A Linguistic-Stylistic Analysis Of The Language Of Humuor In Opa Williams’ “Nite Of A Thousand Laughs”

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A Linguistic-Stylistic Analysis Of The Language Of Humuor In Opa Williams’ “Nite Of A Thousand Laughs”

Chapter One


1.1 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 social background”.

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 determining factor as to what makes up humour. Even within one culture, different settings may emerge with specific linguistic demands, curtailing one utterance from being taken as humour. This implies that humour, though a universal phenomenon, is realized differently in different cultures according to experience, setting, situation and it is knowledge specific and bound.

The intersection between humour and language is rife with complex cognitive, cultural and social variables that all work together to create a specific sort of understanding among people. The expressive possibilities of humour rest with the instrumentality of language. Humour is, therefore, transmitted or communicated with recourse to linguistic features that are carefully and sometimes deliberately chosen or selected to achieve this effect. The array of choices (linguistics) that interlocutors make is what is captured in the term “stylistics”.

Asher and Simpson (1994:378) give credence to the above position by saying that “stylistics is concerned with variation in language use and thus with analytic choice”. Abrams (Ekpe 1977:114) also toes the same path. To him, “stylistics is how a speaker or writer says or writes whatever it is that he says or writes. The characteristic style of a work of a writer may be analyzed in terms of its diction or choice of words”;… The rendition of humour, whether spoken or written, planned or accidental is passed across through language by means of the choices that a speaker or writer makes.

The choices that are made affect a number of categories, levels or units of language use. To achieve a humorous result, a speaker or writer appeals to one or all of these language categories or levels intuitively or consciously. A speaker‟s leaning mainly on a particular or specific feature is what defines his or her stylistic biases. In humorous language, for instance, one may rely heavily on a phonological, morphological, lexical, semantic, or syntactic level. The question of what linguistic choices are made becomes paramount in the quest to identify the stylistic peculiarities of a speaker or writer.

Turner (1973:1) substantiates the above position when he opines that:

Our knowledge of our language is immensely complex; we carry with us not only a knowledge of a vast intricate patterned code, but also an experience of its varying surrounding circumstances. This guides in making choices from approximately similar items in the code to fit particular occasions.

Tuner‟s position serves as a good ground for understanding why a language can be humorous, as it gives indisputable insights into the linguistic armory of a speaker. For instance, he mentions very important points relating to language generally, which can be narrowed down to the language of humour. He makes reference to knowledge of a vast intricately patterned code. This means that a speaker is, first and foremost, armed with an adequate linguistic code. This code gives the individual a variety of linguistic options from which he or she can select. Little wonder this linguistic leverage of selection an individual possesses guarantees various applications of this code in different situations, places and times with the aim of achieving a number of purposes. One of such purposes is to achieve humorous effects.

Additionally, Turner makes mention of “an experience of its varying surrounding circumstances”. This means that the speaker is not ignorant of diverse circumstances in which language has to be used. To be equipped with the code alone does not amount to the effective use of the code except one is equally enriched with the knowledge of circumstances that require the use of a particular item from the code. To attempt to create humour, for instance, at a funeral gathering may not always yield the desired result. This is why Turner points out that the experience of the surrounding circumstances “guides in making choices from approximately similar items in the code to fit particular occasions”.

To create humour, therefore, one has to make choices with recourse to the occasions. This implies that the individual peeps outside the linguistic content of a language (the extralinguistic) to arrive at effective language use. Because of this important factor of pragmatics, interactants are found to draw from a variety of linguistic options, which are targeted at achieving a peculiar and specific aim. As multifaceted as there are reasons for language use, so are a number of categories and levels of language. Stylistics seeks to provide a theory and a model for analysing the sum total of the peculiarities inherent in the selections interactants make.

It is against this background that Turner (1993:31) postulates that “stylistics is that part of linguistics which concentrates on variations in the use of language; often but not exclusively with special attention to most conscious and complex uses of language in interaction”. Turner suggests that language is, sometimes, used in a peculiar way.

This peculiarity is what brings about variation; and this variation serves as a resource for stylistic analysis. Also, this variation is informed largely by the deliberate and conscious efforts interactants make at achieving their aims. In language of humour, for instance, deliberate linguistic choices are made to elicit laughter.

This being the case, it will be consistent with linguistic practice to undoubtedly establish that even the language of humour, in its own right, is unique. Its uniqueness stems from the peculiarities of the selection interlocutors make to result in a humorous effect. The embodiment of this uniqueness goes further to define its variation. Moreover, since stylistics, according to Turner, concentrates on variations in the use of language, the language of humour equally lends itself for analysis. It is against this backdrop that this study seeks to investigate the language of humour and its linguistic manifestation, using “Nite of a Thousand Laughs”.

1.1 Statement of the Research Problem

Language has attracted a lot of research. These different shades of investigations are stimulated by the fact that language is a social activity; therefore, it can be used in various ways to perform a multiplicity of functions. One of such functions, which language can be deployed to perform, is to serve as a vehicle for humour. People rely heavily on the anchorage of language to exchange humour. In recognition of the role of language, Yule (1995:116) describes linguistic items as “containers” or as fulfilling “roles”. Yule‟s position further suggests that the items do not only contain semantic property but also contain effects, which include humorous ones. What is termed humour can result from the lexical items a speaker carefully selects in the course of interaction.

It, therefore, implies that syntactic elements can fulfill a humorous role among others. This result is achievable when lexical items are blended with other linguistic categories and some shared experiences or knowledge in the world of the interlocutors. This potentially means that the formal linguistic properties of a language in themselves are insufficient to always result into humour. What speakers know in terms of their social and cultural background determines the success of humour to a large extent. This explains why Akmajian et al, (Olusegun and Adebayo 2008:66) say:

No human language is fixed, uniform or unvarying: all languages show internal variation. Actual usage varies from group to group; and speaker to speaker, in terms of the pronunciation of language, the choice of words and the meaning of those words, even the use of syntactic constructions.

But more worrisome is the fact that in spite of this array of choices made by speakers and this knowledge they share to arrive at humour, the linguistic and non linguistic intricacies are most times taken for granted. Many people do not make efforts at considering how speakers make lexical choices and the influence of the shared experience on humorous meaning. To a reasonable number of listeners, such unique ability resulting in humour is interpreted as intelligence or eloquence. Admissible as this may seem, it is more proper for efforts to be made at not only describing but also explaining the linguistic basis of this language expressive ability.

Underlining speech communication is the linguistic and extralinguistic features of language. These features vary systematically according to the communicative biases of an individual. While speaking, an individual may select more from a particular feature of language more suitable for his or her communicative needs in different contexts.

To identify these linguistic features or categories and analyse them systematically underscores the essence of stylistics. The language of humour is equally a variation geared towards a specific goal. Stylistics, therefore, helps in explaining and describing the linguistic peculiarities, which necessitate the humour. These special attributes of a humorous language can reflect at the lexical and syntactic levels.

1.2 The Research Questions

The differences that syntactic items present in meaning can equally be utilised for humorous effects. As a result, this research is geared towards eliciting answers to the following questions.

  1. How and to what extent do syntactic elements form a style in the language of humour?
  2. What is the linguistic or extralinguistic relationship between the syntactic choices a speaker makes and the humorous effect he or she achieves?
  3. Do speakers make conscious syntactic choices to achieve humour?
  4. Can syntactic elements in themselves elicit humour?

The above questions are considered in order to ascertain the syntactic items speakers or writers appeal to and the extralinguistic as well as linguistic relationship between syntactic selection and humour.

1.3 Aim and Objectives of the Study

The aim of this study is to do a linguistic stylistic analysis of the language of humour. The language of humour, just as other aspects of language, has its unique features at different linguistic and non-linguistic levels. This uniqueness sometimes can rest with the lexical items. Turner (1973:31) makes this categorization of language levels into syntax, phonology, lexis and morphology. His own categorizations are centered on the linguistic features of language. He looks at distinct attributes of language at these levels, as they are contributors to stylistic features of a language. Worthy of interest is his mention of the lexical level as an instrument of stylistic importance. This means stylistic analysis can be hinged on the lexical level, which is believed to be found in the language of humour.

This research is aimed at achieving the following objectives:

  1. To describe how the syntactic items used in an utterance contribute to or help in defining style in the language of humour.
  2. To examine the linguistic and non-linguistic relationship between syntactic selection and the resultant humorous effect.
  3. To determine how syntactic elements serve as an instrument for humour
  4. To investigate the centrality of syntactic elements in interpreting “Nite of a Thousand Laughs” as humorous.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The stylistic investigation of language has permeated multiple dimensions of linguistic application. These areas of application may be approached from a variety of linguistic structures and categories. For instance, language may be applied in social, political and academic contexts among other areas. To do this, a speaker or writer alludes specially to certain or all the categories and structures of language. These include phonology, morphology, lexicology, syntax and semantics. The application of these levels of language may be geared towards achieving diverse aims. For instance, it may be to inform, educate, socialize or even create humour. It has been discovered that one of the numerous instantiations of peculiar language expression is to create humour. Many attribute this uniqueness to the speaker‟s intelligence neglecting the underlining linguistic choices. But those endowed with this ability are relentless in its usage.

This aspect becomes so pronounced that some people earn a means of livelihood from it. This suggests that they have acquired some mastery of and skills in how to manipulate some of these linguistic structures. Those in this business themselves may not be able to give the satisfactory linguistic explanation and description of their venture. For a proper understanding and appreciation of those underlining skills and defining them, as well as describing them in linguistic terms, a conscious investigation must be made into some or all of the underpinning structures. In the light of the foregoing, therefore, this research is significant because it contributes to the study of the language of humour, and will serve as reference material for scholars who may wish to undertake further study on the language of humour.

1.5 Scope of the Study

Stylistics focuses on the analysis and description of the linguistic features of a text whether written or spoken. Leech and Short (1981:56), who speak specifically about linguistic stylistics, emphasise that it is “the linguistic study of style”. They opine that style is hardly studied for its own sake. This implies that style is studied because one wants to explain or describe something. But the nature of description or explanation varies with researchers. A lot of interest usually stimulates the engagement of researchers into a stylistic investigation.

Understanding the broad nature of this area of linguistic study, it becomes necessary to restrict one‟s study to a particular scope of interest within the frame of this field. It is against this backdrop that in this research an attempt is made to consider only the language of humour. Since humour can be made possible in different situations and places, the research focuses on the language of humour in Opa William‟s “ Nite of a Thousand Laughs”, a comedy show produced in Nigeria. Only volume 11 of the comedy show is considered for investigation. In it, emphasis is placed on the humorous effects of language.

Given the numerous levels of linguistic investigations, the point of interest is restricted to the syntactic elements, such as “processes, participants and circumstances”, which abound in the work and help to define its stylistic features. The elements are, however, not considered in isolation. Efforts are also made to capture the extralinguistic factors, which facilitate the resultant humour. This is in order to ascertain to what extent the elements, together with extralinguistic features, are of humorous importance.

Chapter Five

Summary and Conclusion

5.0 Preamble

The language of humour, just like other different instantiations of language use, makes appeal to certain categories of language. It is in order to establish which linguistic feature has been relied upon to create humour that the research is embarked upon. In order to render a comprehensive account of how language has been used creatively to achieve humorous result, using transitivity in systemic functional linguistic, this work has been segmented into introduction, literature review, research methodology, analysis, summary and conclusion. This chapter, therefore, summarises the different segments of the work and draws a conclusion.

5.1 Summary

It is a common linguistic phenomenon to manipulate language skillfully and creatively to make humour. To achieve this, a speaker uses diverse linguistic facilities. In order to ascertain these facilities, this work presents a preamble. The preamble discusses the importance of language as a tool for communication. The unit explains that while communicating, humans make use of different levels of language that consequently define their style.

Stylistic features of a language are embedded in the choices speakers make from the levels of language. A speaker may select more of a particular level, which may also define his style. These choices present language even as a means of making humour. Humans interact with one another based on humour. At the height of this interaction, however, are the choices speakers make of linguistic structures. Beside the structures are the shared knowledge and cultural values, which facilitate the resultant humour. This shows that humour may be culture specific.

Attempts are made to consider whether syntactic elements can form a style in humour, what linguistic and extralinguistic factors can contribute to humour. Also, considered is whether there is a possibility of conscious linguistic choices to make humour and the possibility of syntactic elements to create humour. Furthermore, this study contains aim and objectives. This focuses on how the syntactic elements used can define a style in the language of humour. It also looks at the possibility of blending non-linguistic factors and syntactic selection in order to enhance humour. It is discovered that syntactic units are very central to the creation of humour because they constitute an important category of language.

The significance of the work is also mentioned as contributing to the study of the language of humour. The importance of this work lies in the fact that it serves as a reference material for further study on the language of humour. It also states that the research focuses strictly on the language of humour. It selects only one volume of a comedy show produced in Nigeria under the title “Nite of a Thousand Laughs”. Nevertheless, the research reexamines analyses and reviews some related literature on stylistics, language and humour. This examines different scholarly postulations about the concept of language-the different facets of language. It also explains that language is a phenomenon whose its meaning relates to the context in which it is used.

Additionally, the study discusses the concept of stylistics from the perspectives of different scholars. It touches on the argument that surrounds the way literary and linguistic stylistics are used. To further discuss stylistics, the study also looks at different approaches to the study of stylistics. It observes the fact that different theoretical persuasions are used as tools for the study of stylistics. Mentioning some of these theories, structural stylistics, transformational generative stylistics and functional stylistics are discussed. Also, captured by this study is language and style. This defines language from diverse opinions of different scholars. Again, from all these opinions, it is observed that language is seen as an instrument with which information is passed from one person or group to another. Equally, style is considered by different scholars but the connection they have is that it is the manner in which a speaker expresses himself or herself. To relate style with language, they agree that the choices that define an individual‟s style are from language.

Furthermore, language and humour also feature in this study. While discussing this, it is maintained that humour exists across all languages and cultures as an essential human characteristic. The study emphasizes the inseparability of humour from language. It observes that what constitutes humour is the manipulation of language. More so, the study captures the historical background of the comedy entitled “Nite of a Thousand Laughs”. It is explained that what has become a highly developed and organized comedy industry started in a hospital ward. The intention was to bring relief to an actor who was lying critically ill at the hospital. It was later discovered that the humour could be better organized. This little beginning expanded to become a comedy industry.

Additionally, transitivity as a linguistic concept has been looked at from the point of view of functional linguistics. This concept is related to stylistics. The research explains that the skillful manipulation of variables of transitivity, such as “processes, participants and circumstances” can define the stylistic feature of a speaker or writer. Efforts are also made at explaining the theoretical framework adopted for the research. It specifically adopts transitivity in systemic functional linguistics as the theoretical framework. The reason for the choice of this school of thought as a means for analysis is that it shows how and why a text means what it does in a particular context of use. The theory asserts that as language users, people are socially, culturally and politically constructed. It shows that understanding meaning is about understanding social realities rather than determined truths, which are thought to pre-exist language.

The study goes further to explain the relevance of transitivity as a framework to the analysis of language of humour. The concept is used as a semantic one rather than a syntactic description. It shows whom or what does what to whom or what. It is observed that different “process types” containing different “participant types and circumstances” are used for humorous effects. The rendition of humour is built on features of transitivity. The methodological aspect centres on the sources of data. This reveals that the data used for this research are sourced from a comedy show entitled “Nite of a Thousand Laughs”.

Another segment of the chapter is sampling procedure. This shows that there are a number of comedy-based efforts but only “Nite of thousand Laughs” is selected for analysis. More so, it states that there are many humorous renditions under the name “Nite of a Thousand Laughs”, but only volume II is considered for analysis. Even in it, the use of musical renditions, response of the audience and other paralinguistic features are not included in the analysis. Nevertheless, in this research, data are collected by obtaining a videorecorded cassette of the humour. The cassette used is a rendition of an unwritten speech. For that reason, the data are transcribed.

The study equally makes use of qualitative and quantitative presentations. The qualitative analysis refers to the special act of interpretation. It shows that syntactic elements are linked to special interpretation for humour. The quantitative analysis focuses on tabular presentation of data, with each table accounting for a particular syntactic group. Also, not left out is the analytical procedure. It shows that the data collected are analysed using transitivity terminologies presented in Halliday (1985:101-144) as “clause as representation”. The study uses participant types, process types and circumstances”. It explains the use of square brackets, adverbial phrase, attribute and value, verbiage, phrasal verbs, Nigerian pidgin, infinitives, among other things. It is stated that the data used are attached at the end of the research as appendix.

The analysis of data presents the data collected and analyses them according to “participants, processes and circumstances.” This begins with I Go Dye and ends with Gordon. The last part of this includes the tables of frequencies of each element. The table includes percentages for “participants, processes and circumstances” according to each comedian. It ends with the general discussion and findings, emanating from the analysed. The last chapter of the work, which is five, focuses on the summary of all the preceding chapters.
It also draws a conclusion on the findings of the research.

5.2 Conclusion

Making humour is an integral part of every human society. To produce humour, a speaker or writer relies on the instrumentality of language. However, language as a facility alone may not be very effective for humour making. The linguistic elements are complemented by the additional factor of language. This has to do with the shared experience of the interactants. It implies, therefore, that for humorous results to be achieved easily, a listener has to reflect on the environment within which the discussion takes place. The environment may be political, social, cultural, economic and religious, among other things.

Little wonder, in trying to create humour, the six comedians make recourse to a lot of these factors. Their choices of syntactic units largely cast the minds of the audience back to extralinguistic factors. An instance is seen in how I Go Dye uses “woman, mama, money”, among others to buttress his point that women like money. He opines that when a man has money, women run after him. This makes the audience reflect on the economic and social situation in Nigeria to appreciate his point, and this is an ideational function of language.

Similarly, A.Y. makes use of such concrete participants to evoke different contexts in order to enhance his humour. He uses Chris Okotie and Chris Oyakhilome to create a religious context. Again, he uses J.J Okocha, Wilson Oruma, Ghana and Nigeria to elicit sporting context to make his points. Putting a religious leader into a sporting context of running a football commentary enhances his humour. He mockingly comments on the state of security, politics and religion by using different participant elements.

Klint De Drunk uses the participant “one shirt” to show the level of poverty in Nigeria. Someone uses one particular shirt year in, year out. Nevertheless, this context is achieved, using concrete participants. He uses Dbanj, De Koko and 2face, among others, as concrete participants to ridicule the level of incompetence in the entertainment industry.

Basket Mouth also uses participants, such as “food, bingo, dog, thief, fan”, among others to create the context of economic depression in Nigeria. It is this shared knowledge of poverty in Nigeria that enhances his humour. Lapacious Bose uses participants, such as “boy friend, hand, bank, cage”, among others, to talk about her size. The humour becomes effective because people consider the negative feeling men have over very fat women. This again is shared experience.

Gordon also draws extensively from concrete participants for his humour. He uses “Naija, police, mama”, among others, to create different contexts, such as environment of corruption through the “police” and “mama” for family context. He uses much more concrete participants than any other groups of syntactic elements. It, therefore, means that what enhance the humorous result are the syntactic choices a speaker makes. They help in bringing to the mind of the listeners particular contexts. This knowledge of context, this shared knowledge is what effectively elicits humour. Therefore, humour is highly context bond.

Another important feature of language of humour is the use of items that will effectively show cause and effect. To properly arrive at humour, there must be a situation where one entity does something to another entity or to itself. This is why action processes predominate throughout the rendition of humour. In other words, the material process is the strongest factor in the determination of humour. To elicit humour, a speaker must rely heavily on the use of the elements of “doing”. This is why the six comedians considered have material process appearing most frequently than other processes. It shows that in some cases, the “doer” does more than one action or event at a time. This is why “process” is more than even the “participants” in the “process”. Apart from the “material process, participants” in the “processes” are more than the “circumstances” of the “processes”.

One interesting thing however is that under “circumstance” the elements of “time and place” appear more frequently than other variables. This is because they support the idea of creating a context. The notion of context is more conspicuous when time and place are also captured. The language of humour, therefore, makes use of these facilities very well. Closely rivaling the “time and place” is “manner”. This element modifies the “actions or events” and other processes in the language. To elicit humour, how something happens is important, which is why “manner” has been used frequently.

In conclusion, the language of humour is interestingly and stylistically woven. It makes frequent use of different “processes” to create cause and effect. This effect becomes humorous. These “processes” are complemented by different “circumstantial elements”. However, the completeness of a humorous rendition lies in its relationship with the shared knowledge of the interactants; the ideational function of language holding between the interactants. This shared knowledge connects the syntactic choices a speaker makes to the variables of context. This interaction between selection of syntactic elements and the ideational function of language is what results into humour.

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