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One of the most intriguing things about language is its redeployment to accomplish a multiplicity of functions by different people in different places at different times. One of such functions of language is humour- making. People often make use of humour in social, political and cultural interactions through the skillful manipulation of diverse structures of language. Underlining the manipulative skills of a speaker or language user are peculiar and unique choices that are made. These choices are explainable by studying the linguistic style of the language user. To do this, stylistics, therefore, is an instrument with which style can be effectively studied. As a result, this research sets out to examine how and whether syntactic items can be used stylistically to achieve humour. Since analysis must be based on a particular linguistic theoretical construct, this study adopts functional linguistics as a theoretical mainstay for analysis. Since this theory offers a broad spectrum for analysis, the study further narrows down specifically to transitivity as presented in Halliday (1985). Terminologies such as “participants, processes, circumstances” and their sub-types are used in classifying syntactic items. At the end of the analysis, it is discovered that interactants make a predominant use of “processes- the material process” to create humour. This is because an entity has to do something on another for humour to be possible. However, the “processes”, which usually contain “participants”, are complimented by different “circumstances” to contextualise the utterance for humour. The completeness of the humour lies with the relationship between shared knowledge and the lexical choices of interactants. This shared knowledge connects the syntactic choices a speaker makes to context, resulting into humour.
1.0 Background to the Study
Natural language contains systematic variations on all levels of its structure, such as
phonology, morphology, lexicology and syntax. These variations offer the widest possibilities
of language use to fulfill different communicative functions in various contexts. To identify,
describe and analyse special and unique linguistic expressive means lies at the core of
stylistics. This implies that certain language units bear stylistic markers, as they appear in
particular contexts of human linguistic interaction.
Humour represents perhaps one of the most genuine and universal speech acts within
human interaction. People often make use of humour in social and cultural interactions
through the skillful manipulation of language. This manipulation is at diverse linguistic
levels, such as lexis, phonology and syntax. In order to investigate these linguistic levels and
other perceived extralinguistic factors at work in humour, stylistics is a useful tool. This is
because this social activity uses the expressive means of language. Lawal (Olusegun and
Adebayo 2008:66) recognises not just the various categories of language but also their use
and usage in social functions. To him, “variety and variability are inevitable features of
language which is a unique human attribute employed in widely differing circumstances for
performing multiplicity of social functions”.
Humour being one of the social functions, is realized, using the variety and variability
of language. These affect different categories of language, including the syntactic. To explain
how and why certain structures of language can effectively be seen as marking out in terms of
meaning, stylistics must be used as an inevitable basis for analysis. This is because it deals
with the description of the technical aspects of language, such as the technicalities used in
achieving humour. The question of technicality comes into focus as people do not interact in
a one-dimensional way.
Humans interact with one another in divergent ways and these ways include
information sharing, emotional exchanges, thoughts and feeling exchanges. People choose
diverse means of communicating their thoughts, feelings and emotional concerns to others.
Through the instrumentality of language, humans can pass information by means of humour.
Therefore, it is a natural phenomenon for humans to laugh at jokes, exchange humorous
stories for entertainment and information, tease one another and trade clever insults for
amusement on a daily basis. Raskin (1985:2) opines that:
Responding to humour is part of human behaviour, ability or competence, other parts of which comprise such important social and psychological manifestations of homo sapiens as language, morality logic, faith e.t.c
To Raskin, humour is an inextricable part of human nature. This goes further to
suggest that no human society exists without humour, since it is a part of human behaviour.
This behaviour (humour) is manifested in different forms to different people, settings and
situations. This is true because what becomes humorous may be highly restricted to a
particular group, culture and possibly experience. Raskin (1985:16) buttresses this point by
positing that “it seems to be generally recognized that the scope and degree of mutual
understanding in humour varies directly with degree to which the participants share their
Raskin‟s position shows that humour is, for example, steeped in and shaped by
culture. What may be interpreted as humour in one cultural setting may be capable of
eliciting anger and violence in another. The sum total of the experiences we commonly share
as unified members of a homogeneous culture is the conducive premise for jokes, humorous
observations, puns, e.t.c.
Equally important in Raskin‟s position is the social background which may take into
account other variables like social situation and social setting. A given utterance, which may
be celebrated as humorous in one situation, is likely to be taken with scorn in another
situation. Similarly, the setting serves as a strong determini
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