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Metarepresentation in linguistic jokes

Metarepresentation in linguistic jokes

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Metarepresentation in linguistic jokes

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  1. Metarepresentation in linguistic jokes Peiling Cui University of Bremen 29.09.2006

  2. Jokes: combination of two different semantic respresentations (1) • SSTH: Semantic Script Theory of Humor A text can be characterized as a single-joke-carrying text if both of the following conditions are satisfied. 1. The text is compatible, fully or in part, with two different scripts. (Script overlapping) 2. The two scripts with which the text is compatible are opposite. (Script opposition) The two scripts with which some text is compatible are said to overlap fully or in part on this text. (Raskin 1985: 99)

  3. Jokes: combination of two different semantic respresentations (2) • The two overlapping and opposite scripts are the two different semantic interpretations of the joke text (see Attardo & Raskin 1991: 308). • At the mean while, they also represent two different worlds: One of them is our expectation of the story in the joke before the punch line, and the other one is the real occurrence in the text (see Schultz 1976: 12).

  4. A joke example • “Is the doctor at home?” the patient asked in his bronchial whisper. “No,” the doctor’s young and pretty wife whispered in reply. “Come right in.” (American, 20th century, Raskin 1985: 100) • Script 1 vs. Script 2 Representation 1 vs. Representation 2 patient vs. lover

  5. Linguistic jokes • Jokes which are expressed by means of a linguistic system. (Attardo 1994: 96) • Jokes whose effect is produced through the special use of some linguistic elements with their semantic potentials. (see Jurasz 2001: 169)

  6. Examples for linguistic jokes • A miser who heard the water running in his house rushed downstairs and into the street shouting, „I‘m being robbed! Someone is taking a bath.“ (Koestler 1964) • A very famous German company which serves as a job offer center is called „Bindan*“. (The author‘s own observation) *Bindan sounds similar to the Chinese word bendan which means fools.

  7. The mechanism of linguistic jokes - A description of the combinational rules of the two scripts/representations in linguistic jokes. - The metarespresentation in linguistic jokes. • homophone • homograph • polyseme • syntactic ambiguity

  8. Homophone • Two or more words that share the same or similar pronunciation but different writing forms and meanings. (see Bußmann 2002: 284)

  9. A joke example for homophone A foreigner saw a young and pretty Chinese woman wearing a T-shirt with “9 9” on the breast. He found it very nice and wanted to give her a compliment, but he didn’t remember how to say “9” in Chinese, so the foreigner just pointed to the numbers and said: “Both of your nine nine are very beautiful…” ( Author’s translation from the Chinese) /nain/ 1) nine: a number in English 2) 奶(nai): breast in Chinese

  10. Homograph • Two or more words share the same or similar writing form but different sounds and meanings. (see Bußmann 2002: 283)

  11. A joke example for homograph A foreign student who has just begun with Chinese learning once wrote an article with the title „A letter to my mother“, and his first sentence was „Dear女马女马(nü ma nü ma)…“ (, author‘s translation from the Chinese) 妈 妈 / 女马女马 ma ma / nü ma nü ma mama / female horse female horse

  12. Some more examples for homograph - acronym jokes • BS, MS, PhD: Bull Shit, More of the Same, Piled Higher and Deeper. (see Nilsen & Nilsen 2000: 175) • BMW: Bavarian Must Wander. Bayerischer Müll Wagen (Bavarian dust car). (

  13. Polyseme • A word or phrase with different meanings (in different contexts) which share the same meaning core. (see Bußmann 2002: 524)

  14. A joke example for polyseme • The first thing which strikes a stranger in New York is a big car. (Esar, 1952: 77, Raskin 1985: 26)

  15. Syntactic ambiguity • A property of sentences which have more than one syntactic derivation, i.e., a sentence which may be reasonably interpreted in more than one way (see Deemter & Peters 1996: XV)

  16. Joke examples for syntactic ambiguity • In the Frank and Ernest comic strip, Frank says to a real estate agent, “Sure, we’d like to see a model home. What time does she get off work?” (Nilsen & Nilsen 2000: 26) • Diner Sign: “Wanted: Man to scrub floor and two waitresses.” (Norman Stageberg)

  17. Conclusions Metarepresentation the two representations (joke mechanism) Homophone Script 1, representation 1 Homograph linguistic joke Polyseme Syntactic ambiguity Script 2, representation 2

  18. Main References (1) • Raskin, Victor. Semantic Mechanisms of Humor. Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1985. • Attardo, Salvatore. Humorous Texts: A Semantic and Pragmatic Analysis. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2001. • Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000. • Sperber, Dan (ed.). Metarepresentations. A Multidisplinary Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

  19. Main References (2) • Van Deemter, Kees, and Stanley Peters (ed.). Semantic Ambiguity and Underspecification. California: Center for the study of language and information Stanford, 1996. • Bußmann, Hadumod (ed.). Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. Dritte, aktualisierte und erweiterte Auflage. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 2002. • Stageberg, Norman C. "Structural Ambiguity: Some Sources." English Journal 55 (1966): 558-563.