The ADDRESSER sends a MESSAGE to the ADDRESSEE. To be operative the message requires a CONTEXT referred to…, 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 channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication (Jakobson 1960: 353)

In doing a little bit of surfing earlier today, I happened across this passage from Roman Jakobson’s landmark work “Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics.” I read this dense text over a year ago as part of Michael Silverstein’s Language and Culture class. At the time, a stranger in the strange land of poetics and metapragmatics, the majority of the text was over my head. Since then the article has been on my to read list, but I have not been able to make it back to it.

What strikes me about the passage is Jakobson’s definition of the CONTACT component as “a physical channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee.” The notion of contact as at once physical and psychological is an excellent jumping off point for a discussion of the creation of identity (and its spoofing) on-line. It addresses how each interlocutor projects a created image of their partner (the psychological component of connection) from the physical correspondence (the tools, hardware and software, that are facilitating the interaction). And it seems to me that this is the section where trust is injected into the relationship. Trust that your partner is who they say they are. Or, perhaps more accurately, trust that you are capible of correctly interpreting your ADDRESSER’s MESSAGE (based on your knowledge of CONTEXT and CODE) to identify if it complies with your understanding of what the addresser should sound like.1

Needless to say, I wish I had grasped the value of this statement while I was working on my thesis. Thankfully, its still available to assist me as I rewrite for publication. Either way, I think this is a great quote for anyone whose interested in supporting texts for a discussion of the creation and mediation of self and identity through technology mediated communications.


Jakobson, Roman. 1960. “Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics” . in Style in Language, edited by Seboek, T. A. Cambridge: MIT Press.

1 – Of course at that point we bridge into Bakhtin and the notion of Genres… oh the tangled webs woven on the web.