see 1958a).
Appointed Visiting Institute Professor, MIT; reappointed Visiting Institute Professor for a six month period beginning July 1958. He continued in his role at MIT until becoming emeritus in 1970, a position held concurrently with his Harvard chair until he became emeritus at Harvard in 1965.
Visited Hungary, with a cycle of lectures in Bucharest, Oct. 3-6 (see 1959i).
Attended the Fourth International Congress of Slavists, Moscow, Sept. 1-10 (see 1958b).
Attended the Conference on Poetic Language at Indiana University, April 17-19 (see 1960d).
Attended the Polish Conference on Literary Theory, Krynica, Oct. 16-20, with lectures on "The Linguistic Aspects of Poetics" and "Linguistics and Metrics."
Elected member of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Founding editor of The International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics.
Attended the Internationales Symposion Zeichen und System der Sprache, Erfurt, Sept. 30-Oct. 2 (see 1962e).
Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Spring semester.
Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences and Letters.
Attended the International Conference on Poetics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, August 18-27 (see 1961c).
Attended the Symposium on the Structure of Language and Its Mathematical Aspects, April 14-15 (see 1961a).
Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1960 1961.
Elected Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy in the section of Polite Literature and Antiquities.
Awarded Honorary Doctorates, Cambridge University, June 8; the University of Chicago, May 4; the University of Oslo, Sept. 4.
Attended the Twelfth International Congress of Byzantine Studies, Ochrid, Sept. 10-16 (see 1961e).
Attended the Fourth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Helsinski, Sept. 6-9 (see 1962r).
Attended the Conference on Language Universals, New York, April 13-15 (see 1963e).
Visited Moscow in connection with the meeting of the International Committee of Slavists, Oct. 1-10.
Attended the Ninth International Congress of Linguists, Cambridge, Mass., August 27-Sept. 1 (see 1964d).
Selected Writings, vol. I: Phonological Studies published.
Awarded Honorary Doctorates, Uppsala University, May 31; University of Michigan, June 7.
Attended the Conference on Speech, Language and Communication, Brain Research Institute, UCLA, Nov. 10-13 (see 1966c).
Attended the Fifth International Congress of Slavists, Sofia, Sept. 17-23 (see 1963b).
Attended the Ciba Foundation Symposium on Language Disorders, London, May 21-23 (see 1964b).
Delivered the Ilchester Lecture at Oxford University on parallelism in Russian folk poetry, May 19 (see 1966f).
Attended the AFCRL Symposium on Models for the Perception of Speech and Visual Form, Boston, Nov. 11-14 (see 1967b).
Attended the International Conference on Slavic and General Metrics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, August 24-31.
Attended the Seventh International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Moscow, August 3-10 (see 1970j).
Attended the Symposium on the Byzantine Mission to the Slavs, The Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, Washington, D.C., May 7-9 (see 1966p).
Visited Italy, Jan. 12-Feb. 2, with numerous lectures at Italian scholarly societies and universities.
During a visit to the Soviet Union attended the Twelfth International Congress of Psychology, Moscow, August 4-11; the International Seminar on Speech Production and Speech Perception, Pavlov Institute, Leningrad, August 13-16; the Semiotic Seminar at the University of Tartu, Estonia, August 19-25; the Shota Rustaveli Commemoration, University of Tbilisi, Georgia, Sept. 5.
Visiting Fellow, Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, June-July.
Selected Writings, vol. 4: Slavic Epic Studies published.
Elected Honorary Member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Arts and Sciences in America, Sept. 3.
Awarded Honorary Doctorates, University of New Mexico, June 9; University of Grenoble, Oct. 22; University of Nice, Nov. 6.
Attended the Colloque international de sémiologie, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kazimierz, Sept. 13 18.
Visited Moscow, August 17-24; Warsaw, August 24-28; Bucharest, August 28-Sept. 5, for the Tenth International Congress of Linguists (see 1969c); Zagreb and Dubrovnik, Sept. 5-16; Paris, Sept. 16-23.
Visited Japan, July.
Honorary Doctorate, University of Rome, Jan. 30.
Visiting Professor of Slavic Languages and of Linguistics, Princeton University, with six seminars on "Linguistic Reflections on Sound and Meaning," Winter 1968-69.
Attended the Symposium "Languages in Society and the General World" organized by Olivetti in Milan, Oct. 14-17 (see 1970d).
Participated in the meeting of the Special Committee for Social Sciences of UNESCO, Paris, Oct. 2-4; lecture on "The Essentials and Goals of Contemporary Linguistics in Relation to Other Sciences," Oct. 3 (cf. 1969c).
Visited Brazil, Sept. 4-29, with numerous lectures at various Brazilian universities.
Awarded Golden Medal of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Aug. 21.
Awarded Honorary Doctorates, Charles University, Prague, Aug. 13; Purkyne University, Brno, Aug. 15.
Attended the Sixth International Congress of Slavists, Prague, Aug. 6-13 (see 1968g).
Visiting Fellow, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, June-August.
Visiting Professor, Brown University, Spring semester, with a course "Introduction to Linguistic Analysis of Poetry."
Gave the Heinz Werner Lectures, Institute on Developmental Psychology, Clark University, March 6-7, on "The Paths from Infancy to Language."
Awarded Honorary Doctorate, Zagreb University, Dec. 18.
Visiting Professor at Brandeis, winter semester, 1969-70, with a course on Modern Poetics.
Participated in the Prague Symposium on Constantine the Philosopher, Sept. 14-18 (see 1970i).
Awarded Honorary Doctorate, Ohio State University, Oct. 26.
Visiting Professor, Brown University, winter semester, 1970-71, with a course on The Creative Power of Language.
Visiting Professor, Yale University, Nov., with three lectures on "Current and Perpetual Questions in the Structural Analysis of Language and Verbal Art."
Attended the Convegno Internazionale "Premarinismo e Pregongorismo," Rome, April 19-21 (see 1973b).
Selected Writings, vol. 2: Word and Language and the second edition of Selected Writings, vol. 1 published.
Visiting Professor, Collège de France, Dec.
Visited Hungary, Oct. 20-27, as a guest of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Bulgaria, Oct. 27-Nov. 5, as a guest of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Portugal, Nov. 20-30, as a guest of the Instituto de Alta Cultura.
Doctor honoris causa and Francqui Professor, Catholic University of Louvain. Degree awarded Feb. 14; term of the Chaire Francqui, Spring semester (see 1973l).
Professeur d'état, Collège de France. Four lectures, Feb. 3-8.
Visiting Professor, New York University, Fall Semester.
Attended the Seventh International Congress of Slavists, Warsaw, August 21-27 (see 1973d).
Questions de poétique published.
Attended the Golden Anniversary Symposium of the Linguistic Society of America, Dec. 27 (see 1979c).
Attended the Puškin Symposium, New York University, Nov. 16-17 (see 1976a).
Lectured at the University of Zurich, June 9-15.
Attended the Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, Milan, June 2-6 (see 1975g).
Visited Madrid as a guest of the Sociedad de estudios y publicaciones, May 18-31.
Elected Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.
Lectured at Bielefeld University, May 21-22; University of Cologne, May 26-27; the Rheinisch-Westfalische Akademie, Dusseldorf, May 28 (see 1977d).
Lectured at Wolfson College, Oxford University, May 16-17.
Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University; conferment ceremony, March 18. Lectured at the Inauguration Ceremony of the Israel Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, Tel Aviv, March 23.
N. S. Trubetzkoy's Letters and Notes published.
Attended the Johns Hopkins University Centennial Celebration: The Charles Sanders Peirce Symposium on Semiotics and the Arts, Sept. 26 (see 1977e).
Visited Scandinavia, with lectures at Lund University, Sept. 4-5; University of Stockholm, Sept. 8; Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sept. 9; Norwegian Society of Linguistics, Oslo, Sept. 11-12.
Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Columbia University; conferment ceremony, May 12.
Elected Foreign Member, Humanities Section, Societas Scientarum Fennica.
Attended the Tribute to Claude Lévi-Strauss at the U.S. Embassy, Paris, Nov. 8 (see 1985p).
Attended the International Conference on the Semiotics of Art at the University of Michigan, May 3-6, with a lecture on "The Significance of Sounds in Speech and Poetry."
Lectured on "Some Urgent Linguistic Tasks" at Moscow State University, Sept. 29 (see 1985f).
Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy, Copenhagen University, June 1.
Attended the Jerusalem Einstein Centennial Symposium, March 16 (see 1980f).
Selected Writings, vol. 5: On Verse, Its Masters and Explorers and The Sound Shape of Language (with Linda R. Waugh) published.
Attended The International Symposium on the Problem of Unconscious Mental Activity under the auspices of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, Tbilisi, Oct. 1-5 (see 1978f).
Lectured on "Brain and Language" at the University of Minnesota, March 13; Yale University, April 23; New York University, May 6 (see 1980e).
Kathryn W. Davis Professor of Slavic Studies, Wellesley College, with lectures on "Unusual Paths of Russian Language, Literature and Culture," Feb. 12, March 4 and March 18.
Dialogues (with Krystyna Pomorska) published.
Awarded Honorary Doctorates, Brandeis University, May 24; Oxford University, June 24.
Awarded the International Feltrinelli Prize for Philology and Linguistics, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome, Jan. 16 (see 1981m).
Selected Writings, vol. III: Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry published.
Died on July 18 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Awarded the Hegel-Preis of the International Hegel Society and the City of Stuttgart (see 1984a).


141.5 Cubic Feet (137 record cartons, 12 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box, 3 card boxes, 7 folios, 1 film reel)

Language of Materials






Slavic languages


This collection documents the career of Roman Jakobson. Jakobson was Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and General Linguistics at Harvard University from 1949 until becoming emeritus in 1965. He was concurrently, appointed in April 1957, Visiting Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 1957-1958, reappointed Visiting Institute Professor for a six month period beginning July 1958. He continued in his role at MIT until he became emeritus in 1970. Known as a founder of modern structural linguistics, he elaborated theories of language and communication that have impacted such disciplines as anthropology, art criticism and brain research. Published and unpublished writings by Jakobson, correspondence, and research and lecture notes document Jakobson's scholarly contributions to linguistics, poetics, mythology, folklore, literature, and cognitive studies. The collection also includes Jakobson's correspondence with linguist Prince Nikolai Sergeevich Trubetskoy and extensive materials concerning Jakobson's lifelong study of the Russian classic epic, Igor’ Tale.

Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Source of Acquisiton

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Krystyna Pomarska Jakobson.

Materials in boxes 135 to 150 were received in October 2012 from the Jakobson Foundation.


  • Jakobson, Roman. Selected Writings. 8 vols. ʾs-Gravenhage: Mouton, 1962-1988 MIT Libraries
  • Roman Jakobson, 1896-1982: A Complete Bibliography of His Writings, compiled and edited by Stephen Rudy. Berlin; New York : Mouton de Gruyter, 1990. MIT Libraries

Processing Information note

Box 118 was repacked into three separate boxes; 118 a, 118 b, 118c in November 2015 after conservation work done on some reprints and reprints were foldered. Container list updated to reflect correct box.

Folios 1-6 were renumbered in December 2019. Folio 1 is now oversize folder 153, folios 2-5 and 7 are now in box 152, and folio 6 is now oversize folder 154.

Processing Information note

Film in box 151 is a gift from sent from Marshall Blonsky. Can't find accession information, to do: check control file.

Conservation needed

Some paper items deteriotating in boxes 119a and in 119c, folder 81 specifically

Guide to the Papers of Roman Jakobson
Jana Heffernan, Dana Hajdu, Victor Shteynbok, and Donna Webber
(Copyright 1986)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of this collection was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Revision Statements

  • 2021 July 12: Edited by Lana Mason to remove aggrandizing terms in the abstract, biographical, and scope and content notes description.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US