Roman Jakobson (1896-1982)

Poem, 1908-9, 0'48".
Voice – Roman Jakobson
Recording – Harvard (USA), 1954
Velimir Khlebnikov on UbuWeb Sound

Velimir Khlebnikov, pseudonym of Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov (b. Toula 1885 - d. Governorate of Novgorod 1922) was one of the fundamental poets of Russian cubo-futurism, to the extent that some of his writings predate the futurist aesthetic, or at least the publication in 1909 of Marinetti's futurist manifesto. Indeed, he boycotted Marinetti's visit to Russia in 1914, distributing flyers that demanded another term be substituted for futurism, such as budietlianstvo [men of the future, or the future will be Slav] eliminating the differentiation between past-present-future and exploring his own Slavonic roots as an encounter with a "new universal language". Following these principles, he developed 'slovotvorcestvo' [verbopoesis], employed in the etymological poem "Incantation by Laughter", in which all the words derive from the root smech [rice] derived from all the languages of the Empire, leading him to invent verbs, adjectives and pronouns and to create a kind of exorcism-ritual, as if the person intoning the poem were a Shaman. The well-known philologist Roman Jakobson, also a futurist poet in his youth, met Khlebnikov in 1914 and described him as an "eternal seeker of analogies", In 1919 he wrote a monograph on Khlebnikov's verbal art, which was published in 1921. Khlebnikov was also an influence on Jakobson's phonological theory, which approaches the sounds of the tongue as enigmas to be deciphered; he also maintained there were fifteen to twenty distinctive features common to all the languages of the world. It is Roman Jakobson who recites the poem on the CD, since there are no existing sound documents of Khlebnikov himself. Indeed Khlebnikov habitually refused to read his poems in public; other people, such as Mayakovsky - who considered Khlebnikov his master - had to read them instead.

Incantation by Laughter

o laugh it out, you laughsters!
o laugh it up, you laughsters!
So they laugh with laughters, so they laugherize delaughly.
o laugh it up belaughably!
o the laughingstock of the laughed upon-the laugh of 8elaughed laughsters!
o laugh it out roundlaughingly, the laugh of laughed-at Laughians!

Laugherino, laugherino,
Laughify, laughicate, laugholets, laugholets, Laughikins, laughikins,
o laugh it out, you laughsters!
o laugh it up, you laughsters!

[transliterated by Gary Kern]

Roman Jakobson 'Aliagrov'
Zaum poems from the book Trans-rational Book, Moscow 1916, 0'38" and 1'00"
Voice – Ernest Peshkov
Recording – Miguel Molina, Audio Laboratory of the UPV Dpt. of Sculpture (Valencia, Spain)
Production Date – 2004

Aliagrov, futurist pseudonym of Roman Osipovich Jakobson (b. Moscow 1886 - d. New York 1982) was a linguist and philologist who participated actively in several Linguistic Circles: Moscow (Russian Formalism), Prague (Structuralism) , Copenhagen (Phonological theory) Columbia, Harvard and Massachusetts (North American generative linguistics, and the Linguistic Circle of New York). He always gave a multi-disciplinary slant to his language studies, combining the linguistic with the poetic, anthropology, the pathology of language, folklore or information theory. One of his most important contributions was in phonological theory when, in 1923, he gave a new meaning to the term "phonology", understanding it in the sense of the "science of the structure and function of sounds" . The first modern definition of the phoneme is also his: "Mental impression of a sound, minimal distinctive unit or minimal semantic vehicle". For Jakobson, the sounds of the tongue were an enigma to be deciphered, and he maintained within his phonological theory the existence of fifteen to twenty distinctive features common to all languages. This interest in phonology has its origin in his early years in Moscow when he participated actively as a poet under the pseudonym of Aliagrov (taken from his girlfriend's name 'alia' and from his initials, 'r' for Roman and 'o' for Osipovich) and he maintained contact with the phonetic experiments of the futurists (he knew Marinetti and was a friend of Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky), publishing some zaum (or trans-rational language) poems in cubo-futurist books. The two poems included in this recording are a clear example of this. They were published in the book Transrational Book [Zaum-naya griga] (Moscow 1916) which also includes other poems by Alexis Krutschenij (creator of zaum poetry) accompanied by illustrations by the artist Olga Rozanova. He also puts a button on the cover of the book. Jakobson, in his memoirs My Futurist Years (1973) recalls discussions with the avant-garde artists about the affinities between "nonrepresentation" in painting and the "transrational verses" of poetry, in which he maintains that "the theme was that the verbal sound could have more in common with non-representational painting than with music". On some occasions they listened to his verses: "They asked me to recite my transrational verses and the artists - both Filonov and Malevich approved of them greatly, precisely because they diverged even more strongly from everyday speech than Krutschenij's dyr bul shchyl". In counterposition to Alexis Krutschenij who maintained the "word and sound" relationship, Jakobson defended another association: "I was not in agreement when, after The Word as Such there followed The Letter as Such; for me it was the sound as such."


mglybzhvuo jx"jan'dr'ju chtleshchk xi fja s'p skypolza
a Vtab-dkni t'japra kakajzchdi a Jew's an inkwell


suffocating from yankee arcana
from cancan and yardmuck
my pretty whalemouth ching
a whale and so and better than
etiquette is quite cute
a label on your shirt
little kantian quit
A and O hoot
quan and took
so soft
fogms achums scum
and-mm-ed kicks
attactions hint of clever thumb
m-u-u-ck g-o-o-nnne
not a header by airship
but a public stop
a lop giving way in the vago.

[translation by Stephen Rudy]

Russian Futurists from the GLM Collection (1920-1959)
Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde (1908-1942)