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Pragmatics and Humors 20032341 Abstract: Pragmatics is the study of language in use.

e. Humors are what we come across in every day life. Many study humors through the pragmatic approaches. Li Yuee and Fan Hongya study humors from such aspects as deixix, cooperative principle, conversational implicature and presupposition. Based on our selected examples, we find that not all humors can be analyzed through pragmatic approaches. We think we can divide humors into two types: the true humors that are realized through ones living and the coined ones that are told or written by people for recreation. Because being truly humoristic is very difficult for many of us, we hold that most of us should make great efforts to feel or let others feel humors in life. Key words: pragmatics humors true humors Part I. Introduction 1. The development and studying contents of Pragmatics 1.1 Origin, making and development of pragmatics The modern usage of the term pragmatics was first introduced by Charles Morris in1938. He distinguished three distinct branches of inquiry: syntactics (or syntax), semantics, and pragmatics. (Levinson and He Ziran) According to Jacob Mey (1993), pragmatics or a pragmatic approach to linguistics began to be in the making in the late sixties and early seventies of the 20 th century. And ever since, pragmatics has been the focus of many language researchers. 1.2 Studying contents of pragmatics Generally speaking, pragmatics is the study of language in use and there are two traditions of pragmatic studying, one being that of the Anglo-American school and the other being that of the Continental school. The former one ranks pragmatics as the fifth branch of linguistics with other branches being phonetics, morphology, syntax and semantics; and the latter one broadly studies pragmatics in all things involved in language use. Levinson is the representative of the former school and in his 1983 book, Deixis, Conversational Implicature, Presupposition, Speech Acts and Conversational Structure are mainly talked about. Besides those studied by the AngloAmerican school, Jacob Mey, in his 1993 book, which is the representative of the Continental School, outlines the much broader fields macro-pragmatics can be applied into. According to some linguists, semantic meaning is what people get from all the words that make up the whole sentence and pragmatic meaning is what the speaker wants to express or wants to do through his or her utterance. For example, Lights, please may mean Please turn on the lights by a teacher who is giving a lecture in a classroom which is not well lighted. The Please turn on the lights is one of the pragmatic meanings of the utterance, Lights, please, because it is very likely to mean Please turn off the lights in a different case. In terms of meaning, pragmatics studies the speakers meaning or pragmatic meaning. For Deixis, Conversational Implicature, Presupposition, Speech Acts and Conversational Structure, here we wont have more details in this article. 2. Li YueE and Fan HongYas studying humors from the pragmatic perspective Li Yuee and Fan Hongya more fully study humorous utterances from pragmatic perspective of different aspects such as Deixis, Conversational Implicature, Presupposition and Speech Acts. 2.1 Their analysis 2.1.1 Pragmatic approaches to examples

1) Humors caused by the violation of maxim of quantity: Examples 1 and 2 Example 1. I understand you had an argument with your wife. How did it end up? Oh, she came crawling to me on her hands and knees. Is that so, what did she say? She said, Come out from under that bed and fight like a man. Example 2 Aunt: How did Jenny do his history examination? Mother: Oh, not at all well, but there, it wasnt his fault. Why, they asked him things that happened before the poor boy was born. 2) Humors caused by the violation of maxim of quality: Examples 3 and 4 Example 3. Two travelers arrived at the hotel and were shown a rather dingy room. What, said one, does this pigsty cost? Promptly the owner replied, For one pig, two dollars; for two pigs, three dollars. Example 4. After a two-week vacation, a man returned to his office and one of his fellow workers asked him what kind of time hed had. I spent the whole two weeks helping my wife paint the rooms in our house, he groaned. Does she do that often Well, came the reply, when we moved in a few years ago, the guest room was 9 by12. Now its 8 by 11. 3) A humor caused by the violation of maxim of relation: Example 5 Example 5. A young man pretended that his eyesight was very poor when examined, so that he wasnt called up for army service. That evening he went to a movie only to find that the doctor who had examined him was sitting beside him. Immediately he said to the man doctor, Excuse me, maam, but does this bus go to Main Street? 4) Humors caused by the violation of maxim of manner: Example 6 Example 6. Lady (standing in the middle of a busy street): Officer, can you tell me how to get to the hospital? Policeman: Just stand where you are and you will find out how to get to the hospital. 5) A humor caused by the vagueness of name deixis: Example 7 Example 7. Pershing is great general in American history. His statue on a horse was erected near a primary school. The students said Good morning, Pershing whenever they passed the statue. One day little Tom did so as usual, but then he stopped and asked his parents, I like Pershing very much, but whos that strange man on his back? 6) Humors caused by the vagueness of subject and object pronoun deixis: Example 8 and 9 Example 8. The teacher made sentences with I, SHE and YOU, I, I am your teacher. (Pointing to a girl) SHE, she is your classmate. YOU, you are my student. Later Peter recited the sentences to his father. His father got angry and corrected him, I, I am your father. (Pointing to his mother) SHE, she is you mother. YOU, you are my son. The next morning, when Peter recited his fathers sentences to his teacher, the teacher got angry, too. What shall Peter do? Example 9. A: Please tell me who he/she is. He/she is not my brother, and nor is my sister, but he/she is a

child of my parents. B: I dont know. A: Its me. (B got home and asked his wife, Jenny. She didnt know either.) B (laughing): You dont know. Its A. 7) A humor caused through the mistaken use of possessive pronoun: Example10 Example 10. John phones to the teacher, Im sorry to tell that john is ill in bed and wont be able to return to school for 3 or 4 days. Teacher: Oh, Im sorry to hear that, but whos speaking? John: My father, sir. 8) A humor caused by the mistaken description under different references: Example 11 Example 11. Tom: Peter, you said that you have only one brother. Is that right? Peter: Yes, thats right. Tom: No, you told a lie, for your sister said that she has two brothers. 9) Humors caused by the vagueness of time deixis: Examples 12, 13 and 14 Example 12. Joe had a job interview. Boss: You can come tomorrow. At first you can get 60 pounds a week, but you will get more after. Joe: Then Id better come later. Example 13. A woman rang a travel agent. How long will it take to fly to Australia? she said. Just a minute, the travel agent said, and went to consult his time. Thank you, said the woman and hang up. Example 14. Joe Richards wanted a job. Before the interview, he filled a form. The interview looked at the form and asked, Your birthday was on the 12th of June, Mr. Richards. But in which year? Oh, of course, every year, sir Joe answered happily. 10) A humor caused by the vagueness of discourse deixis: Example 15 Example 15. Teacher: Billy, spell mouse. Billy: M-O-U-S-E. Teacher: But whats at the end of it? Billy: A tail. 11) A humor caused by the vagueness of place deixis: Example 16 Example 16. Teacher: Can you tell me where the Nile is? Student: On the map. 12) A humor due to the inferring from conversational implicature: Example 17. Example 17. Teacher: Whats the shape of the earth? Johnny: Its round. Teacher: How do you know its round? Johnny: All right, its square then. I dont want to start an argument about it.

13) A humor due to the using pragmatic presupposition whose presupposition trigger is still: Example 18. Example 18. When Winston Churchill was told that savants were declaring that by 2100 women would rule the world, his rejoinder, with an eye winkle, was just one word, still? 2.1.2 Detailed analysis Example 1 Analysis: At first, the husband violates the maxim of quantity by providing less information. When he completes his utterance, he cancels his first conversational implicature. From a brave or big husband, he becomes a coward who fears his own wife. People cant help laughing. Example 2 Analysis: The mother violates the maxim of quantity by providing more information to cause illocutionary meaning with the purpose of protecting her own son from being laughed at. Example 3 Analysis: The two travelers are not polite and neither is the owner. The room is called a pigsty and the lodgers are called be pigs. The metaphors that violate the maxim of quality cause humors here. Example 4 Analysis: Here the use of hyperbole violates the maxim of quality and causes a humor. Example 5 Analysis: Here the young man violates the maxim of relation by pretending to mistake the cinema for a bus and the doctor for a lady because of very poor eyesight. Example 6 Analysis: here the policeman has to violate the maxim of manner by using irony to tell the lady to leave the dangerous place soon. Example 7 Analysis: The kid doesnt know who Pershing really is and he mistakes Pershing for the horse under him. Example 8 Analysis: In real life, many children cant use the pronouns correctly when they are not old enough. In the Chinese contexts, many kids also make same mistakes. Example 9 Analysis: B mistakes me in the utterance by A for fixed reference of A. Example 10 Analysis: Here, a kid makes a mistake due to haste. Example 11 Analysis: Peter has a brother and a sister, so of course, it is right for his sister to say that she has two brothers. Tom is not aware that the reference has changed. Example 12 Analysis: Joe, by saying unspecific later, expresses his reluctance to accept the job. Example 13 Analysis: Just a minute has two meanings: one is that the plane can fly to Australia within a minute and the other is Wait for a moment. It is impossible for the first to be true. Example 14 Analysis: ones birthday can be the specific date of every year or the specific date of the year that the referred person was born on. Example 15 Analysis: Billy has a wrong understanding of the pronoun it. It can refer to both the word mouse and the animal. Example 16 Analysis: The Nile River can be referred to the one marked on the map, or the one which flows in the African continent. Example 17 Analysis: when the teacher further asks the student about the question, the latter quickly assumes he himself has answered wrongly. This kind of thing often takes place in classrooms. Example 18 Analysis: here still is an iterative and it is the prepositional trigger for Will women still rule the world long before 2100? this is the opposite to the illocution of the savants women didnt/(dont/ wont) rule the world before 2100 . The wisdom and humorousness of the

great politician is clearly shown by the simple rejoinder. 2.2 Li and Fans conclusion: Simply speaking, their conclusion from what they study is as follows: 1) Conversational implicature, deixis, speech acts and presupposition are important factors that produce humors because people have different or deviational understanding when they come across these phenomena. Having a better idea of these pragmatic factors and their working mechanisms on English humors is of great importance not only of theoretical value, but also of practical use on directing people to improve their communicative methods and increase their communicative efficiency. 2) Humors are communicative lubricant and fire extinguishers; they can ease up the relation between the communicators when they are embarrassed by each other. 3) Humors are the important indication of ones pragmatic competence and when he or she has a good command of humors in communication, his or her ability to transmit information will be greater. Part II. The descriptive definition of Humor and some kid humor examples 3.1 What are humors? In a broader sense, humors are all what can make people laugh, smile or be happy in their communication. Utterances, actions and expressions all can do the work that makes people feel happy. There are many and many kinds of humors, but humors are more often produced in utterances than in actions and expressions because utterances are what people depend on more for their communication. Quite a lot of linguists are interested in studying humorous utterances because humors can reflect the features and working rules of language from different aspects and levels due to their simplicity and practicality. 3.2. Some kid humor examples In the above, we have mentioned that Li Yuee and Fan Hongya study humors more fully from the pragmatic perspective. Here we think humors are by far more than what they have seen. The following 10 humors are from a small book containing many humors. We choose them because they are kid humors and many researchers think kid language use tells a better story for language studying. Our selection is as follows: Example 19. A group of kindergarten children were on a class outing to their local police station where they saw pictures, tacked to a bulletin board, of the 10 most wanted men. One of the youngsters pointed to picture and asked if it really was the photo of a wanted person. Yes, answered the policeman. Well, wondered the child, why didnt you keep him when you took his picture? Example 20. Ten-year-old Timmy was just surfing the World Wide Web when his father called him outside to help with raking the leaves. To keep the boy occupied, his father told him about how the fairies descended from heavens and turned the leaves brown. Timmy listened, and when it seemed the narrative had ended, looked up at his father with his big innocent-looking blue eyes, and said: Daddy, have you ever heard of photosynthesis? Example 21. An aesthetic professors grandson asked his grandfather, Grandpa, why did you say that all the false are ugly?

Thats certainly true. Couldnt you give me an opposite example? Oh, yes, the grandson, climbing in his grandfathers knee, said proudly, Look at yourself, when you put on your false teeth, you look younger and lively; when you get off them, your mouth looks empty and shriveled, thats really ugly! Isnt it an opposite example? The professor could find no answer. Example 22. The five-year-old boy was terribly spoilt. His grandparents knew it. The neighbors knew it. But his mother doted on him. He hardly left her side. And when he wanted anything, he whined, cried or threw a tantrum. Then came his first day at school. At the end of the day his mother came to fetch him home. Did you get along all right? Did you cry? she asked dotingly. Yes, I did! Oh my poor baby Come let mama give you a hug (And she hugs him) Did anyone else cry besides you? Yeah, the teacher. Example 23. A little boy wanted $100.00 very badly and his mother told him to pray to God for it. He prayed and prayed for weeks, but nothing turned up. He decided to write a letter to God requesting the $100.00. When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to God, they opened it and decided to send it to the President. The President was so impressed, touched and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a check for $5.00; he thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. This little boy was delighted with the $5.00 and sat down to write a thank you letter to God, which was as follows: Dear God, Thank you very much for sending me the money. I noticed that you had to send it through Washington, D. C. As usual, those jerks deducted $95.00. Example 24. Little Johnny was left to fix lunch. When his mother returned with a friend, she noticed that Johnny had already strained the tea. So the two women sipped their tea happily while having lunch and chitchatted. Afterwards, when her friend had left, little Johnnys mother talked to him, Was it hard finding the tea strainer in the kitchen? his mother asked. Ma, I couldnt find it, so I used the fly swatter, replied Johnny. His mother nearly fainted, so Johnny hastily added, Dont get excited, ma, I used the old one! Example 25. The fifth-grader came home from school bubbling with excitement after having been voted Prettiest Girl in the Class. She was even excited when she came home the next day after the class had voted her Most Popular. But several days later when she announced she had won a third contest, she was somewhat subdued. What were you voted this time? her mother asked. Most Stuck-up, the girl replied. Example 26. Eight-year old Claudia packed off to Charlevoix for a visit with her old-maid aunt. Her lastminute instructions were, Remember, Aunt Hester is a bit on the prissy side. If you have to go to the bathroom, be sure to say, Id like to powder my nose.

Claudia made such a hit with Aunt Hester that when the time came for her to leave she was told, I certainly loved having you here, my dear. On your next visit you must bring your little sister Sue with you. I better not, said Claudia hastily. Sue still powders her nose in bed. Example 27. My son Michael, a fifth-grader, decided to run for the president of the student council. During the campaign, Michael and I took his younger brother to the pediatrician for a check up. The doctor, noticing the campaign buttons, volunteered that he, too, had run for president of the student council when he was in sixth grade, but had not won. Several days later, Michael called me at work to give me the election results. Said Michael, It looks like Im going to be a doctor. Example 28. The hostess apologized to her unexpected guest for serving an apple pie without a cheese. The little boy of the family left the room quietly for a moment and returned with a piece of cheese that he laid on the guests plate. The visitor smiled, put the cheese into his mouth and then said: You must have better eyes than your mother, sonny. Where did you find the cheese? In the rat-trap, sir, replied the boy. Part III Analysis of the selected kid humors In the following, we will analyze the selected examples of kid humors. For the 19th example, here we can think the kid asks the question as a result of his guessing from the implicature of reply of the policeman. The kid infers from the assumed fact that since you could take the photo of the wanted person, you certainly could catch him at that time you took the photo. For the 20th example, we think that we can conclude the little boy changes the manner of speaking. He means that he knows much more than his father expects and he knows the purpose of his fathers story. The 21st example is a pre-sequence in terms of conversational structure. For the 22nd example, we can conclude that the little boy violates the maxim of quantity. At first, he provides less information for the fact. The 26th example: here we can conclude that the little girl violates the maxim of manner. She says Sue still powders her nose in bed instead of saying her littler sister is too young. In the 27th example, the fifth-grader violates the maxim of manner. By saying It looks like Im going to be a doctor, he shyly tells his mother he has failed. For the 23rd, 24th, 25th and 28th examples, we have to admit that we cant analyze them very easily by using the methods applied by Li and Fan. We better bear it in mind that not all humors can be analyzed through accepted pragmatic approaches. Part IV. Thinking about humors Li and Fan conclude that having a better idea of these pragmatic factors and their working mechanisms on English humors is of great importance of practical use in directing people to improve their communicative methods and increase their communicative efficiency. According to them, humors can ease up the relation between the communicators when they are embarrassed by each other and being humorous is the important indication of ones pragmatic competence to transmit information. We agree with them, but not on all aspects. We can divide humors into two kinds, the true

ones and the coined ones. These two kinds both can make people laugh and feel happy when humors are told to them. We think many humors are told or read for entertainment in everyday life. After studying all the 28 examples, we find there are almost no true humors that can be wisely used in real life. It is true that they can make laugh or feel happy when we outside the contexts where they are, but the contexts are nearly all embarrassing to one or to both sides of the interlocutors. After reading all the examples listed above, we have found that many of them seem to have been coined for recreation. We admit that we are happy when we read them. Many children, especially those very young ones, dont have idea that they are producing humors when their utterances or actions are very humorous. In the very beginning of her little book, Pragmatics, Jean Stilwell Peccei, gives two stories about kids: (1) A little boy comes in the front door. Mother: Wipe your feet, please. He removes his muddy shoes and socks and carefully wipes his clean feet on the doormat. (2) A father is trying to get his 3-year-old daughter to stop lifting up her dress to display her new underwear to the assembled guests. Father: We dont Do that. Daughter: I KNOW, Daddy. You dont WEAR dresses. From the two stories, we can say many kid utterances or behaviors are thought to be humors by grownups. In fact kids are expressing their own facts in their own way. The grown-ups look on childrens utterances as humors because theirs are not what the grownups often say or think. Very few children are aware that they are producing humors when they are producing them. What we pursue is to be truly humoristic when embarrassed in communication. It is very difficult for us to reach this goal. Of course, we can amuse ourselves by finding humors existing in real life and we can also amuse others by telling or writing humors to better our existing or working conditions. If one can be humoristic in real life, at least, s/he should be able to find or transmit humors even created by others to people around her or him, it will be of great significance for his or her life. Being humorous is different from tasting humors; every one of us should make great efforts to feel or let others feel humors in life. Kids are usually sources of humors, so being together with kids often makes people laugh or feel happy. For example, my daughter who is only a bit over two years asks me if I can understand what the characters are saying in the movie when I watching TV accompanying with her. I say I can. Then I feel very happy. Part V Summary and conclusion In this article we first simply go over pragmatics, then look back at what Li Yuee and Fan Hongya say about humors from the pragmatic perspective. Actually humors are beyond every single perspective of studying. Our conclusion is based on the finding of our selected kid humors. We can divide humors into two types: the true humors and the coined ones for recreation. Being humorous is very different from tasting humors. Our purpose is to say that most of us should make great efforts to feel or let others feel humors in life because it is very difficult for many of us to be truly humoristic. Notes: Examples 1 to 18 are from Li and Fans book, Discourse Analysis. Examples 19 to 28 are selected from Extracts of English Humors ( ) edited by Zhang Fan. Bibliography: 1. Levinson, Stephen C., Pragmatics, Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press and

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Cambridge University Press. Mey, Jacob L., Pragmatics: an Introduction, Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press and Blaclwell Publishers Ltd. Peccei, Jean Stilwell, Pragmatics. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press and Routledge. Cao, Chunchun, Song Wei and Yang Bin, Discourse Analysis (in English), Shandong University Press. He, Ziran, Pragmatics and English Learning (in Chinese), Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. He, Ziran, Notes on Pragmatics(in English), Nanjing Normal University Press. Li, Yuee and Fan Hongya, Discourse Analysis (in Chinese), Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. Zhan, Fan, Extracts of English Humors. World Books Publishing Company (Xiaan).