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The language of advertisements/jokes

 
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Maciek



Joined: 22 Feb 2004
Posts: 12
Location: Poland

PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2009 11:58 am    Post subject: The language of advertisements/jokes Reply with quote

Hi everybody! SmileI am writing a MBA paper on the language of advertisements on the basis of relevance theory. I am thinking of changing the topic slightly and try to analyse jokes instead of ads because I think I can find more jokes than advertisemnts for my research. I have already written 3 pages which are a summary of Franciso Yus's article "Humor and the search for relevance", in which Yus analyses Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory and tries to explain how humourous interpretations are produced. I'm looking for jokes which would fit into the interpretive steps mentioned by Yus (see the text below). If anyone could find some example jokes or ads I would be much obliged. Many thanks in advance for any kind of help!

Here is the summary:
Yus (2003) perceives humour as being incompatible with Grice’s maxim system since it breaks the principle of cooperation; he therefore explains humour on the basis of Relevance Theory. The fact that jokes do not accord with Grice’s maxim theory does not mean that humorous utterances are not successful communicative exchanges. According to Yus, relevance can be obtained without any specific rules - “it is possible to be optimally relevant without being as informative as is required” (Yus 2003:1296). In the case of jokes, the speaker may leave some of the information implicit for the hearer to access in order to find the most relevant meaning, and that often requires mental effort. In Relevance Theory the hearer decodes an utterance, believing that a set of assumptions ostensively communicated presents a good balance between cognitive effects in exchange for mental effort needed to arrive at the right interpretation- the one intended by the communicator. Sperber and Wilson (1994:47) claim that a hearer wanting to fully comprehend the intended message must pass through interpretive phases. Yus (2003:1302) suggests that some of them may be intentionally taken advantage of by the speaker to create humourous effects. Below we will explain how comprehension begins within RT.

First the hearer must select the so-called ‘logical form’ which is sentence structure: the grammatical constituents. That is called decoding. When we hear a sentence our linguistic competence starts forming ‘a logical form’, its semantic representation. The context in which the sentence is uttered is not taken into account in this step yet. In this stage the addresser (person telling a joke) may “play with the arrangement of grammatical constituents” in order for humour to arise (Yus, 2003: 1304). Let us examine this example:

A lady went into a clothing shop store and asked, “May I try on that dress in the window?” “Well replied the sales clerk doubtfully, “don’t you think it would better to use the dressing room?” (Clark, 1968:239, quoted in Oaks, 1994: 379, quoted in Yus, 2003: 1304”

Here the joke lies in the prepositional phrase ‘in the window’, which can refer to either ‘dress’ or ‘try on’.

The next stage a hearer must pass through is called ‘ambiguity resolution’. Usually it is the environment in which an ambiguous sentence is uttered that allows the hearer to pick an interpretation that is the most likely. However, it may occur that both interpretations are possible, that is both can be treated by the hearer as the intended message and in which case the hearer will be unable to decide which one to choose. Let us analyse this example: Morgan and Green (1987: 727) refer to Shaffer’s play Amadeus.When Salieri asks Mozart about his own skills, Mozart replies saying: “I never thought music like that was possible” (quoted in Yus, 2003: 1305). Mozart’s reply here is very puzzling and it is extremely difficult to decide whether the intended message was praising or rather criticizing Salieri.
Sometimes ambiguity is added to words, like the adjective ‘red’ in this example:

Q: What is black and white and red all over?
A: The newspaper (Chairo, 1992:38 quoted in Yus, 2003:1305)

However, generally on the basis of our senses we tend to choose a more likely interpretation. Sometimes it results from the utterance being more stereotypical or more rational, or the preceding discourse helps us arrive at the right meaning (like in the example cited above).

The next interpretive step is called ‘reference assignment”. At this stage the hearer has to find the right spatial-temporal referents for indexicals or determine the notion of polysemous words (having multiple meanings). The addresser controls the hearer’s access to these referents to create a humorous effect. In this example the hearer must understand the meaning of the polysemous word ‘ball’:

Q: Why was Cinderella thrown off the baseball team?
A: Because she ran away from the ball (Rosenblooom, 1976, quoted in Oaks, 1994: 378, quoted in Yus, 2003: 1306)

This example shows how the communicator can play with indexicals, in this instance the indexical ‘it’:

A doctor thoroughly examined his patient, and said, “Look, I really can’t find any reason for this mysterious affliction. It’s probably because of drinking.” The patient sighed, and snapped, “In this case,
I will come back when you’re damn well sober!” (Dedopulos, 1998: 207, quoted in Yus, 2003: 1306).

The last but one interpretive step is ‘enrichment’. The hearer, while processing information, often has to make some effort and use contextual information to enrich the semantic inadequacy of an utterance. Normally, communicators are not fully explicit and leave as much information as possible for the hearer to extract in the process of utterance interpretation. This semantic incompleteness is often taken advantage of by the addresser for the sake of humour. Let us analyse this example:

Manager to interviewee: “For this job we need someone who is responsible.”
Interviewee to manager:” I’m your man-in my last job, whenever anything went wrong I was
responsible” (Dedopulos, 1998: 221, quoted in Yus, 2003:1306)

In the above example the word ‘responsible’ is incomplete and therefore makes the text sound humorous. ‘Responsible’ needs to be enriched to ‘responsible for something’ or ‘responsible for doing something’.

The last stage is ‘deriving implicatures’. Wilson and Sperber (1986:383) define implicatures as: ‘’ those contextual assumptions and implications which the hearer has to recover in order to satisfy himself that the speaker has observed the principle of relevance” (quoted in Yus 2003, 1306). Implicatures can be strong or weak depending on contextual effects. A weak implicature contrary to a strong one, requires more cognitive processing. In this process a new information the hearer receives is processed against the context created on what he believes in and what he assumes. This kind of process is common in humour as the hearer has to rely on his previous knowledge to interpret the humorous utterance correctly. In the following example three pieces of information are needed, namely the song called “You’ve got Bette Davis eyes”, the fact that it was her eyes that Bette was known for and that generally you do not complement someone’s knees:
Two ugly, overweight ladies are leaning on the counter of a hot-dog stand. One says to the other, “You’ve got Bette Davis knees” (Dolitsky, 1983:45, quoted in Yus, 2003:1307)
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 3003
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 5:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The following two books (I own both) have serviceable analyses that leave space for enough actual jokes:

Walter Nash, The Language of Humour (Longman 1985)
David Crystal, Language Play (Penguin 1998)

Also spotted these on my travels:

Delia Chiaro, The Language of Jokes (Routledge 1992)
Alison Ross, The Language of Humour (Routledge 1998)

Google Book Search is useful and often provides generous previews:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?q=language+of+advertising

Mentioned the following book here on Dave's once, but it's a bit heavy-going and not exactly bursting with actual data: Gibbs & Colston (eds), Irony in Language and Thought. Yus has two entries in the Index.
( http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=35573#35573 )

It would probably be scraping the barrel if I dug out stuff like the FHM jokebooks.
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woodcutter



Joined: 19 Jun 2004
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 11:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are surely plenty of online places to locate jokes - wouldn't it be better to discuss the project/theory here, rather than ask for raw material?
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 12:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You mean you've actually read, digested and thought about at least the Yus summary, Woody? Surprised If so, then perhaps I should, too! Wink
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woodcutter



Joined: 19 Jun 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You called it "stodge" - the reasons why you are correct and why it may anyway attract very good marks are certainly worth discussing.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, I did call it stodge, but (and as you yourself seem to be implying), at least one will end up with some sort of cake 'at the end of the day' (allusion to your '10 most hated phrases' thread there Smile ). Maybe we should see what Gordon, Nigella etc make of all this. Idea Laughing
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woodcutter



Joined: 19 Jun 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The main thing is that Grice's maxims are just an ancient, flawed and pedestrian little theory, but in academia it is nearly always better to proceed from that kind of dreary starting point and find new technical sounding ways to examine useless things rather than do something worth doing - that would be risky.

Well, I suppose maybe the OP will gain the ability to easily compose brilliant jokes using linguistic science and get a career in comedy out of it.

Relevance theory in itself, an examination of how information is implied rather than directly stated, can teach us interesting things I suppose. But I don't see how a taxonomy of word play teaches us much.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 3003
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2009 6:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maciek, I finally got around to reading your post more closely, and have come up with a more considered response than I was originally contemplating typing. (Sorry if we've seemed a little uninterested and uncaring up to now!).

Humour (or feeble attempts at it - see my posts!) seems so ubiquitous to me that I can't really see why it should be held to be an exception in any adequate theory of language use – and surely it is as co-operative as not! It would make more sense to me to formulate a 'Maxim of Humour' ("Be funny", at least occasionally, because other people will probably appreciate you brightening up their day!) than be constrained by Gricean or whatever ideas. (Implicatures and the like can ultimately seem just so many invented sentences with a simple 'Yes' or 'No' or equivalent strangely withheld at their beginning). And it's not adding much more to say that humour, besides being relevant and integral to conversation and life in general, is a creative act, is subtle puzzle-making, playful reversal, rather than clear, ostensive, 100% truth and fidelity, and very possibly quite bland.

I myself would see more relevance in a simple and relatively explicit taxonomy of joke types and their related functions, rather than an only implicit taxonomy located or lurking within a psycholinguistically babbly and debatable series of 'interpretive phases' or whatever (that is, why would e.g. a potentially clearly more lexis-dependent joke need to pass through "logical form" phase, if the grammatical parsing were unambiguous? Apologies if from your summary I have misunderstood how joke processing apparently works in RT); that is, I am not sure that one really needs the RT overlay/overlaid to explain how humorous interpretations are produced.

So, looking at the jokes that Yus cites, I would tentatively analyze (sorry for any apparent reduplication - obviously I am basing at least some of what I say on what's in your summary, but trying to highlight what seems most relevant, and in as direct and non-technical terms as possible!) and label them as follows (the keyword is ambiguity, or rather, often "ambiguity"; numbers refer to the order in which Yus has cited them/that they appear in your summary):

1) Structure-, specifically, parse-"ambiguous" jokes (such as this first, "Dress" one*).

2) Jokes ("jokes"?) based on vagueness if not possible irony or outright sarcasm (or ironic or sarcastic – hypersensitive listener? - interpretations of what was said and/or not said i.e. implied, or not; that is, a distinction needs to be drawn between what the speaker intended and what the listener believes the speaker intended. If the speaker did not actually intend the meaning that the listener attributes to the utterance, then it is not really functionally a joke or "joke" or whatever, but just a misconstrual, although much depends on what use the listener actually then makes of the utterance in their own subsequent speech or behaviour (and they might continue with the personally affronted humourless miscontrual reading, no matter how hypersensitive, delicate and indeed paranoid that might make them seem. There is a perceptual difference between good-natured ribbing and what might appear to be true sarcasm, and this is obviously this is an area in which mere acquaintances rather than true friends should exercise caution!)). All that being said, "Mozart's" arguable witholding of a truly positive word to describe the music, or a one such as 'beauty', could be significant.

3 & 4) Lexis-based jokes – Homophone/heterograph i.e. Pun ("Red – read"), and homonym (homograph versus heterophone; polyseme?) and also pun-like ("Ball – ball") etc. (The "reference assignment" phase (category?) that Yus assigns seems to depend purely on the 'the' preceding 'ball' (as it obviously should and must), as opposed to just the bare adjective-to-verb 'red-read', and this to me seems a slight overanalysis (to concentrate on a determiner rather than the noun)).

5) Structure-"ambiguous" (discourse structure, as opposed to just sentential grammar?) jokes (specifically, reassignment of the reference of 'it', from 'this mysterious affliction' to "I can't find any reason (for this m.a)", with a resulting change of 'drinking' from meaning 'your drinking' to meaning 'my drinking'). (This and 1) could be combined into one category, the 'Structure-"ambiguous" joke').

6) This strikes me as like 3 & 4, again lexis-based/a question of polysemy: saying you were responsible for things going wrong adds an implication of "guilt" to the "in charge of" sense), but if that seems a trite analysis, one could point out that 'the person' could (have) be(en) omitted from the interviewee to manager sentence prior to the word 'responsible', but that 'someone' or 'a (...) person' cannot be omitted from the manager to interviewee 'We need: someone (who is) responsible/a person who is responsible/a responsible person' sentence (note the unacceptability here of 'a person responsible' in place of the second between-slashes phrasing), in which case, what with all the definite versus indefinite nouns, and the "clear" variation in word order between 'the person responsible' and especially 'a responsible person', one could argue instead for a meatier grammatical/stuctural analysis (but probably 'lexicogrammatical' would be the best cover-all term). I am not sure that the 'responsible' absolutely needs "enriching" - well, not unless one is not averse to taking risks in interviews (with the potential reward of being hired for being a funny guy - see the second paragraph above again, regarding the functional reasons for the existence of humour!). (Bonus thread!: http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=9155 ).

Lastly, the 7) "Bette Davis knees" joke seems to be a case of confounding expectations, contradicting assumptions, of deflation, of saying this rather than that (which differs from saying or not saying, of implying, something; nothing could be "clearer" than saying 'knees' rather than 'eyes'). I would hesitate to call this sarcasm, rather it may well be an inventive, descriptive and ultimately rather apt ("true", even?) way of viewing and expressing something.

*It is somewhat interesting to compare 'May I try that dress in the window on?' - completely unambiguous, though the wide separation of verb and preposition may not be the most frequent pattern - and ??'May I try that dress on in the window?' - cleraly the strangest thing to say - to the joke's original sentence ('May I try on that dress (in the window?)'); that is, humour often seems to rely on a "pathological" reading of even the commonest ways of expressing things.
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woodcutter



Joined: 19 Jun 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 4:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In order to earn his marks, Maciek will unfortunately be required to wrap his taxonomy of humour in the shiny new theory though.

So if you really want to do his homework for him Fluff, you'll need to wrap up all that in this.

http://languageevolution.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/relevance-theory/

I know I'm not engaging fully with the weighty issue, but what choice is there? You can't try and get to the strangled bottom of everything that appears to be a waste of time. You have to rely on the nose a little bit. Otherwise you will be eternally bullied by the kind of people who wave "Das Kapital' and say you can't oppose them because you haven't read it, pages of equations and all.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 4:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, like I said, my intention was not to add but to try to cut away. Not sure that I've succeeded though, as my post seems to be as long as if not longer than Maciek's original. Ah well, I just needed to occupy my fingers that evening with something other than yet more Cafe Creme cigars, I guess, and had time to do so. (But now it's back to the Cafe Creme).

I was thinking of buying Sperber & Wilson's book once, but decided that I didn't at that precise moment in time* really need or care enough for it. I might however still get it one day, but in the meantime I'll make do with the short overviews in the likes of Saeed's semantics textbook - that, or the stuff at the link you've kindly provided, woody! (Haven't opened it yet).

*'At that (precise) moment in time' seems less ambiguous/more satisfyingly meaty than 'then' might appear (depending on then's position), which makes it less of a redundancy than 'at this moment in time' (for/meaning 'now'). (Alluding to your '10 most hated phrases' thread again here!).
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Maciek



Joined: 22 Feb 2004
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Location: Poland

PostPosted: Thu Jan 29, 2009 11:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thx fluffyhamster and everyone else for your interesting remarks which I have taken into consideration. I will write more after writing the first chapter which should happen quite soon. I have changed the topic and I am writing an analysis of humour according to Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory. Once again many thanks guys!!!
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just thought I'd bung this link in here. Cool
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1835
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2010 2:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm currently dipping into the Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, compiled by Frank Muir; his Introduction in it is a nice jargon-free and theory-light (but nevertheless still quite thought-provoking) effort to provide a working definition of humour (as if the rest of the book itself though would fail to provide some idea of what that might be!).
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