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International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Kuipers, Giselinde / Ford, Thomas E.

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Are pun mechanisms universal? A comparative analysis across language families

Citation Information: Humor. Volume 25, Issue 3, Pages 339–366, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: 10.1515/humor-2012-0017, July 2012

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The purpose of this paper is to provide a new definition of pun, in order to describe it in a cross-linguistic perspective and to point out that puns, as verbal humorous phenomena which exploit ordinary phonetic processes, are universal. The definition is tested through a comparison among puns in 15 languages belonging to different families. I show that puns always imply the manipulation of a string through mechanisms involving all the elements of the phonetic chain. Such manipulation is realized in all possible string and syllable domains, tendentially within the threshold of five elements. Taking into account the progressive improvements in linguistic models of puns, the present study also provides a synthetic overview of the literature on puns and related phenomena. Results include some phonetic elements not considered in previous studies; a cross-linguistic formulation of phonetic distance between target and pun is also proposed.

Keywords: pun; cross-linguistics; phonetic distance; speech play; auto-segmental phonology

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