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Genre-based constructions

Well established genres: Writing conventions of literary editions

Textual properties of constructions may be echoic of the specific discourse type they are commonly linked to, hence giving rise to incongruity if appearing in a text activating an opposed script. They can also be humorously recycled allowing for implicit metalinguistic comments. This is the standard case in allusive incongruous chunks feeding classical parody and satire, where recontextualisa- tion and recycling of cliches is extensive. Consider, in that connection, the following “editor’s comments” (appearing as footnotes) which are selected from The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) (Borgeson, Long and Singer 1994: 2, 9,13,16), a work that parodies not only the well-known Shakespearean plays but also the authority and authenticity associated with a scholarly edition:

  • (1) 2 ‘predminent Shakespearean scholars’; he’s so preeminent, in fact, that he insisted on the fancy umlaut over the second ‘e’ in ‘predminent.’
  • (2) 10 Romeo and Juliet was first printed in 1597 under the following title:

“An excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right honourable the L. of Hudson his seruants.” Perhaps Shakespeare is allowed to be ‘conceited’, being the greatest playwright ever, but that doesn’t excuse wearing plaid in publique. It’s a fashion felony.

  • (3) 19 ‘Go thither’; why Benvolio, who is obviously one of Romeo’s closest friends, suddenly starts calling him ‘thither' is unclear. Samuel Johnson suggests that ‘thither’ should read ‘zither’, and that Benvolio is suggesting that Romeo ease his sorrows by practicing his music. A very dumb emendation. Rowe posited that Benvolio is trying to say ‘sister,' but has a terrible lisp. That of course doesn’t make any sense either, but it’s an amusing image.
  • (4) 27 ‘but love’; 1598 Quarto edition reads ‘butt-love.’ In Shakespeare’s day, slang for ‘homosexual.’ See also Titus Andronicus (III.ii.197) ‘rump ranger,’ and Coriolanus (V.ii.129) ‘rear admiral.’

What renders these hilarious (besides the referentially-based incongruities of course) is precisely their echoing salient features associated with this particular genre. The “expectations” (Langacker 2001) associated with this kind of discourse are conventionally available to anyone familiar with such works and consistently (albeit incongruously) fulfilled in the preceding “scholarly” comments. The semi-substantive features of this genre include the references (not necessarily correct and in some cases blatantly wrong) to archaic language (e.g., 2 and 3) and the umlaut comment in 1, which evokes the knowledge available to the informed reader that such works are eminently associated with German scholarship. But even more salient are the constitutive themes (in our terms, the schematic part) of this particular discourse pattern which, although content-based, jointly contribute to its conventional makeup. Such well-entrenched characteristics include for instance (a) the offering of information on first printings or editions (as in 2), (b) alternative interpretations of disputed passages, commonly by (other than the editor) eminent scholars (as in 3), and (c) alternative renderings of the original (as in 4); the latter represents in fact a typical instance of the genre, complete with alternative renderings and interpretations, and references to other Shakespearian works. The schematic layout of the construction includes, however, a purely formal component as well, namely the template in which it is conventionally rendered: this is realized by means of the numbered footnotes corresponding to lines in the text and is fully transparent to readers familiar with scholarly editions. As Ostman (2005:132-133) argues with respect to recipes, the expected template (in his words, “the visual, graphic display”) plays a more important role in conceptualizing and categorizing recipes as such than, for instance, the instructive text-type they are couched in. In our case, it is at least as important in conventionally signaling the construction as its other substantive and schematic properties.

Frame shifting of this kind is independent of either the type of humorous exploitation intended (or achieved) or the text type in which it may occur. It is interesting that even in the absence of detailed accounts of their typical features (structural or other) the sequences we discuss saliently evoke the corresponding frames, precisely because they are associated with specific discoursal properties. In this respect they are no different from cases discussed in relation to the ‘not-completely compositional’ nature of language (Langacker 2000; Coulson, Urbach and Kutas 2006: 232-236): the meaning of a complex linguistic expression is often more specific than the meaning of its individual components, and can stem from discourse-level considerations for which psychological validity is claimed (cf. relevant psycholinguistic research in Coulson, Urbach and Kutas 2006). Such sequences are further consistent with findings from corpus linguistic research on lexical priming and collocations (Hoey 2005), where collocations are seen as psychological associations between words, evidenced by their statistically non-random co-occurrence in corpora and, crucially, in specific and specifiable discourses.

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