About the Symposium

Jakobson pictureThe Roman Jakobson Symposium was established to advance the study of language and semiosis (sign processes) in the social sciences.  Hosted annually by the Department of Anthropology at Harvard, the symposium emphasizes comparative, empirical research and methodological innovation organized around language, interaction, communication, and media as fundamental and unavoidable problematics in social and political theory. 

The symposium is named in honor of the late Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), one of the greatest linguists and semioticians of the twentieth century and member of the Faculty of Harvard University, where he was the Samuel Hazard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and General Linguistics (1949-1967).  Jakobson’s work had a profound influence on many disciplines.  Anthropology in particular has been shaped by Jakobson’s groundbreaking contributions to phonology and morphology, his seminal theory of poetic function, and the conceptual bridges he built between European semiology (in the structuralist tradition of Ferdinand de Saussure) and North American semiotics (in the pragmatic tradition of Harvard alumnus Charles S. Peirce).  This event spotlights the generative potential of semiotic approaches to understanding the pressing social, political, and intellectual questions of our time.

Annual Themes

2019            Signs of Race, Racializing Signs

2021-22       Harvard-Yenching Institute Program in Linguistic and Semiotic Anthropology


Further Reading on Jakobson in Anthropology

Caton, Steven. 1987. "Contributions of Roman Jakobson." Annual Review of Anthropology. 16:223–260.

Silverstein, Michael. 2017. "Forty Years of Speaking (of) the Same (Object) Language – Sans le Savoir." Langage et Société  2-3(160–161):93–110.