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TRAMES. A Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences
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Full article in PDF format | doi: 10.3176/tr.2009.1.02

Arvo Krikmann

The article aims to discuss the relationships between (verbal) humour and figurative speech, primarily focusing on the current theoretical dispute between the repre­sentatives of the ‘classical’ linguistic theories of humour (particularly Salvatore Attardo) and the younger generation of cognitive linguists (Kurt Feyaerts, Gert Brône, Tony Veale), and some contemporary psycholinguistic achievements (particularly Rachel Giora). The main conclusions suggested by the present state of the research are: (1) The cognitive similarity between metaphor and verbal humour is easy to recognize, but it is difficult to devise clear-cut theoretical criteria to distinguish between the two. (2) Considering the conceptual structure (interpretation, ‘construal’) of a narrower area, the following rule of thumb seems to hold: of the two incompatible scripts (~ schemas ~ frames ~ isotopies) involved in both metaphor and punchlined joke in the case of metaphor the first (overt, redundant) script ‘wins’, but in the case of joke the second (hidden, informative) pre­vails. (3) As the same conceptual tools are applicable to explain the perception of both funni­ness and figurativeness, these perceptions are definitely not discrete or exclusive, but continuous and gradual. To come closer to an ‘ecologically valid’ means of distinguishing between them, the cognitive theory should perhaps pursue a closer integration with researchers of the cultural and social aspects of human communication.

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