Phrasemes, parodies and the art of timing

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Music’s ability to create structure and inner relationships that themselves convey meaning is indisputable. Jokes are created by humorously transforming those structures and relationships similar to some methods of humour construction in language. In this paper, mechanisms of humour construction in music and language are compared. Thus, an interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of humour between musicology and linguistics is developed. Two major comparable patterns of humour construction in music and language are discussed: humour through the dislocation of phraseme-like patterns, and humour through parody. Secondly, dissimilarities between music and language are outlined. Two differences are considered: music as an art of sound (the specific sonic qualities of music offer potentially humorous material that is not accessible to language), and music as an art of time (music depends on its development in time). Opportunities for potentially humorous ambiguities that go far beyond the importance of “timing” in language jokes result from this. Finally, the significance of the universality of a joke is reconsidered. Different types of musical jokes from pure acoustical to partly practical ones are discussed. Jokes that demand certain background information are confronted with more universally understandable ones. It is shown that universality is no criterion for joke quality or joke definition in the first place.


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