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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research Approaches, contexts and traditions

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Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay
Approaches, contexts and traditions
Discovering the dynamics of wordplay
Wordplay appears in a broad range of situations of communicative exchange,
including spontaneous manifestations in everyday communication, strategic
uses in advertising messages and argumentative texts as well as literary texts
from different authors, cultures and historical periods. In spite of its ubiquity,
however, wordplay also appears to be to a certain extent ephemeral: the ludic
character of utterances can get lost over time as they become reused in other
contexts, and in many instances, ludic language use merely functions as a mo-
mentary pause inserted into a communicative exchange that pursues different
aims. Wordplay thus appears to be a complex phenomenon which is difficult to
grasp, but which at the same time appears to be a highly interesting and relevant
one, as it can reveal basic principles of language and communication.
In previous research on wordplay, there has been a strong focus on wordplay
in specific authors (e.g. William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Raymond Queneau,
see among others Kohl 1966; Mahood 1957; Delabastita 1993, 2011; Heibert 1993;
Kemmner 1972) or literary domains such as nonsense literature (see among others
Schöne 1951; Sewell 1952; Hildebrand 1970; Petzold 1972; Lecercle 1994; Zirker
2010a, 2010b). A particular interest can be observed in the translation of word-
play, frequently in relation to particular authors (Grassegger 1985; Heibert 1993;
Rauch 1982; Delabastita 1994, 1996, 1997; Chiaro 2010a, 2010b; Vandaele 2011).
Linguistic approaches have focused on the use of wordplay in particular text
types, e.g. newspaper articles (see among others Hausmann 1974; Sullet-Nylan-
der 2005, 2006, 2010; Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2011) and textual elements (e.g. head-
ings, see Dittgen 1989), or in particular domains such as the press, advertising or
the media (see among others Carstensen 1971; Vittoz-Canuto 1983; Grunig 1990;
Tanaka 1999; Chovanec and Ermida 2012), and in particular contexts of use, e.g.
private conversation (e.g. Priego-Valverde 2003).
In addition, previous research has aimed to provide overviews and classifi-
cations of wordplay and verbal humor (see e.g. Preisendanz and Warning 1976;
Hesbois 1986; Defays 1996; Alexander 1997; Guiraud 1976; Charaudeau 2006;
Blake 2010). Raskin (1985) proposed a Semantic Script Theory of Humor (SSTH),
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| Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
which has been expanded into the General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH;
Attardo and Raskin 1991; see also Attardo 1994, 2001 as well as Attardo 2011 and
the contributions of the issue 24(2) of Humor – International Journal of Humor
Other works have focused on specific realizations of wordplay, e.g. puns
(Culler 1988; Redfern 1985), and on further phenomena related to verbal humor,
e.g. verbal irony (see among others Ruiz-Gurillo and Alvarado-Ortega 2013),
figurative meaning (e.g. Gibbs and Colston 2012), allusions (Wilss 1989), verbal
humor in garden paths (Dynel 2009), comic discourse (Nash 1985), functions of
punning in conversation (Kotthoff 1996), or wordplay and the motivation of lin-
guistic signs (Käge 1980; Rettig 1981; see also Partington 2009). Overviews of
wordplay research and the state of the art of research on verbal humor are
provided among others by Winter-Froemel (2009, 2016) and Attardo (2017).
In addition to the various approaches described above, recent research has
aimed to integrate linguistic and literary perspectives as well as approaches from
the point of view of rhetoric (see Rabatel 2008, 2012, 2013; Brône and Vandaele
2009; Valero-Garcés 2010), and various authors have argued for interdisciplinary
approaches to wordplay, verbal humor and ambiguity (see Winter-Froemel and
Zirker 2010; Bauer et al. 2010). In our view, there are indeed lessons to be learnt
about language and communication (literary communication as well as everyday
communication) by studying wordplay (see also Gauger 1971, 2006, 2014; Gold-
stein 1990; Koch, Krefeld, and Oesterreicher 1997; Goatly 2012), and this is one of
the main motivations of the present volumes as well as of the book series The
Dynamics of Wordplay in general.
This aim has already been pursued by the first two volumes in the series
(Zirker and Winter-Froemel 2015, Winter-Froemel and Zirker 2015) by bringing
together linguistic and literary approaches. In addition, the inherently dynamic
dimension of wordplay has been put forward in the interdisciplinary project
“Dynamik des Wortspiels
The Dynamics of Wordplay
La dynamique du jeu de
mots” (funded by the German Research Foundation and directed by Esme Winter-
Froemel since 2013). Main aspects which have been explored in this project are
the relations between wordplay and language contact, wordplay and linguistic
innovation, and wordplay and speaker-hearer interaction.
Phenomena of language contact can give rise to playful language use (see
among others the third volume of the book series, Knospe, Onysko, and Goth
2016), and the transitions between wordplay and linguistic innovation in syn-
chrony and diachrony provide important insights into the importance of ludicity
in language and language use (see among others Arndt-Lappe et al. 2018 and Full
and Lecolle, in press). The interactional dimension of wordplay represents an
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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research |
additional, transversal topic which is addressed in many contributions to these
volumes. Another main result of the discussions in the research project was the
difficulty of defining wordplay and its limits in an uncontroversial way. We thus
set up a discussion forum (see pp. 9–94 in Knospe, Onysko, and Goth 2016, with
contributions by Winter-Froemel, Thaler, Lecolle, Onykso and Knospe) aiming to
debate the central question which is at the very heart of all analyses of wordplay:
how can the phenomenon be defined and approached?
The contributions in the discussion forum were intended to foster further
discussion and interdisciplinary explorations of wordplay, as launched in this
book series. This was also the central aim of the conference organized in Trier
from September 29, 2016 to October 1st, 2016. The topic chosen for the conference,
“The Dynamics of Wordplay
La dynamique du jeu de mots – Interdisciplinary
perspectives interdisciplinaires”, was motivated by recent trends
in wordplay research: New approaches have been proposed to link the domain of
wordplay and verbal humor to Cognitive Linguistics (see e.g. Veale 2009; Brône,
Feyaerts, and Veale 2015) and (cognitive) pragmatics (see e.g. Yus 2016). On the
whole, it can be observed that recent research stresses the pragmatic and inter-
actional dimension of wordplay and verbal humor (see e.g. Kotthoff 1998; Norrick
and Chiaro 2009; Dynel 2011; Charaudeau 2015; Farhat 2015), which opens up
new research perspectives, e.g. on humor as a metapragmatic ability (Ruiz-
Gurillo 2016) or on the relationship between humor and gender (Chiaro and
Baccolini 2014). All these recent approaches point to the dynamic nature of word-
play, which is not only a phenomenon to be described on the basis of its structur-
al features, but also to be analyzed as an element of social interaction and dy-
namic processes of linguistic and social change. We thus chose the topic of the
conference in order to investigate various facets of the dynamics that become
apparent in wordplay, revealing basic principles of language and communica-
The high number of international submissions confirmed the interest in and
relevance of the topic. In addition to the keynote lectures delivered by Salvatore
Attardo, Dirk Delabastita, Dirk Geeraerts and Eline Zenner, Raymond W. Gibbs,
Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchioni, Alain Rabatel and Françoise Rubellin, the thirty-
six papers selected for the conference dealt with different aspects of the theory
and practice of wordplay, studying cases of wordplay from different historical
periods, languages and discourse traditions. In addition, the papers brought
together research perspectives from fourteen different countries, including ap-
proaches from linguistics and literary studies as well as adjacent disciplines such
as cultural studies, media studies, comparative literature, theater studies, and
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| Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
Finally, the research project has sought to cooperate with a “panel of prac-
ticioners” of authors, artists, and other professional “word players” to exchange
on practical perspectives and applications of wordplay. As part of the conference
program, the actors Aurélie Rusterholtz and François Chaix brought to life the
comedy L’Amour maître de langue (1718) in a stage-reading at the Theater Trier.
The performance was introduced by the specialist Françoise Rubellin, who not
only gave an overview of the play and its historical context, but also motivated
the audience to join in and sing the chorus of the final vaudeville, thus becoming
part of the performance. The author Yoko Tawada, who writes in Japanese and
German, presented some of her texts during another plurilingual lecture at
the theater, and Joshua T. Katz directed a workshop on didactic perspectives of
wordplay based on his long teaching experience at Princeton University. Finally,
in her closing statement, the author, Oplepo member and specialist on potential
literature Astrid Poier-Bernhard shared her reflections on creativity and wordplay
with the conference audience, stressing the links between different research
perspectives and approaches and stimulating further discussion and exchange.
Outline of contents
The two volumes of the conference proceedings bring together a selection of
twenty-five research papers presented at the conference, focusing on cultures
and traditions of wordplay and wordplay research (The Dynamics of Wordplay 6)
and on the use of wordplay in different texts and contexts, stressing the social
dimension of wordplay (The Dynamics of Wordplay 7). In addition, the volumes
also include an interview and two papers on practical perspectives and applica-
tions of wordplay.
The Dynamics of Wordplay 6 opens with a section introducing new per-
spectives on the analysis of wordplay and, more precisely, the dynamic aspect of
wordplay. The three contributions in this section focus on the question of how
the production and the description of wordplay are inherently dynamic and how
this dynamicity can be integrated into a descriptive model of wordplay. In his
paper “Words making love together: Dynamics of metaphoric creativity”, Ray-
mond W. Gibbs outlines a linguistic and psychological model of dynamic word-
play, focusing on metaphorical language use as one of the forms of language use
in which people engage in wordplay. He argues that creative metaphor use can-
not be reduced to conscious, deliberate acts that are intended to be seen as such
by listeners and readers. Creative metaphor use rather emerges from an inter-
action of social, cognitive and linguistic forces that do not easily fall into a simple
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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research |
division between the conscious and unconscious minds. The paper describes
different studies that offer support for such an expanded view of metaphoric
creativity and illustrates it with various examples. More generally, the paper aims
to provide a more comprehensive, psychologically realistic way of what people
are doing when they engage in wordplay.
From a different perspective, Dirk Delabastita’s contribution “The dynamics
of wordplay and the modern novel: A paired case study” also argues for a dy-
namic approach to wordplay. Delabastita’s argumentation is based on a multi-
dimensional definition of wordplay and illustrates the dynamic nature of word-
play by means of an analysis of two recent English-language novels, A Concise
Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (2007) by Xiaolu Guo and My Sister, My Love
(2008) by Joyce Carol Oates. The former may be described as a “global novel”
which turns out to suggest different wordplay readings to different readerships,
depending on their cultural background and multilingual literacies. The latter
gives an example of a multi-voiced postmodern narrative style in which wordplay
is characterized by an elusiveness of a very special kind. Both examples thus
illustrate the need for a dynamic approach to wordplay in the analysis of literary
texts which can be extended to other forms of communication.
From yet another perspective, Astrid Poier-Bernhard in her essay “Wor(l)d-
play: Reflections on a writing-experience” describes her personal writing-expe-
rience as a literary author and argues for an integral (or aesthetic) approach to
wordplay in the sense that not only the techniques but also the experience of
wordplay must be taken into consideration. In this context, she argues that
(active) wordplay is always connected with (passive) worldplay or play which
happens. Wordplay lets us experience the playfulness of language, the mind and
the world all at once and often provokes a pleasure of the text or even an instant
of jouissance (R. Barthes). At the same time, the aesthetic qualities of wordplay
can be described with the help of the values suggested by Italo Calvino in his
Lezioni americane (lightness, exactitude, rapidity, visibility, multiplicity).
The following section continues these reflections by presenting general
thoughts and ideas about wordplay and verbal humor and different ways to
approach these phenomena. Salvatore Attardo’s paper “Universals in puns and
humorous wordplay” is dedicated to an analysis of humorous wordplay and
punning as universal phenomena. Building on previous research on puns in
different languages, he identifies basic phonological and semantic mechanisms
of punning. Moreover, it is argued that different kinds of evidence clearly show
that naive speakers hold a Cratylistic view of language, which is at the very heart
of the universal mechanism of incongruity resolution in puns.
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| Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
The paper by Angelika Braun and Astrid Schmiedel “The phonetics of ambi-
guity: A study on verbal irony”, on the other hand, focuses on the phonetic
dimension of a special kind of language use where the meaning of the utterance
is somehow dissociated from its literal wording. In this sense, verbal irony also
exhibits a potential ambiguity, and the basic research question of how the disam-
biguation of the utterances takes place can be linked to other phenomena of
ambiguity and verbal humor. By presenting phonetic analyses of single-word
utterances in sincere and ironic settings, the authors investigate how the irony is
signaled by the speakers and on what cues its detection by the hearers is based.
A basic result which emerges from their paper are the overall recognition rates of
about 70 %. At the same time, the authors observe a strong variation between
sarcasm and kind irony, which thus need to be distinguished as two basically
different subtypes of verbal irony.
With “Exercises in wile”, Joshua T. Katz presents another general approach
to wordplay: Based on his extensive experience of teaching a freshman seminar
on the history and practice of wordplay at Princeton University, the author argues
that wordplay can be used in a very seminal way in academic teaching to intro-
duce students to the subject of linguistics. The paper, which was presented in a
workshop format at the conference, gives an impression of this interactive poten-
tial of wordplay and language play as a means to foster metalinguistic awareness
and reflection on orthographic, phonetic and lexical peculiarities of English (and
other languages).
The papers in the third section of The Dynamics of Wordplay 6 then turn to
specific traditions of wordplay in different social and cultural settings, showing
the social and cultural impact on the forms and functions of wordplay as well as
on the ways in which wordplay is conceived in different historical settings and
cultures. The four papers follow an inverse chronological order, which corre-
sponds to different aspects of traditions and different degrees of traditionality
and conventionalization: The first paper focuses on the rise of a specific subtype
of Internet meme involving verbal humor as a new tradition shared by com-
munities of Internet users. The second paper focuses on the role of wordplay in
post-colonial spaces in expressing a new, hybrid identity. The third paper shows
that new and old traditions are strongly intertwined in the Chinese novel A
Dictionary of Maqiao, which reuses and reinterprets the Western literary tradition
of texts structured as a dictionary or a lexicon in a new way. Finally, the fourth
paper presents a historical perspective on wordplay in German baroque.
In “One does not simply process memes: Image macros as multimodal con-
structions”, Eline Zenner and Dirk Geeraerts present a Cognitive Linguistic
analysis of the highly popular subgenre of Internet memes that consist of text
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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research |
superimposed on an image. Having observed the importance of variation and
modification and the difficulty of providing a straightforward definition of the
new tradition of image macros, they characterize them as prototypically struc-
tured multimodal constructions sharing basic features with jokes and traditional
wordplay. In addition, as many image macros also involve instances of “classic”
wordplay, the question arises of what the basic processing difficulties are that
can be involved in decoding the image macros. To describe the varying degrees
of typicality, the authors propose four dimensions along which the image macros
vary multimodality, multilingualism, intra-genre intertextuality and external
referencing included in the construction. This opens up perspectives for further
research on the mechanisms involved in the production and processing of image
macros along these basic dimensions.
Gesa Schole’s paper “Wordplay as a means of post-colonial resistance” de-
scribes the use of wordplay in a post-colonial context. More specifically, it
analyzes the language use of the Mozambican writer Mia Couto in one of his
novels and deals with the question of how wordplay phenomena can act as a
means of post-colonial resistance in this context. The use of colloquial Mozam-
bican Portuguese and thus the deliberate deviation from European Portuguese is
described as wordplay in a wider sense. It is analyzed as a form of linguistic self-
mimicry as opposed to the earlier colonial mimicry. Furthermore, wordplay in a
narrow sense is identified in the form of lexical blends which may be seen as
metaphors for the hybrid character of post-colonial spaces. We are thus dealing
with a specific use of wordplay in the context of post-colonial literature.
The next paper by Monika Schmitz-Emans is dedicated to an analysis of
“Examples and poetics of wordplay in Han Shaogong’s language-reflective novel
A Dictionary of Maqiao”. The Western tradition of literary texts structured as
dictionaries can be traced back to authors such as Rabener and Lichtenberg,
followed by other satirical “dictionaries” by rationalist writers, by the literary and
artistic works of the surrealists, and finally by the lexicographic novel as a spe-
cific novel genre emerging around 1970. Schmitz-Emans then shows how the
Chinese author Han Shaogong takes up and uses this tradition. As the dictionary
provides a model that points to the use of language itself, this tradition involves
a self-referential dimension, and wordplay fulfils a key role within this tradition,
creating a playful bridge between documentary and inventive narrative and in
this way permitting the expression of political criticism.
The final paper of The Dynamics of Wordplay 6, “Wordplay and baroque
linguistic ideas” by Natalia Filatkina and Claudine Moulin, takes a historical
perspective on traditions of wordplay. It studies wordplay in Early Modern lan-
guage philosophy, focusing more specifically on one of the language theorists of
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| Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
17th century Germany, Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1607–1658). The paper ana-
lyzes two of Harsdörffer’s works, namely the eight-volume series Frauenzimmer
Gesprächspiele (1643–1649) and the three-volume scientific work Delitiae Mathe-
maticae et Physicae (1651–1653). It describes various subtypes of wordplay with
letters and argues that in the context of baroque linguistic ideas wordplay should
be defined in a broader sense. They show that wordplay as it is conceived by
Harsdörffer is deeply rooted in the concept of language peculiar to European
baroque culture. The latter provides a conceptual background not only for
theoretical reflection, poetry, education and standards of knowledge, but also for
the role and functions of wordplay.
Taken together, the papers collected in the first volume of the conference
proceedings thus combine different approaches to wordplay and its dynamics
and present different perspectives on universal and historical aspects of word-
play. These reflections are complemented by the papers in the second volume of
the proceedings, where different aspects of the social dimension of wordplay,
depending on its use in specific texts and contexts, are explored. The first section
of the volume focuses on the evaluation and the success of wordplay in different
contexts of use, including both everyday language and literary texts.
In her paper “Heurs et malheurs du jeu de mots”, Catherine Kerbrat-
Orecchioni focuses on wordplay in the narrow sense, defined as a conscious and
deliberate production of a double sens and thus simultaneously involving the
levels of signifier and signified. The author then takes up the challenge of classi-
fying wordplays as “good” or “bad”, and proposes three groups of linguistic crite-
ria that are relevant for their evaluation: formal criteria permit us to evaluate
different degrees of complexity (paronomasia in praesentia, antanaclasis, paro-
nomasia in absentia, syllepsis), semantic criteria account for different degrees of
motivatedness, and pragmatic criteria provide additional conditions for the
success of a particular wordplay (comprehensibility, acceptability, adaptation to
the genre). In spite of these criteria being well-defined and straightforwardly ana-
lyzable, however, the specific effect of a particular case of wordplay will remain
highly unpredictable.
The following paper by Alain Rabatel, “À quelles conditions les lapsus clavis
sont-ils des jeux de mots?”, analyzes cases of lapsus realized in electronic com-
writing, assuming that in certain circumstances, these uninten-
tional phenomena can be reinterpreted as puns. After distinguishing different
subtypes of lapsus and other kinds of errors and mistakes, the author analyzes
various cases of lapsus along with the morphological and phonological devia-
tions they exhibit, the semantic criteria which indicate a possible interpretation
of the lapsus, and enunciative and interactional criteria, the latter being of key
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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research |
importance for deciding on the communicative value and success of the lapsus.
Moreover, it is argued that the conditions of success are co-constructed by the
communication partners and that the conceptual conflict on which the lapsus is
based can be analyzed in terms of conflicting points of view.
Jean-François Sablayrolles, in “Des innovations lexicales ludiques dans des
situations d’énonciation marginales ou spécifiques”, focuses on instances of
playful innovations which are characterized as taking place in marginal contexts
of use. In the specific situation in which the innovations are used, these innova-
tions can serve to amuse the hearers and to create a favorable attitude towards
the speaker. Among the forms of lexical innovation analyzed are incorrect flec-
tional forms, portmanteau words and words parodying scientific language use.
Another context commented on is first language acquisition, when it can equally
be observed that children take pleasure in producing paronyms, thereby ex-
ploring the ludic dimension of language.
Finally, the paper by Ilias Yocaris, “‘En trou si beau adultère est béni’:
poétique du jeu de mots dans Histoire de Claude Simon”, takes as its starting-
point Claude Simon’s observed predilection for wordplay to argue that wordplay
is the most appropriate stylistic device in Simon’s poetics which claims to be
purely formal. Several analyses of puns in the novel Histoire show that the puns
form part of a complex relational system, serving a triple textual purpose: they
densify the text (organizational purpose), they increase the investigative poten-
tial of “ordinary language” (referential purpose), and they draw the reader’s
attention to the materiality of the text (metadiscursive purpose).
The contributions of the second section adopt a more specific perspective
and focus on the social dimension of wordplay in particular historical and social
contexts of use. In her paper “Pouvoir du jeu de mots. Dominer par la parole en
contexte d’inégalité sociale”, Karine Abiven is concerned with the use of
wordplay in unequal interactions in French court society of the 17th and 18th
centuries. Based on courtesy books, collections of brief forms and memoirs, it is
argued that wordplay, which is assimilated to the bon mot, functions as a social
regulator, as it allows the speaker to save face even in situations of social
inferiority, as a weapon of defence or a way to circumvent social domination,
allowing the speaker to convey implicit meanings while maintaining the require-
ments of decorum. At the same time, precisely because of its inherently ambig-
uous and surprising character, the repartee is difficult to refute or reply to. In this
way, wordplay exhibits the power to circumvent social domination.
The following contribution by Catherine Ruchon, “Le jeu de mots dans les
discours sur le deuil: un jeu discursif offensif”, switches to current contexts
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| Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
where the use of wordplay may at first sight appear to be surprising: grief dis-
course of parents who have lost an unborn child. Yet based on a corpus of works
written by bereaved parents, the names of associations and texts provided on
their websites, it is shown that wordplay can fulfill an important function in the
expression of pain, permitting the parents to circumvent taboos surrounding the
expression of grief and pain. The wordplays examined exhibit “classical” tech-
niques such as homophony, paronymy and wordplay on phrasemes. Moreover,
the wordplays are linked to Freud’s concepts of economy and condensation, as
developed in his theory of the dream and then applied to verbal humor.
Another approach to the social dimension of wordplay and to further func-
tions beyond amusing the hearer or reader is offered by Michelle Lecolle’s contri-
bution “Enjeu du collectif – noms collectifs en jeux”. The paper examines utter-
ances which play with the notions of collectivity and plurality by exploiting the
morphosyntactic, semantic and interpretative potential of the linguistic material
(e.g. portrait de groupe avec individus, l’innombrable regard de la salle). Based on
her analyses of examples taken from the French press, and additionally literary
and advertising texts, the author argues that wordplay is not necessarily humor-
ous, but can also be characterized by the intellectual pleasure it provides.
The social significance of wordplay is also apparent in the communicative
setting treated in Lisa Roques’ contribution “Jeux de banquet: mots de poète,
mots de stratège”. Her analysis is based on the Epidèmiai by Ion of Chios, which
describe a symposion taking place at the house of Hermesilaos and assembling
the social, political and intellectual elite of Athens in the fifth century B.C.
Examining various examples of Sophocles’ use of paidia – jokes and puns –,
Roques shows that they not only aim to amuse the assembled company, but also
serve to make fun of the adversary and attack the strategos Pericles by giving his
words a malicious interpretation. Tying in with the contribution by Karine
Abiven, this paper thus also points to uses of wordplay as a weapon in socially
conflictive contexts.
The first two sections of the volume are followed by an interlude in the form
of an interview with Aurélie Rusterholtz and François Chaix. The actors comment
on their approach to wordplay and verbal humor in their professional lives in
general as well as on their preparation and performance of the reading of the
French comedy L’Amour maître de langue (1718), which was included in the
program of the Trier conference. They talk about specific challenges that need to
be met and dealt with when performing the plays, but also stress the overall
accessibility of the verbal humor of 17th and 18th century comedies for different
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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research |
The contributions in the following third section are dedicated to the use of
wordplay in particular authors, literary trends, genres and text types, thus bring-
ing together linguistic and literary perspectives. More specifically, the first two
papers focus on French 20th century literary authors, including dramatic
(Eugène Ionesco, Jean Tardieu) and narrative texts (Boris Vian). The perspectives
provided on the importance of wordplay in these literary contexts are comple-
mented by three linguistic contributions focusing on the role and use of wordplay
in newspaper headings, advertising and domain names.
In her contribution “Le jeu de mots dans la dramaturgie d’avant-garde des
années 1950”, Jiaying Li starts by examining the use of wordplay in comedies in
the Aristotelian tradition, where it serves to reinforce illusionist effects. She
shows that the avant-garde theatre of the 1950s introduces a fundamentally
different value of wordplay which is no longer bound to the requirement of
verisimilitude and serving the connivance between the author and the audience.
Instead, wordplay gains a certain freedom, which is, however, exploited differ-
ently by Ionesco and Tardieu, although both authors share the ideal of an ab-
stract theatre. While Ionesco stresses the eventual failure of communication with
an anarchic spirit of joking, Tardieu puts forward the musical and aesthetic po-
tential of language, respecting the principle of entertainment. Together both
authors illustrate the key role of wordplay in the renewal of dramatic language
which is a central preoccupation of post-war authors.
The following paper “La dynamique de la syllepse dans la construction
fictionnelle chez Boris Vian” by Cécile Pajona pursues these reflections by
analyzing another French post-war author, Boris Vian. Pajona’s paper is con-
cerned with syllepsis and the literary effects of this figure of speech in his novels,
and more specifically, with the role of syllepsis in the construction of a particular
fictional world. After commenting on the relationship of syllepsis to wordplay
and the delimitation between syllepsis and puns, Pajona shows that this figure
operates a deidiomatization and thus plays a key role in the deconstruction of
linguistic norms. Finally, the paper analyzes syllepsis from a pragmatic perspec-
tive and argues that syllepsis can be regarded as a privileged fictionalization tool
aiming to create a bond with the reader, convincing him
her to adhere to the new
norms presented.
The recipient-oriented function of wordplay also becomes very clear in Fran-
çoise Sullet-Nylander’s paper on “Jeux de mots à la Une d’hier et d’aujourd’hui:
dynamique et diversité d’un genre”, where the use of wordplay in French news-
paper headlines is analyzed. The author first presents the results of various
previous studies she conducted on this topic, focusing on the headlines taken
alone as autonomous texts, on their relationship with the following newspaper
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| Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
article, and on their intertextual or interdiscursive relationship with other
utterances. In a next step, Sullet-Nylander presents the results of a survey on 100
newspaper front pages (ranging from 1631 to 2012) collected by Bourseiller, and a
second corpus of 372 headlines of the daily newspaper Libération (1972–2015),
which are analyzed with respect to the importance of cultural references, phrase-
ological expressions, proper names and paradoxical utterances. Whereas word-
play is shown to play only a minor role in the first corpus, which can be explained
by the selection criteria put forward by Bourseiller, the second corpus reveals that
over the last 40 years wordplay has been a basic feature of newspaper headlines.
Another domain where the importance of wordplay is generally recognized
is advertising. This issue is addressed by Giovanni Tallarico’s paper “Créativité
lexicale et jeux de mots dans les messages publicitaires: formes et fonctions”,
which aims to determine basic forms and functions of wordplay in French
advertising based on a corpus of the weekly À nous Paris (2015–2016). Main
categories of wordplay identified by Tallarico are cases of wordplay exploiting
language itself (alliteration, onomatopoiea), sound-based puns (homophony,
paronymy), semantically based puns (polysemy, antonymy) and wordplay
involving allusion (modification of fixed expressions). Tallarico shows that the
third category – puns on meaning – accounts for about half of the cases analyzed,
whereas neological creations play only a marginal role. Moreover, the author
argues that in spite of the important role of the visual dimension in the advertise-
ments, slogans are still a key element. Wordplay appears to be particularly apt in
this context, as it is also characterized by concision, originality and efficiency.
The originality and creativity of slogans can be seen in lexical blending and
playful modifications of phrasemes, which fulfill the function of capturing
attention and facilitating the memorization of the slogans. Further functions
identified by Tallarico are the creation of effects of complicity and the aim of
disguising the commercial dimension of the utterances.
The function of wordplay as an attention-grabbing device and a means of
enhancing the memorization of the utterance is also clearly manifest in domain
names, as studied by Peter Handler in his contribution “Les noms de domaine –
une nouvelle source de créativité langagière”. Adopting a broad perspective on
wordplay, the author demonstrates the frequent use of various creative tech-
niques in the choice of domain names or web addresses. These techniques
include blends, phonetic spelling and phonetic deformation, paronymy, double
meanings and permutations. Constraints of technical standardization define a
certain morphology of domain names and thus impose certain limits, but also
foster additional ways of playing with domain name extensions, which can be
reinterpreted (e.g. .tv and .fm) and
or integrated into other terms or phrases (e.g.
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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research |
13, This latter tendency is particularly noticeable in the develop-
ments following the introduction of “New generic Top Level Domains”, consider-
ably enhancing the possibility of introducing playful domain names.
Taken together, the contributions of the third section thus reveal the key role
– but also the internal variety – of wordplay in particular contexts of use. The four
papers of the last section of The Dynamics of Wordplay 7 finally investigate
specific scenarios of wordplay use which exhibit an inherent dynamics, as the
use of wordplay takes place at the crossroads of different languages, traditions
and social discourses. Again, this section brings together approaches from
linguistics and literary studies.
The first contribution by Esme Winter-Froemel and Pauline Beaucé, “Con-
tacts linguistiques et humour verbal dans le théâtre comique français au tournant
des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles”, combines a linguistic and a literary approach to
investigate the importance of plurilingualism in the society of the Ancien Régime
for the verbal humor in the comedies of this period. The authors start by giving
an overview of the historical conditions that are relevant to the analysis of the
comedies, including the most important types of language contact and languages
concerned as well as the conditions under which the comedies were performed
at the different theaters, and strict constraints imposed on the théâtre de la Foire.
Then they show that plurilingualism is strongly reflected in the comedies, where
different forms of contacts can be observed: code-switching, interference and
lexical borrowing, but also more inventive and more radical forms of innovations
based on contact phenomena, including parodies of linguistic stereotypes and
the invention of new languages. The verbal humor related to language contact
phenomena points to specific social values attributed to the languages involved.
At the same time, the verbal humor of the comedies partly transgresses linguistic
and dramaturgic conventions, thus revealing a creative orchestration of existing
linguistic differences and tensions.
Elena Meteva-Rousseva’s paper on “Les jeux de mots dans le nadsat
d’Anthony Burgess comment ses traducteurs français ont relevé le défi” pro-
vides another look at contact phenomena and the challenges imposed by linguis-
tic differences. She studies the translation of wordplay in nadsat, the specific
slang invented by Burgess for the young thugs of his dystopian novel A Clockwork
Orange. As the wordplay mostly involves Russian, a language English readers are
not familiar with, it can be analyzed as a case of secret wordplay. It thus appears
to be fully appropriate to be used in a slang which aims to construct a group
identity and which has both playful and cryptic functions. Based on these obser-
vations, the author distinguishes between two dominant functions of wordplay
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| Esme Winter-Froemel, Verena Thaler and Alex Demeulenaere
in Burgess’ nadsata referential and a qualifying function –, and provides exam-
ples for the ways the challenges of translation have been met by the French
translators of the book.
The following contribution by Anda Rădulescu, “Du calembour simple au
calembour complexe dans le roman À prendre ou à lécher de Frédéric Dard”, is
also dedicated to the analysis of creative language use in a literary context. To
study the use of puns in Frédéric Dard
San Antonio, the author selects one of his
novels and analyzes the puns used according to the underlying mechanisms and
the degree of complexity of the puns, referring to established categories of
wordplay. Moreover, she shows that the puns frequently involve languages other
than French (mainly English and German). A main aim of the puns identified by
Rădulescu is to create a connivance between the writer and the readers.
The use of wordplay in the interaction between speaker and hearer (or be-
tween writer and reader) is likewise addressed by Hélène Favreau. In her contri-
bution “‘Allumeeez le fun’: le jeu de mots comme lieu de croisement des dyna-
miques linguistique et socio-linguistique dans le discours publicitaire”, she
emphasizes the intentional deviation from established linguistic norms by the
speaker in advertising discourse in order to capture the hearer’s attention and
make them smile or laugh. Favreau argues that wordplay in advertising, which
involves the phonological, lexical and semantic level, thus reflects the dynamics
of language itself. At the same time, the decoding of the messages may require a
more or less active participation on the part of the hearer, who needs to recon-
struct the meaning, taking into account both common cultural knowledge and
intertextual allusions and suggested subtexts. Moreover, the paper is also
concerned with the further evolution of the deviant items and the sociolinguistic
dynamics at work, and the author shows that the advertising discourse not only
reflects ongoing developments, but can also create and foster new trends in the
evolution of the French language.
In spite of the linear order of presentation of the papers contained in the two
volumes of the conference proceedings, the various papers present numerous
different links and common interests which the reader is invited to discover. To
facilitate access to all of the contributions, each volume of the conference pro-
ceedings provides an appendix listing all the contributions contained in both
volumes, with additional translations of the abstracts of the other volume, and
short profiles of all the contributors to the conference proceedings. In addition,
both volumes have an index listing the main key words of the contributions
contained in the respective volume.
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The dynamics of wordplay and wordplay research |
Final remarks and acknowledgments
We would like to express our gratitude to the German Research Foundation
(Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
DFG) and the University of Trier for the
financial support provided for the organization of the conference “The Dynamics
of Wordplay
La dynamique du jeu de mots” and the publication of the
conference proceedings in both print format and an open access version.
Our sincerest thanks go to an almost unbelievably efficient conference team
the co-organizers of the conference, Carolin Munderich and Gesa Schole, as
well as the student assistants Samira Jung, Helin Baglar, Armin Rotzler, Marie
Winter and Sarah Repplinger – for their extraordinary engagement and commit-
ment. Our special thanks go to Birgit Imade for her most helpful and reliable
assistance both during the conference and with all the pre- and post-conference
administrative tasks. Moreover, we would like to thank Mathilde Thomas for
bringing in her engagement and enthusiasm, and the University of Trier for
hosting the conference and providing outstanding support for the wordplay
project. Our special thanks go to Katharina Brodauf.
The conference and the publication of the proceedings were prepared with
the help of the members of the network “The Dynamics of Wordplay”, the Edito-
rial Board of this book series and a committee of over 70 reviewers with the task
of selecting from over 80 submissions the papers to be presented at the confer-
ence and to be published in the proceedings. Our thanks also go to those who
assisted us in the preparation of the volumes, for their invaluable commitment
and reliability: Sophia Fünfgeld, Samira Jung, Helin Baglar, Jeanette Hannibal
and Carolin Halcour as well as Michelle Lecolle, Véronique Featherston-Lardeux,
Angela Oakeshott and Martina Bross.
In addition, we would like to thank the editorial team at De Gruyter, above
all Ulrike Krauß and also Gabrielle Cornefert, Christina Lembrecht, Simone
Herbst and Anne Rudolph for their efficient support and assistance in preparing
the volumes.
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... Wordplay is deemed to be one of the most natural and widespread linguistic means of expressing humour due to the fact that it "involves the presence of (minimally) two senses, but need not involve two "words", [1, p. 91] and, therefore, initially carries bisociation. Wordplay, and, in particular, humorous wordplay, has been a strong focus of some latest significant researches, investigated in Attardo [1], Delabastita [2], Hempelmann and Miller [3], Knospe, Onysko, and Goth [4], Winter-Froemel, Thaler, and Demeulenaere [5,6]. Wordplay is humorous by its nature and considered to be a "historically determined phenomenon in which a speaker produces an utterance -and is aware of doing so -that juxtaposes or manipulates linguistic items from one or more languages in order to surprise the hearer(s) and obtain a humorous effect on them" [5, p. 37]. ...
... Another slogan was used by A. Gerashchenko in (6). It is a type of re-modified one: "May the Force be with you"→ "May the 4th be with you" → May the 4th be with Ukraine and can be considered a co-authored case of humouring. ...
Full-text available
In our paper, we explore the use and functions of ambiguity in communication, i. e. in speaker-hearer-interaction. A pragmatic point of view opens up the possibility to include parameters such as the roles of speaker and hearer, the salience of ambiguity in communication and its effects on ongoing communication as well as contexts that frame the occurrence of ambiguity. These parameters are applicable onto examples from everyday speech and literary communication alike. Our interdisciplinary approach, together with our choice of examples, goes beyond traditional perspectives on ambiguity in several ways. Including examples of pragmatic ambiguity that are not inherent to the language system allows us to investigate the central role of ambiguity in language change. The study of literary examples shows that ambiguity also involves several levels of speakers and hearers so that ambiguity can be analyzed both within the text and on a level outside the text. All this contributes to an increase of complexity in the communicative situation and thus gives us a more comprehensive perspective on ambiguity in its manifold varieties.
Full-text available
Ce travail, centré sur l’analyse de l’humour verbal, s’articule avec une réflexion sur l’ironie, qui interviendra in fine, à titre contrastif : c’est cet arrière plan que soulignent les parenthèses du titre. Mais leurs différences ne doivent estomper leurs points communs, c’est-à-dire le double jeu énonciatif visant la moquerie (le terme est plus englobant que celui de dérision), la mise en boîte de l’autre, en un sens auto- ou hétéro-dialogique. À partir de là, mon propos vise à dégager les raisons qui, en production et en réception, orientent l’interprétation des énoncés ou des textes vers l’humour ou vers l’ironie. L’humour repose sur des positionnements plus complexes que ceux de l’ironie, parce qu’il implique d’abord de maîtriser son positionnement envers les autres que soi (ironie) avant de pouvoir exercer la dynamique de l’autre et du même envers les autres de soi (humour). Après avoir présenté mon cadre théorique [1], je proposerai une approche énonciativo-pragmatique de l’humour à partir de quelques exemples attestés ou fabriqués [2]. Enfin, j’examinerai les mécanismes de la sous-énonciation, en appui sur une hypo-assertion : le point de vue initial (PDV1) est pris en compte par l’énonciateur humoriste, sans être totalement rejeté et PDV2, plus pertinent, ne se présente pas comme une vérité définitive, vu sa dimension ludique, c’est pourquoi il est hypo-asserté. Les PDV en confrontation (Rabatel 2008a, 2011) sont organisés différemment : le PDV2 pris en charge est toujours implicite dans l’ironie (Rabatel 2012c), tandis qu’il est explicite dans l’humour, alors que PDV1 repose sur des allusions implicites. La confrontation est ainsi moins tendue dans l’humour, conformément à l’idée d’understatement [3].
Interpreting Figurative Meaning critically evaluates the recent empirical work from psycholinguistics and neuroscience examining the successes and difficulties associated with interpreting figurative language. There is now a huge, often contradictory literature on how people understand figures of speech. Gibbs and Colston argue that there may not be a single theory or model that adequately explains both the processes and products of figurative meaning experience. Experimental research may ultimately be unable to simply adjudicate between current models in psychology, linguistics and philosophy of how figurative meaning is interpreted. Alternatively, the authors advance a broad theoretical framework, motivated by ideas from 'dynamical systems theory', that describes the multiple, interacting influences which shape people's experiences of figurative meaning in discourse. This book details past research and theory, offers a critical assessment of this work and sets the stage for a new vision of figurative experience in human life.
For more than two decades now, cognitive science has been making overtures to literature and literary studies. Only recently, however, cognitive linguistics and poetics seem to be moving towards a more serious and reciprocal type of interdisciplinarity. In coupling cognitive linguistics and poetics, cognitive poeticians aim to offer cognitive readings of literary texts and formulate specific hypotheses concerning the relationship between aesthetic meaning effects and patterns in the cognitive construal and processing of literary texts. One of the basic assumptions of the endeavour is that some of the key topics in poetics (such as the construction of text worlds, characterization, narrative perspective, distancing discourse, etc.) may be fruitfully approached by applying cognitive linguistic concepts and insights (such as embodied cognition, metaphor, mental spaces, iconicity, construction grammar, figure/ground alignment, etc.), in an attempt to support, enrich or adjust 'traditional' poetic analysis. Conversely, the tradition of poetics may support, frame or call into question insights form cognitive linguistics. In order to capture the goals, gains and gaps of this rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of research, this volume brings together some of the key players and critics of cognitive poetics. The eleven chapters are grouped into four major sections, each dealing with central concerns of the field: (i) the cognitive mechanisms, discursive means and mental products related to narrativity (Semino, Herman, Culpeper); (ii) the different incarnations of the concept of figure in cognitive poetics (Freeman, Steen, Tsur); (iii) the procedures that are meant to express or create discursive attitudes, like humour, irony or distance in general (Antonopoulou and Nikiforidou, Dancygier and Vandelanotte, Giora et al.); and (iv) a critical assessment of the current state of affairs in cognitive poetics, and more specifically the incorporation of insights from cognitive linguistics as only one of the contributing fields in the interdisciplinary conglomerate of cognitive science (Louwerse and Van Peer, Sternberg).The ensuing dialogue between cognitive and literary partners, as well as between advocates and opponents, is promoted through the use of short response articles included after ten chapters of the volume. © 2009 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG. All rights reserved.
This book presents a theory of long humorous texts based on a revision and an upgrade of the General Theory of Verbal Humour (GTVH), a decade after its first proposal. The theory is informed by current research in psycholinguistics and cognitive science. It is predicated on the fact that there are humorous mechanisms in long texts that have no counterpart in jokes. The book includes a number of case studies, among them Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Allais' story Han Rybeck. A ground-breaking discussion of the quantitative distribution of humor in select texts is presented. © 2001 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin. All rights reserved.
Wordplay involving several linguistic codes represents an important modality of ludic language. It is attested in different epochs, communicative situations, genres, and contexts of use. The translation of wordplay, which is generally seen as a challenging enterprise, illustrates another dimension of crossing linguistic borders in wordplay. The third volume of the series The Dynamics of Wordplay unites contributions from different disciplines which study the creative and playful use of elements from different languages and the transfer of ludic language into other linguistic systems. It sheds light on the multi-dimensionality, special linguistic make-up, and specific interactive potential of wordplay at the interface of different languages and cultures. The individual studies collected in this volume will be of interest to scholars from different scientific fields, such as linguistics and literary studies as well as cultural and media studies. © 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. All rights reserved.