Chapter 14. <i>Bumcivilian</i>

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In television comedies, the system of the English language, defined here as a set of choices from conventionalised language elements (Halliday 1994: xxvi) is used to create humour. From this perspective, humorous communication first appears as a phenomenon of instantiation (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004: 26&#8211;29), which uses, but does not immediately affect, the language system. In the light of the incongruity theory of humour (Morreall 1989), according to which humour arises from ill-fitting elements introduced into a context of expectation, a first &#8211; expectable &#8211; pattern of the language system in humour is the following: The audience&#8217;s expectation in humorous discourse is built up by using the resources offered by the English standard language, whereas the incongruous element is beyond &#8220;normal&#8221; language. In a discussion of examples from phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax, linguistic varieties and text patterns&#160;&#8211; taken from various TV comedies &#8211; it becomes apparent, however, that this is but one pattern in many: alternatively, there are incongruities which are firmly based on our language system, and there are some that represent alternative language systems, which in turn indicate alternative worlds. A further section shows that different language systems can be assumed for various levels of communication and carriers of incongruities. In comedy as well as in real life, each speaker has their own variety, marked by different systemic options. Finally, it is shown how the fictional communication of the characters in a comedy may influence the sub-systems of English. Words and phrases from comedy may enter our language, and knowledge of specific comedy patterns may become part of our communicative repertoire, which may endanger the emergence of humour, if incongruities become too predictable.


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