On the Syntactic Structure of Myth, or the Yukuna Invention of Speech

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

This article proposes a new way to understand, interpret, and define myth.' The method rests fundamentally on a critique of structuralism. So many people have struggled with the question of interpretation that the problems of mythanalysis seem to be due not so much to a lack of material or evidence as to obstacles imposed by particular theoretical constraints. Certain theoretical advances have come with the introduction of structural analysis, particularly in the works of Levi-Strauss, Leach, and Sahlins. These constitute a major breakthrough, largely because they open the door to formalism. I contend that the study of symbolism requires a departure from the empiricist method generally used in the other fields of anthropology. For if the sort of speculations advanced by such pioneers as Tylor and Frazer are now ruled out, we are still looking, "from a theoretical point of view," for an idea of myth that can provide a method to interpret any particular myth with some certainty. If we know more about what my this-a manifestation of "concrete" thought, a display of a social classification, an expression of the belief system-we are still not sure how to make comparisons and eventually how to apprehend the social function of myth. (Jacopin, 131)

About the Author

Pierre-Yves Jacopin is a Professor at the University of Paris. He attended Lausanne. He worked under Claude Levi-Strauss and Jean Piaget while in attendance at University of Paris.  

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