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The case of externally broken idioms:: Lexical and Literal Access in Pun Processing
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2015 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]


Externally Broken Idioms (EBI) are a unique case of idioms in which the internal structure ofgrammatical, ambiguous idioms— the relations of the constituents and their individual meanings—are foregrounded for punning effect. EBIs are an interesting case because they derive two competingpropositions. The mechanisms for EBI comprehension function within the semantic-pragmaticinterface. This challenges the traditional theories of verbal humour which define puns as intentional,nonsensical illocutions.Traditionally, idioms are defined as single, lexical items or words with spaces. The idiom superiorityeffect (ISE) predicts that idioms are processed faster than literal counterparts, since computing is aslower process than retrieving. Recent findings on idiom comprehension have moved theories frommodels of exclusive, sequential processing to models of multilayer, multidirectional processing,nuancing the idiom comprehension research. Contributions from psycholinguistic and neurolinguisticresearch reveal semantic-syntactic simultaneity in processing. A growing body of evidence isconverging at the theory that different attributes facilitate processing and to different degrees overtime. Most significantly, increased decomposability causes processing latencies 1000ms post-offset(Titone & Libben 2014). This predicts that EBI processing latencies increases as globaldecomposability increases.The present study is divided into two sections. The first is a theoretical review and discussion of theliterature covering idiom processing and verbal humour and puns. It is argued that the linguisticproperties of EBIs lack description and explanation in the traditional framework of speaker-centricpragmatics. It is concluded that a model of EBI must account for dual propositionality,informativeness, and intentionality non-exclusivity .The notion of extended ad hoc concepts is adaptedfor a hearer-exclusive account of EBIs.The second section presents a computer-based reaction time (RT) study of EBI involving 24 nativespeakers of English. The experiment, scripted on (DMDX), comprises 24 texts, 12 idiom-primedstories and 12 pun-primed stories. At the end of each text, informants were timed on a binary-choicedecision task. The choices for the idiom-primed stories have one correct response, but the choices forthe pun-primed stories allow both an idiom interpretation and a pun interpretation. Three factors areexamined: idiom-primed idiom responses, pun-primed pun responses, and pun-primed idiomresponses. Statistical analyses were made using MS Excel and SPSS.The results concur with ISE predictions. No statistically significant differences were found betweenpun-primed pun RTs and pun-primed idiom RTs, indicating that exclusively idiom-priming contextsprovide facilitating effects on idiom processing, whereas contexts priming both interpretations have animpeding effect on RT, confirming global decomposability. This shows that contextual priming has astark effect on idiom decomposability. Also, pun success is ultimately determined by hearercomprehension, confirming that that EBI are informative and not necessarily intentional. Thischallenges the traditional models of pun comprehension. Finally, it is concluded that a hearerexclusivemodel is compatible with the idiom processing literature and can account for the linguisticproperties of EBIs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. , 50 p.
Keyword [en]
Externally broken idioms, Lexical decision time, pun processing, idiom processing, DMDX, cognitive semantics, decomposability, verbal humour, incongruity-resolution
National Category
Specific Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-126266OAI: diva2:900355
Available from: 2016-02-15 Created: 2016-01-28 Last updated: 2016-02-15Bibliographically approved

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