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M. S. Thirumalai
ENGLISH PUN AND ITS CLASSIFICATION
The English pun in academic circles at present is usually divided into two types ---- the homonymic pun and the semantic pun. Here I redefine it and classify it into five kinds ---- the homonymic pun, the lexical meaning pun, the understanding pun, the figurative pun and the logic pun. The purpose is to offer the insight into the nature of the pun.
Key words: pun, definition, classification
The English pun is not comprehensively defined, and the classification into two types is insufficient. Studying the pun carefully, I suggest a new classification scheme which includes five distinct categories.
DEFINITION OF PUN
The pun is a figure of speech used very often in the English language. It is an ambiguity used in rhetoric. In expressing their ideas or transmitting messages, English speakers often use the characteristic of the language to create innumerable wonderful puns. In certain contexts, the functions of puns are very clear ---- irony and satire to play up humorous appeal; attacking by innuendo to set off an intense atmosphere; implication and succinctness to reveal complex and subtle contradictory relations; creation of an image; and merging of a surface meaning with a profound one, a concrete concept with an abstract one, to make sentences fine and pregnant with meaning.
A pun is a common but important style of utterance. Over a long period of time, especially over the past 20 years, people have discussed puns thoroughly. However, up to now there is still a controversy over the definition of the English pun in academic circles. Linguists and scholars often classify the English pun into two kinds (the homonymic pun and the semantic pun) and define it from the two aspects of polysemous words and homonyms. For instance, Joel Sherzer defined the word "pun" as: A pun is a form of speech play in which a word or phrase unexpectedly and simultaneously combines two unrelated meanings.
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines "pun" as: An amusing use of a word or phrase that has 2 meanings, or of words having the same sound but different meanings.
Webster's New World Dictionary gives a similar definition: The humorous use of a word or of words which are formed or sounded alike but have different meanings, in such a way as to play on two or more of the possible applications, a play on words.
Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics defines "pun" as: A figure of speech depending upon a similarity of sound and a disparity of meaning.
But I think a pun is related not only to the meaning and homophony of a word, but also to the context, figures of speech and logic. Therefore through a general study of the English pun, I define it as the variant use of the English language, a way to use intentionally some phenomena of the language to make the utterance produce two different meanings. Concretely speaking, a pun is a clever use of a polysemous word or a homonym, a rhetorical way of expression in which people use, subjectively or objectively, the polysemous, homonymous and logical relations of the language to cause a word, a sentence or a discourse to involve two things or two meanings in transmitting messages.
CLASSIFICATION OF PUN
On the basis of the definition given above, a pun can be classified into five kinds.
1. Homonymic Pun
The homonymic pun is the use of sound, and a way of utterance to use words unrelated in meaning but sounding alike to form two meanings ---- to use the homonymous relations between words to make an utterance have two different interpretations.
(1) 2 Cit: A trade, sir, that, I hope, I may use with a safe conscience; which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.
Mar: What trade, thou knave? Thou naughty knave, what trade?
In this example, Shakespeare uses cleverly the homophony of "mender of bad soles" and "mender of bad souls" to express the resentment of the mender of bad soles against Mar. Moreover, the insinuation in it also indicates his sense of humor.
2. Lexical Meaning Pun
A word usually has several meanings, which is a universal phenomenon in English vocabulary. When a word first emerged, it had an initial meaning. But with the development of society and the language itself, the word was given new meanings through the extension of its meaning or the relevance of its sound, and then the word became polysemous. This is a universal law of development of all human languages.
The lexical meaning pun is an expressive way of utterance to use the polysemy of words to cause a sentence to have two different interpretations, and it is also a rhetorical device in which a certain feeling is transmitted. e.g.
(2) Perhaps from some vague rumour of his college honours, which had been whispered abroad on his first arrival, perhaps because he was an unmarried, unencumbered gentleman, he had been called the Bachelor.
In this sentence, the word "bachelor" has two meanings ---- the holder of a BACHELOR'S DEGREE (the first university degree) and an unmarried man. So it forms a lexical meaning pun.
3. Understanding Pun
Sometimes a pun sentence does not include any pun word. Instead it, through a particular context and with the help of it, can suggest the implied meaning of the sentence. This is called the understanding pun.
(3) My sister Mrs. Joe Gargery, was more than twenty years older than I, and had established a great reputation with herself and the neighbours because she had brought me up "by hand". Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand. (C. Dickens, Great Expectations)
Here the idiom "bring up by hand" only expresses the meaning of feeding (an animal or a person who has no mother) so that it can live or grow. The idiom itself is not polysemous, but in the context of talking about Mrs. Joe Gargery liking to hit others, and from the mouth of a young innocent child, it has the meaning of being always beaten in the process of growing up. Therefore it is an understanding pun here.
4. Figurative Pun
In English, a pun uses the literal meaning of a simile or a metaphor as its surface meaning, and the figurative meaning as its deep meaning. This figure of speech is used directly in a sentence or in a context.
(4) Provost: Come hither, Sirrah. Can you cut off a man's head?
Clown: If the man be a bachelor, sir, I can; but if he be a married man, he's his wife's head, and I can never cut off a woman's head.
The word "husband" here is compared to "woman's head" ---- lifeblood, and "cutting off a married man's head" to "cutting off his wife's head". So the metaphor "cutting off a woman's head" is a pun, a figurative pun.
(5) In reply, Dr. Zunin would claim that a little practice can help us feel comfortable about changing our social habits. We can become accustomed to any changes we choose to make in our personality. "It's like getting used to a new car. It may be unfamiliar at first, but it goes much better than the old one."
The simile here "becoming accustomed to any changes in our social habits" is compared to "getting used to a new car", which stresses the deep meaning implied in it.
5. Logic Pun
The logic pun is a rhetorical device in which the speaker, in receiving the message from the listener, uses a particular context to change the topic implicitly, so as to achieve his own communicative purpose. From the angle of logic, it is to use the method of clandestine change of a topic to express one's own feelings. This pun is a kind of implication in a particular context. The listener may not feel it, but the reader can understand it. In a dialogue no word contains two meanings, but different roles in the dialogue obviously refer to various things in using the words. As a result double implication forms in the listener's mind. Then this forms a logic pun.
Lady Capulet: ... Some grief shows much of love;
But much of grief shows still some want of wit.
Juliet: Yet let me weep for such a feeling loss.
La Cap: So shall you feel the loss, but not the friend.
Which you weep for.
Juliet: Feeling so the loss.
I cannot choose but ever weep the friend.
La Cap: Well, girl, thou weep'st not so much for this death,
As that the villain lives which slaughter'd him.
Juliet: What villain, madam?
La Cap: That same villain, Romeo.
Juliet: Villain and he are many miles asunder. God pardon him! I do with all my heart;
And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart.
La Cap: That is, because the traitor murderer lives.
Juliet: Ah, madam, from the reach of these my hands.
'Woule, none but I might venge my cousin's death!
La Cap: We will have vengeance for it, fear thou not:
Then weep no more. I'll send to one in Mantua, --
Where that same banish'd runagate doth live, --
Shall give him such an unaccustorm'd dram,
That he shall soon keep Tybalt company:
An then, I hope, thou wilt be satisfied.
Juliet: Indeed, I never shall be satisfied
With Romeo, till I behold him ---- dead ----.
This dialogue contains four logic puns, two of which will be mentioned here owing to the limitation of space. Firstly Lady Capulet uses "feel the loss" to indicate Juliet's grief for losing her cousin, whereas Juliet takes up the thread and says "feeling so the loss", actually indicating her grief for losing Romeo. Secondly, Lady Capulet uses "friend" to indicate Juliet's cousin, while Juliet uses the same word "friend" to indicate Romeo. So they are typical examples of logic puns.
The English pun is an external topic, because new expressive ways of puns will be produced and new types of puns will be formed with the development of society and the language itself. So the English pun as an interesting topic will always be paid attention to by researchers.
Zhao Aiping. Study the English Pun from the Angle of the Communication of the Language[J]. Journal of Social Sciences of Jiamusi University, No.4,2002.
Lu Guoqiang. Modern English Lexicology [M]. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press, 1983.
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