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The formal composition of puns in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost: a corpus-based study.


The present paper is a corpus-based study seeking to demonstrate, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the formal composition of puns in one of Shakespeare's early festive comedies, i.e. Love's labour's lost (c1593/4). Pun is defined here after Delabastita (1993: 57) as a phenomenon depending for its existence on the juxtaposition of (at least two) similar/identical forms and (at least two) dissimilar meanings, where, broadly speaking, the subtler the formal contrast and the sharper the semantic one, the finer the punning effect. The reason behind selecting this particular play for the examination has been the initial assumption that, rich in verbal experiments of all sorts, it might prove a fertile source of punning forms which, indeed, run altogether to 423 instances. The qualitative study is essentially two-partite and, initially, sets out to investigate linguistic phenomena which lay down the framework of formal relationships in a pun (and are, thus, in a mutually exclusive way, obligatory for its creation), namely homonymy, homophony and paronymy. Next, punning forms are grouped into interlingual puns, proper name puns as well as idiom- and compound-based puns. On top of that, a quantitative analysis is carried out which demonstrates (in a tabular and graphic form) the overall numerical and percentage distribution of all categories of puns established in the present research study.

0. Preliminary remarks

There is no need to argue a case for Shakespeare's lavish preoccupation with verbal wit which ranks high among the most recurrent markers of his idiosyncratic style, and is perhaps as much a response to the 16th-century vogues as a reflection of his deep-seated propensity for punning. As such, it has come in for considerable criticism, chiefly literary and editorial, where two contradictory approaches to the phenomenon can be observed, namely enthusiasm on the one hand and reluctance on the other. Irrespective of the approach, quantitative analyses of all sorts agreeably present Shakespeare as an incorrigible punster. They may each yield slightly different figures but the score is invariably high, with the total of three thousand puns in the whole canon and the average of seventy-eight apiece, Love's labour's lost (LLL), the play of sole concern in the present study, being most generously studded with them.

Unlike the literary criticism, offering a remarkable insight into the character and function of punning practices in many authors (with Shakespeare holding the lead), linguistically-oriented scholarship emerges comparatively fragmentary, leaving puns a largely unexplored domain. Although reasons for this can be multiplied many times over, the heaviest charge against the phenomenon and the most efficient deterrent from it relates principally to lack of both terminological and classificatory rigour in critical literature.

Since it is not germane to the present discussion to explain reasons for terminological chaos which puns create, those of prime importance will only be mentioned in passing. Firstly, considered either a non-complex linguistic formation or a phenomenon which, entailing ambiguity, upsets neat regularity in language, pun has not received enough critical attention and, accordingly, a coherent account of the mechanisms underlying it is sorely lacking. Secondly, puns have been approached from a couple of diverse angles in multiple academic disciplines, linguistic and other (e.g. semantics, psycho- and socio-linguistics, philosophy, rhetoric, stylistics), each tackling a different aspect of puns and submitting its own terminological apparatus. Thirdly, the phenomenon has received the attention of scholars employing nomenclature from various languages (alongside English, principally German and French) which, barely congruent intralingually, tends to soak through language borders. (1) Fourthly, as a result of the Empsonian tradition nascent in the thirties, ambiguity, the cornerstone of (nearly all sorts of) puns (see footnote 8 (ii) above) has been loosely defined as an umbrella term for any uncertainty permitting alternative meanings/interpretations of the same piece of language, which has obliterated some of the phenomenon's niceties. Finally, all too frequently puns have been regarded roughly equivalent to wordplay, which, if not wholly fallacious, is somewhat imprecise on the recognition of the fact that the latter is a more capacious cover term for phenomena not subsumable under pun. (2)

1. Pun: The definition and selected facts about the semantic structure

However diverse the dictionary entries for a pun may be, they all agree that (i) the phenomenon depends for its existence on the juxtaposition of (at least two) similar/identical forms and (at least two) dissimilar meanings, and (ii) broadly speaking, the subtler the formal contrast and the sharper the semantic one, the finer the punning effect. (3) While, as the focal issue of the present paper, the formal composition of puns will be handled in detail in section 3, it should be mentioned at this point that, concerned with the intersection of orthography and pronunciation, it rests on linguistic mechanisms encompassing homonymy, homophony, homography and paronymy. In turn, the semantic composition, understood as a union of primary (surface-level) and secondary/tertiary/quaternary, etc. (underlying) meanings (hereafter referred to as s(ense)1 and s(ense)2, respectively) which, to permit a pun, need to be sufficiently distinct, calls for further commentary. Given that homophonic, homographic and paronymic types of puns emerge semantically relatively unproblematic, (4) the following brief discussion will be apposite to the homonymic variety of pun alone.

A fundamental assumption made right at the outset should be that the sole kind of meaning able to engender contrast needed for the desired punning effect is conceptual (alternatively termed "denotative", "cognitive" or "logical"). Referring to a regular (non-punning) performance Leech (1974) is positive that conceptual meaning "can be shown to be integral to the essential functioning of language in a way that other types of meaning (5) are not (which is not to say that conceptual meaning is the most important element of every act of linguistic communication) ... [because] it has a complex and sophisticated organization of a kind which may be compared with, and cross-related to, similar organization on the syntactic and phonological levels of language" (Leech 1974: 9). In a playful use of language conceptual meaning will, likewise, be claimed primary to other types of meaning, notably connotative and affective, themselves capable only of augmenting the overall import of words as defined by conceptual meaning.

Leech's (1974) model of a multi-layered semantic structure, where ultimately also a terminological differentiation is made between the conceptual meaning, labelled "sense", and the remaining types of meaning, subsumed all under a collective name "communicative value", bears some resemblances to Cruse's (1995: 33-49) scrupulous delimitation between genuine meanings, termed likewise "senses", and fake ones, referred to as "facets", (6) and claimed to belong more in the domain of reading/interpretation. (7) Returning to puns, it can be reinstated, this time with the use of Cruse's (1995, 2000) nomenclature, that semantic contrast sufficient to generate a pun is attainable only where fully-fledged senses operate. Unlike facets, which can get simultaneously activated in a single qualifying (non-ambiguous) context, senses are characterized by "mutual antagonism" in that context of this type, where they are admitted individually, always disambiguates them. In other words, whereas facets are capable of generating pure vagueness (i.e. lack of specification) only, where semantic distance does not suffice for a pun to emerge, senses engender genuine ambiguity, the sine qua non of the majority of pun types. (8)

Conclusions of a similar order can be reached from the examination of Hausmann's (1974) semasiological model, where contrast is argued to hold between Plurivalenz, in which semantic disparity between individual semems of a sign suffices to engender a pun (Wortspiel), and Kontextvarianz with insufficiently distant interpretations of a single semem capable of yielding Meinungsspiel only (Hausmann 1974: 106). (9)

Another difficulty with the desired semantic distance lies in the fact that, within the domain of senses themselves, it is, likewise, of gradable nature. The upper limit thereof is demarcated by words which, having individually distinct semantic identities, happen to be identical in both pronunciation and spelling. To borrow terminology from lexical semantics, this phenomenon, customarily referred to as homonymy, (10) covers cases, where (etymologically) unrelated lexical units, or, properly speaking, lexical senses of the units, are singly assigned to individual lexemes which happen to be indistinguishable on formal plain in terms of spelling and sound. (11) In turn, the lower admissible threshold of semantic distance prerequisite for the emergence of puns belongs with polysemous structures, where discrete but (etymologically) related senses of lexical units represent component parts of a single lexem. The degrees of semantic contrast discussed hitherto can be diagrammatically represented as follows:

Diagram 1a. The degree of semantic contrast in puns vs. non-puns *


Diagram 1b. The degree of semantic contrast in puns vs. non-puns: Examples


2. The scope of the study and technicalities of the corpus

The present paper is a corpus-based study targeted at a quantitative and qualitative representation of the formal structure of puns in Shakespeare's LLL. The qualitative study is essentially two-partite and, first, sets out to investigate linguistic phenomena which lay down the framework of formal relationships in a pun (and are, thus, in a mutually exclusive way, obligatory for its creation), namely homonymy, homophony and paronymy (v.i. section 3.2.). More precisely, they are initially grouped into lexical, partly lexical and non-lexical varieties (3.2.1.), then located within in praesentia/in absentia patterning (3.2.2.) and finally their incomplete varieties are briefly discussed and exemplified (3.2.3.). By way of contrast, the second part of the study is an attempt at classifying punning forms into interlingual puns, proper name puns as well as idiomand compound-based puns (3.3.). On top of that a quantitative analysis is carried out which demonstrates (in a tabular and graphic form) the overall numerical and percentage distribution of all the established categories of puns.

The entire body of data has been culled from one of the earliest Shakespearean comedies LLL (the Arden edition of 1951) written, as it is conjectured, around 1593/4. The play has been selected for this purpose somehow despite the overall negative opinion on it in critical literature, where the imbalance between a poorly developed plot and elaborate linguistic devices introduced to communicate it is stressed. It has been also assumed that, rich in verbal experiments of all sorts, LLL would provide a perfect battery of puns which, indeed, run to 423 instances. (13) The admittance of candidate forms to the category of pun was conditioned by their fulfillment of the above mentioned formal and semantic prerequisites (v.s. section 1). This resulted in dismissing from the corpus a group of playful linguistic devices cognate with puns, such as malapropic formations (assumed, after Sobkowiak (1991: 7), to belong more fittingly with speech errors), anagrammatic structures (instances of word games) or forms resting on pure syntactic ambiguity, to name just a few.

The understanding of multiple obsolete meanings put to punning purposes was markedly facilitated by explanations found in: Schmidt (1902), Onions (1919), Rubinstein (1989), Ellis (1973) and Partridge (1961). For comments on pronunciation, in turn, regular recourse was made to Cercignani (1981) and Kokeritz (1953).

Importantly, the resultant corpus should not be regarded as an all-inclusive collection of finite character, given that data-collecting such as this one is marked by a significant degree of arbitrariness and subjective choice-making. This proved inescapable for reasons both within and outside the phenomenon itself. Firstly, puns are fairly elusive formations (especially when in paradigmatic arrangement (see section 3.2.2.)) which, given no prior signal (a common practice in Shakespeare), can easily pass undetected. Secondly and more importantly, the process of selecting data from Shakespeare's texts is beset with difficulties arising from appreciable temporal distance, separating his plays from their modern recipients, which affects language materially, blurring the true picture of the playwright's punning practices. The four-century historical gap seems to have had the most devastating impact on the investigation of Shakespeare's pronunciation and semantics, and, in consequence, on the identification of his homophonic and homonymic puns. Just as it is impossible to determine beyond doubt the precise numbers of puns in the play, it is also overly optimistic to attempt to fix sharp borders between their particular types and subtypes (cf. section 3.1.). Accordingly, it seems that particularly promising results of research into puns can be produced when the adopted approach is flexible enough to permit some degree of fuzziness and indeterminacy. (14)

3. The formal structure of puns (in LLL) 3.1. Homonymy, homophony, homography, paronymy: Facts and problems

The four linguistic processes constituting the underlying mechanisms of formal structure in puns can be contrastively defined at the interface between pronunciation and orthography and represented as follows:

Regrettably, none of the above categories emerges unproblematic upon closer examination, be it synchronically or diachronically. So far as homography (15) is concerned, it should be highlighted that the phenomenon can emerge only in a perfectly codified orthographic system of which the 16th-century system is clearly a poor example. Absent from the entire Shakespearean canon, it will merit no attention hereafter. (16)

Of the remaining three processes homonymy appears to be the least nebulous concept, which however proves true of its lexical rather than sentence-level variety, given that in the latter case it can be easily upset by phenomena as subtle as varying intonation patterns (Delabastita 1993: 79). Diachronically, being in fact a combination of homophony and homography, homonymy poses problems which the two phenomena present individually. (17)

The phonological system of contemporary English, fossilized and rule-governed, warrants a comparatively uniform description of homophony in its lexical (words) and non-lexical (word strings) dimensions alike. However, it does so insofar as the phenomenon is defined loosely as involving near-identity in sound, whereas a radical approach demanding absolute phonic identity renders doubtful seemingly plain cases of lexical homophony like course/cores, where it may successfully get upset through mere contrast in voicing ([s], [z], respectively). Where word strings are concerned, the effect of homophony depends on the selection of phonostylistic representation, viz. careful vs. casual speech, in that it may surface as a result of fast-speech processes in sequences, where heterophony operates in slow speech (Sobkowiak 1991: 77-80). On top of those, the diachronic perspective besets the investigation of homophony with problems resulting from historical distance between the Elizabethan and contemporary English, which obviously precludes the possibility of fixing beyond doubt the exact pronunciation in Shakespeare. (18) Furthermore, the reader needs to reckon with the practice of deliberate phonetic manipulation intended for punning purposes, where regular pronunciations of the day are abandoned in favour of substandard varieties of dialectal or vulgar provenance (Delabastita 1993: 85; Kokeritz 1953: 65-66), which markedly obscures the overall picture of Shakespeare's homophony.

All things considered, the definition of the phenomenon in general and its 16th-century variety in particular needs to be flexible enough to permit, alongside pure homophony, instances of near-homophony (near-identity in sound). (19) The latter triggers off the problem of discriminating between low-degree (incomplete) homophony and high-degree paronymy, defined as similarity in sound and spelling. While, terminologically, deciding where precisely (incomplete) homophony retires and paronymy takes over becomes unproblematic the moment the labels "near-identity" and "close-similarity" are applied to nearhomophony and paronymy respectively, conceptually, the borderline can only be intuited. In a similar vein, intuitive approach will be favoured in fixing the lower level of formal similarity in paronymy, where neither the length of paronymic pairs nor the number of shared phonemes will emerge as an apposite criterion. Accordingly, paronymy will be viewed as a continuum rather than a box-like category and defined after Hausmann (1974) as "diejenige Gemeinsamkeit an Phonemen oder phonologischen Merkmalen zwischen zwei Sequenzen, die bei gleichzeitiger Divergenz von Phonemen oder Merkmalen ausreicht, zwei Isotopien im Wortspiel zu konnektieren" (Hausmann 1974: 61-62). A definition such as this one will be capacious enough to permit, in terms of spelling, two substantial paronymic categories to enter the forthcoming analysis, namely (i) forms defined by a somewhat accidental, not infrequently distant similarity (as in Acquitaine/acquittances (LLL: II. I. 158-162) (20)) and (ii) instances, where the operation of derivational and inflectional morphemes is solely responsible for upsetting absolute identity of pun components, either in pronunciation and orthography (precluding homonymy, as in mean/meanly 'tenor or alto'/'moderately' (LLL: V. II. 327-328)) (21) or the former alone (blocking homophony, as in beseech/besieged (LLL: I. I. 226-229)). Clearly, this does not mean that one of the paronymic pun components constitutes a derivational base for the other, which although possible (as in maculate/immaculate (LLL: I. II. 85-88); grace/disgrace (LLL: IV. III. 65)), cannot be regarded as a rule because it would (i) insist on a common etymological origin in paronymic pairs (which is not prerequisite as in pitch/pitched 'tar'/'established' (LLL: IV. III. 13)) and (ii) often admit insufficient semantic distance between them, upsetting the final punning effect. (22)

Numerous are also difficulties born out of terminological discrepancies. Well beyond the present concern, they will only receive a brief mention to the effect that, for instance, (non-polysemic) "homonymic" puns, as understood here, are labelled "homographic" in Wurth (1895) who, in turn, uses the name "homonymy" to describe the present "homophony". To make things worse, in both Kokeritz (1953) and Ellis (1973) the term "homonymic" puns is synonymous not only with the present understanding of "homophonic" but also "nonpolysemic (homonymic)" punning.

3.2. The analysis of the formal composition of puns in LLL (Part 1)

3.2.1. Lexical, partially lexical and non-lexical puns

The analysis is initially targeted at a closer representation of the aforementioned phenomena (namely homonymy, homophony and paronymy), as used in LLL, along the axis "lexical--partially lexical--non-lexical", and their subsequent quantitative distribution there. Of the two axial extremities, the former is said to operate within individual words, whereas the latter obtains within larger units, i.e. word strings up to a sentence level; partially lexical variety in turn surfaces as the upshot of the combination of the two, where one of the pun components represents a lexical and the other a non-lexical arrangement. The only phenomenon disallowing the middle-ground option is homonymy which, entailing pure identity of its constituents in sound and spelling, is confined to the lexical and non-lexical varieties alone (the latter operative in the examined play principally in literal interpretations of idiomatic expressions). Conversely, all the above patterns can be successfully incorporated into homophonic and paronymic structures alike. See the selected examples:

(1) Non-lexical homonymy:

Arm. Villain, thou shalt fast for thy offences ere thou be pardoned. Cost. Well, sir, I hope when I do it I shall do it on a full stomach (LLL: I. II. 137-140)

s1 = (lit.) with one's belly full; satiated s2 = (idiom.) proudly, courageously

(2) Lexical homophony:

Ber. Would that do it good? Ros. My physic says, ay. Ber. Will you prick't with your eye? (LLL: II. I. 187-189)

s1 = yes s2 = organ of sight

(3) Partly lexical paronymy:

Arm. Sirrah Costard, I will enfranchise thee. Cost. O! marry me to one Frances--I smell some l'envoy, some goose in this. (LLL: III. I. 118-120)

s1 = set free s2 = one courtesan,

The overall quantitative distribution can be represented in the following fashion:

3.2.2. In praesentia vs. in absentia patterning of puns

The description of the formal composition of a pun, if expected to give a fuller picture thereof, must not fail to recognize its structural duality manifested in the juxtaposition of two determinants, i.e. (i) linguistic mechanism defining the degree of similarity in sound and spelling of pun components (as discussed above) and (ii) the positioning of those components against each other within in praesentia/in absentia patterning. When in praesentia, the arrangement of pun components belongs with a syntagmatic relationship, demanding that both are physically present in a piece of text as individual carriers of discrete senses (see examples 2, 3 in section 3.2.1.). (23) By way of contrast, the in absentia-type-of-arrangement, much more difficult to trace in practice, is of paradigmatic nature and disallows an overt manifestation of the word punned upon which is subsumed under the pumping word, the latter burdened with carrying a double/multiple signification (see example (1) in section 3.2.1.). The two types of the alignment of pun components are sometimes assigned illustrative spatial labels, respectively horizontal and vertical, favoured also hereafter (Hausmann 1974). (24) The moment they are confronted with the linguistic mechanisms discussed in the foregoing sections, a six-fold structure emerges which incorporates six fundamental pun types in LLL, as exemplified below:

I) Horizontal homonymic pun

King. All hail, sweet madam, and fair time of day!

Prin. Fair in all hail is foul, as I conceive (LLL: V. II. 339-340).

s1 = an exclamation expressing greeting

s2 = sleet

II) Vertical homonymic pun [right arrow] see example (1) in section 3.2.1.

III) Horizontal homophonic pun [right arrow] see example (2) in section 3.2.1.

IV) Vertical homophonic pun

Dum. In reason nothing.

Ber. Something then in rhyme.

King. Berowne is like an envious sneaping frost ... (LLL: I. I. 98-100).

s1 = verse

s2 = rime 'frost'

V) Horizontal paronymic pun [right arrow] see example (3) in section 3.2.1.

VI) Vertical paronymic pun

Ber. The king he is hunting the deer; I am coursing myself: they have pitched a toil; I am toiling in a pitch,--pitch that defiles ... (LLL: IV. III. 1-3).

s1 = a trap

s2 = exerting/straining oneself

Approached quantitatively, the above pun types will be initially represented in a tabular form (showing the number and percentage of their occurrences) and, subsequently, plotted on a graph (demonstrating the former alone).

* Hn = homonymy, Hph = homophony, Par = paronymy

Graph 1. The distribution of six fundamental pun types in LLL. The occurrences index *

3.2.3. Partial homonymy, homophony and paronymy

To arrive at a fairly comprehensive picture of homonymy, homophony and paronymy it should not go unrecognized that they can be sub-divided further into partial homonymy (amounting to 6 instances in the present corpus), partial homophony (5) and partial paronymy (2), respectively. Accounting for puns of incomplete character (i.e. made on fractions of words), they are often subsumed jointly under the paronymic forms (see Sobkowiak 1991:10 and Hausmann 1974: 29). Notice the following examples:

a) Partial homonymy:

Moth. Yes, yes, he teaches boys the horn[-book]. What is a, b, spelt backward with the horn on his head? (LLL: V. I. 46-47).

s1 = (as in horn-book) a leaf of paper containing the alphabet, protected by a thin plate of translucent horn

s2 = hard outgrowth on the heads of cattle, sheep, etc.

b) Partial homophony:

Prin. What plume of feathers is he that indited this letter?

What vane? what weather[cock]? did you ever hear better? (LLL: IV. I. 93-94).

s1 = (as in weathercock) moody, changeable person

s2 = wether 'castrated ram; eunuch'

c) Partial paronymy:

Prin. (...) I hear your grace hath sworn out [house-]keeping: 'Tis deadly sin to keep that oath, my lord, And sin to break it ... (LLL: II. I. 104-106).

s1 = (as in house-keeping) hospitality

s2 = fulfill, observe

3.3. The analysis of the formal composition of puns in LLL (Part 2)

Further analysis will distance itself from a close inspection of homonymy, homophony and paronymy (conditioning, in a mutually exclusive way, the emergence of puns) and turn to optional mechanisms which only some puns additionally enter, refining somehow their structure. In consequence, an alternative formal classification of puns in LLL will emerge (capable, however, of functioning only within the framework set up by the operation of homonymy, homophony and paronymy in both horizontal and vertical arrangements) which presents itself as follows:

i) Idiom-based puns

In LLL idiom-based puns appear to rest principally on tornures (formations representing genuine idiom shape), where they either emerge as a result of the literal vs. idiomatic interpretation of these (non-lexical variety) or operate on a single component of an idiom (lexical variety) (cf. section 3.2.1.). Importantly, however, the interpretation of an idiom has been relaxed to encompass, alongside tornures, structures exhibiting a lesser degree of opacity (i.e. semantic non-transparency ensuing from non-compositional meaning assignment) and frozenness (i.e. resistance to whatever syntactic transformations), namely set phrases, proverbial expressions and (two instances of) phrasal verbs.

Dum. Will you vouchsafe with me to change a word?

Mar. Name it.

Dum. Fair lady,-

Mar. Say you so? Fair lord,--Take that for your fair lady (LLL: V. II. 238-239).

s1 = (idiom.) hold social intercourse

s2 = (lit.) alter/reorder a word

Arm. Sweet Lord Longaville, rein thy tongue.

Long. I must rather give it the rein, for it runs against Hector (LLL: V. II. 648-649).

s1 = restrain; keep under control

s2 = allow full scope, power

ii) Interlingual puns

Interlingual puns, drawing on the lexicons of more than one language, can be defined as the products of a transaction between languages. In LLL they rest chiefly on French words (9 instances) (occasionally admitting words from Latin (3) and Spanish (1)) and exhibit exclusively a bilingual variety at a time. Interestingly, of the six fundamental pun types tracked down in the play (as charted in section 3.2.2.) they are absent from all horizontal arrangements.

Ber. Will you prick't with your eye?

Ros. No point, with my knife (LLL: II. I. 189-190).

s1 = tapered end

s2 = French negative 'not at all'

(iii) Proper name puns

This category of puns lends itself to a neat subdivision into (i) forms which employ given names of the characters in the play, on the one hand, and (ii) forms which put into service all the remaining proper names used there, on the other. The former subsume both the invented names (which represent homophonous structures, as in Berowne/brown (II. I. 6-68)) as well as names which have their counterparts in common nouns (homonymous structures, as in Dull/dull (V. I. 150)); on top of that, the latter allow for a wide-ranging reference spectrum, principally biblical, mythological, historical as well as national and topical (as can be seen in Ajax/a jakes example below).

Moth. A wonder, master! here's a costard broken in a shin (LLL: III. I. 68).

s1 = (a kind of large apple; here applied humorously to) a person's head

s2 = Costard (the name of the character in the play)

Cost. (...) your lion, that holds his poll-axe sitting on a close-stool, will be given to Ajax: he will be the ninth Worthy ... (LLL: V. II. 570-572).

s1 = mythological hero

s2 = ajakes 'close, privy

(iv) Compound-based puns

The term defines the category of puns in which either an individual pun component involves a compounded form (the play is fixed on a single constituent of a compound; see the example below) or both/all are characterized this way (the play covers the entire compound, as in hogshead/hog's head (IV. II. 84-88)). In LLL the compound-based puns are constituted by compound adjectives as well as nouns. Whereas the former are formed either with a prefix (see the example below) or participle (e.g. three-pil'd/pil'd (V. II. 406-410)), the latter are either single-word compound nouns (see hogshead above) or display the following patterns: N(oun) + N(oun) (e.g. horn-book/horn (V.I.46-50)) and N(oun) + G(erund) (e.g. house-keeping/keep (II. I. 104-106)). (25)

Arm. (...) it rejoiceth my intellect; true wit!

Moth. Offered by a child to an old man; which is [wit-] old (LLL: V. I. 58-60).

s1 = aged

s2 = mentally feeble (26)

* PP = pure puns (i.e. entering none of the above arrangements), IP = idiom-based puns, IlP = interlingual puns, PNP = proper name puns and CP = compound-based puns, the remainder as in Graph 1 above.

4. Conclusions

The quantitative distribution of puns, as mapped in the analysis, supports a widely-held belief that they fit into the category of verbal devices most lavishly worked into the linguistic substance of the play under consideration. The multiplicity of punning forms there is largely the consequence of the specificity of the English language which was undergoing sweeping changes in the Elizabethan era, principally lexical (such as the importation of Romance loan-words). Lexically well-stocked, syntactically unconstrained and marked by a sharp pronunciation--orthography asymmetry (the consequence of the pre-Elizabethan phonological changes, namely the Great Vowel Shift), English proved especially conducive to homonymous, homophonous and paronymous punning structures, all present in the examined corpus. A cursory look at these suffices to notice their acutely disproportionate representation, with the homophonous and paronymous varieties (which amount, respectively, to 28.6% and 13.5% of the total of 423 puns in the corpus) accounting jointly for less that a half (namely 42.1%) of the entire inventory of puns, and the homonymous forms running to 57.9%.

Upon closer inspection, the prevalence of homonyms turns out to be the most relevant fact about the formal structure of puns in LLL as it proves a perfect criterion for carrying out a quality assessment of the phenomenon there. The least automatically responded to in practice, homonymy ranks highest on the list of the most subtle and sought-after pun types. It is followed by homophony, whereas paronymy, routinely regarded an imperfect pun, occupies the other polar extremity. Accordingly, the preponderance of homonymous puns, as evinced in the study, seems to run counter to a prevailing opinion on punning in the play as a carefree and naive experimentation with words which lacks refinement, commonly ascribed to Shakespeare's riper writing. Equally challenging in this respect proves the asymmetrical distribution of horizontal and vertical arrangements of puns in the play. It seems symptomatic that vertical puns, traditionally considered subtler, hold sway both in the entire corpus as well as within homonymous structures, whereas the predominance of horizontal ones is restricted to paronymous variety alone. All things considered, the finest pun type appears to belong with vertical homonymy and the least refined one is constituted by horizontal paronymy. The juxtaposition of figures from the upper left-hand cells of Table 3 above (168 (=68.6%)) with those from the lower right-hand cells (44 (=77.2%)), representing respectively the distribution of the two pun types, evinces that the overall quality assessment of puns in LLL should probably proceed towards the recognition of subtlety and complexity of a higher order than they are customarily credited with. On top of that, it could be mentioned in passing that the prevalence of the vertical arrangement leads to an interesting conclusion on a wholly distinct, i.e. semantic plain. Although well beyond the present concerns, the semantics of vertical puns, heavily charged with sexual undercurrents, may point to the fact that the paradigmatic organization of puns was calculated as a convenient strategy to covertly communicate the bawdry to the audience.

The alternative grouping of puns, as demonstrated in section 3.3., allows to conclude that Shakespeare did not content himself with plain punning forms but practiced refining their structure, locating some of them additionally within idiomatic, interlingual and other patterns. The presence of interlingual puns (entailing the interplay between languages), along with punning structures involving proper names (where topical references surface), clearly points to the esoteric character of verbal wit in the play, intended (at least in part) for a finely select audience.



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Culler, Jonathan (ed.) 1988 On puns: The foundation of letters. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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Duncan-Rose, Caroline--Jacek Fisiak--Theo Vennemann (eds.) 1988 On language: Rhetorica, phonologica, syntactica. A festschrift for Robert P. Stockwell from his friends and colleagues. London--New York: Routledge.

Ellis, Herbert A. 1973 Shakespeare's lusty punning in Love's labour's lost. The Hague--Paris: Mouton.

Freidhof, Gerd 1984 "Zur Typologisierung von Wortspielen mit Hilfe yon oppositiven Merkmalen", in: Peter Rehder (ed.), 9-37.

Hausmann, Franz J. 1974 Studien zu einer Linguistik des Wortspiels: Das Wortspiel im Canard Enchaine. Tubingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Heller, L. G. 1974 "Toward a general typology of the pun", Language and Style 7: 271-282.

Hill, Archibald A. 1988 "Chaucer and the pun-hunters: Some points of caution", in: Caroline Duncan-Rose--Jacek Fisiak--Theo Vennemann (eds.), 66-78.

Katz, Jerrold J. 1966 The philosophy of language. New York: Harper & Row.

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Kohl, Norbert 1966 Das Wortspiel in der Shakespeareschen Komodie: Studien zur Interdependenz von verbalem und aktionalem Spiel in den fruhen Komodien und den spaten Stucken. [Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitat, Frankfurt am Main].

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Poznan University of Technology

(1) Notice the fact of terms like jeau de mot or double entendre passing as currency in English.

(2) Further confusion may arise from the fact that modern terminology draws heavily on ancient and Renaissance rhetoric which, although lacked the notion of pun as such, made quite disorderly use of formal devices (principally paronomasia, antanaclasis, sillepsis and asteismus, corresponding roughly to individual pun types) lumped under the common name figura elocutionis (Freidhof 1984: 12; Kohl 1966: 55, 94; Redfern 1984: 82).

(3) "Im allgemeinen kann man behaupten, dass die witzige Wortverknupfung umso tiberraschender und schlagender wirkt, je geringer die Verschiedenheit der Laute bei mOglichst grossem Bedeutungsunterschiede ist ..." (Wurth 1895:18).

(4) This follows from the fact that they are each the product of (at least two) separate words (or word strings, where non-lexical varieties are concerned) working towards the punning effect, which carry singly an autonomous meaning (i.e. s1 and s2/s3/s4, etc.).

(5) For a systematic account of alternative types of meaning the reader is referred to Leech (1974: 9-23).

(6) The correspondence between the two approaches is partial since Cruse's "facets" are apparently (roughly) synonymous with Leech's collocative meanings alone.

(7) For areas of overlap between semantically autonomous senses and (normally) non autonomous facets cf. Cruse (2000: 27-29).

(8) The following remarks seem in order here: (i) of numerous types of ambiguity listed in critical literature (e.g. Kooij 1971; Cruse 1986), the only varieties pertinent to punning purposes are of lexical and lexico-syntactic character; (ii) ambiguity does not appear (unrestrictedly) in all pun types in that, homonymy excepted (where it can always be taken for granted), homophony confines it to spoken medium, homography to written one and paronymy precludes altogether; (iii) a rich collection of diagnostic tests (context-variant (indirect) and context-invariant (direct)) for differentiating between ambiguity and vagueness has amassed in linguistic scholarship, for which see, for example, Cruse (1986: 50-66) (favouring the term "generality" for the latter) and Kempson (1977: 123-137).

(9) "Mit verschiedenen Meinungen eines Semems kann man ein Meinungsspiel machen, mit verschiedenen Sememen eines Zeichens aber ein Wortspiel" (Hausmann 1974:110).

(10) Due care should be taken not to confuse the present understanding of homonymy, as focused on the semantics (or, strictly speaking, the semantic distance) of formally identical words, with what has been labelled homonymy heretofore (and will be termed the same way in section 3), where it has been preconditioned solely by identity in sound and spelling.

(11) After Cruse (1986), "lexem" is understood as a cluster of lexical units which are characterized by a heterogeneous structure combining a single sense (the meaning aspect of a unit) and a lexical form (its formal aspect variable only inflectionally). By way of contrast, "lexem" and "lexical unit" are used indiscriminately in Kempson (1977), where they are roughly synonymous with Cruse's (1986) understanding of the latter alone who, in turn, contrasts them jointly with "words".

(12) While a theoretical scheme such as this one may have some initial appeal, fixing a clear-cut border between polysemy and homonymy is in practice often a vexing problem and sometimes an impossible task. While the diachronic perspective (where the etymological relatedness between words is regarded as eriterial in drawing a demarcation line between the two phenomena) emerges relatively unproblematic, the synchronic approach (employing, for instance, componential analysis) is fraught with numerous problems. For pertinent discussions, which are beyond the scope of the present study, see, for instance, Ullmann (1963: 180-188), Hausmann (1974:100-111), Kooij (1971: 124-146).

(13) While the strategy in gathering data has been towards making the collection of puns as comprehensive as possible, an attempt has been undertaken to see to it that no uncalled-for "pun-hunting" (see Hill 1988) takes place.

(14) An approach of this type will represent a middle-ground solution between two ambivalent attitudes towards the issue in critical literature which (i) opt for scrupulous (not infrequently over-subtle) categorizations of puns, on the one hand (see Wurth 1895; Heller 1974; Freidhof 1984; Brown 1956), and (ii) recognise puns as phenomena defying any attempt toward rigid pigeonholing, on the other (see Mahood 1957; Redfern 1984; Culler 1988).

(15) Misgivings about admitting homographic play to the category of genuine puns will be found in Sobkowiak (1991) who observes that "[a]s opposed to such 'printed' puns, true puns are, in their mass, a decidedly spoken phenomenon ..." (Sobkowiak 1991: 13).

(16) With reference to the lack of puns in the entire canon Kokeritz (1953: 87) observes: "... no Shakespearean pun was ever based upon the spelling of a word; either meaning or pronunciation is involved, but never orthography". See also Delabastita (1993:81).

(17) That is why extra care was taken in the present study to consult relevant sources before admitting these, as well as other, types of candidate puns to the corpus (see section 2 above).

(18) On the authority of Kokeritz, only around half of Shakespeare's homophones are readily acces sible having retained their original sound quality down to the present day (Kokeritz 1953: 62).

(19) "Wenn wir in der Praxis dieselben Anforderungen an diese Art von Spielen stellten, die wir bei der rein theoretischen Betrachtung dieser Gattung geltend machen massen, so wurde sich die Zahl der sicheren Falle verhaltnismssig recht niedrig stellen ... Wir durfen also in der Praxis Spiele mit sehr leichter Klangverschiedenheit, wenn sie auch theoretisch vom Gleichklang zu scheiden sind, immerhin mit diesem gemeinsam behandeln ..." (Wurth 1895: 112-113; the emphasis original).

(20) All examples cited hereafter have been culled from LLL.

(21) Cf. Sobkowiak (1991: 10) who refers to this type of operation as "manipulation of 'zero' element(s)."

(22) For further difficulties involved in defining paronymy and measuring the degree of formal similarity therein see Sobkowiak (1991 : 10-11).

(23) In the homonymic type of pun syntagmatic arrangement can easily be confused with mere repetition. The two can only be distinguished from one another by virtue of applying a purely semantic criterion which restricts the latter to operating within a single sense.

(24) Cf. Delabastita (1993: 78) for a still different terminology.

(25) Importantly, the above categories of puns may also intermingle with one another, as in moon/moonshine (V. II. 205-208) which is simultaneously a compound- and an idiom-based pun (the latter pun component appearing in the phrase moonshine in the water).

(26) See also examples of partial homonymy, homophony and paronymy in section 3.2.3. above.
Table 1. The properties of linguistic processes underlying the
formal composition of puns *

 Homonymy Homophony Homography Paronymy

Pronunciation + + - [+ or -]
Orthography + - + [+ or -]

* "+" stands for identity, -" for difference and "[+ or -] in
terminal cells denotes similarity.

Table 2. Homonymy, homophony, paronymy: The obligatory formal
arrangement (1)


 # % # % # %

Lexical 231 94.3% 103 85.1% 55 96.5%

lexical 0 0% 13 10.7% 1 1.7%

Non-lexical 14 5.7% 5 4.1% 1 1.7%

TOTAL: 245 100% 121 100% 57 100%

Table 3. Homonymy, homophony, paronymy: The obligatory formal
arrangement (2)


 # % # % # %

Vertical 168 68.6% 93 76.8% 13 22.8%
Horizontal 77 31.4% 28 23.1% 44 77.2%
TOTAL 245 100% 121 100% 57 100%

Table 4. The distribution of non-obligatory formal arrangements
in puns *


 # % # % # % # % # %

Hn/Hph 332 78.5% 43 10.2% 13 3.1% 20 4.7% 15 3.5%

TOTAL 423 (100%)

Graph 1. The distribution of six fundamental pun types in LLL. The
occurrences index *

Occurrences Vertical Horizontal
 puns puns

Hn 168 77
Hph 93 28
Par 13 44

* Hn = homonymy, Hph = homophony, Par = paronymy

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Title Annotation:LINGUISTICS
Author:Adamczyk, Magdalena
Publication:Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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