Non-canonical proverbial occurrences and wordplay: A corpus investigation and an enquiry into readers’ perception of humour and cleverness

Abstract : This article is an investigation of wordplay-defined as the clever and humorous formal manipulation of language strings-in the use of proverbs in written discourse. A set of 303 occurrences of six English proverbs was collected in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the non-canonical occurrences were analysed and classified. It appears that most of these manipulations are simple contextual adaptations including noun-phrase substitutions, and only very few occurrences could qualify as instances of wordplay. To verify this, a questionnaire with 32 of the non-canonical occurrences was administered to a group of 12 native speakers who rated them for humour and cleverness. A comparison of the five occurrences with the highest ratings and the five with the lowest ones confirmed that the simple contextual adaptation of proverbs does not create wordplay, which requires semantic complexity combined with humour .
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Pierre J. L. Arnaud, François Maniez, Vincent Renner. Non-canonical proverbial occurrences and wordplay: A corpus investigation and an enquiry into readers’ perception of humour and cleverness. In A. Zirker; E. Winter-Froemel (eds). Wordplay and Metalinguistic/Metadiscursive Reflection: Authors, Contexts, Techniques, and Meta-Reflection, Berlin : De Gruyter, pp.135-159, 2015, ⟨10.1515/9783110406719-007⟩. ⟨hal-01922337⟩

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