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Lexical selection in action: Evidence from spontaneous punning

Otake, T., & Cutler, A. (2013). Lexical selection in action: Evidence from spontaneous punning. Language and Speech, 56(4), 555-573. doi:10.1177/0023830913478933.
Analysis of a corpus of spontaneously produced Japanese puns from a single speaker over a two-year period provides a view of how a punster selects a source word for a pun and transforms it into another word for humorous effect. The pun-making process is driven by a principle of similarity: the source word should as far as possible be preserved (in terms of segmental sequence) in the pun. This renders homophones (English example: band–banned) the pun type of choice, with part–whole relationships of embedding (cap–capture), and mutations of the source word (peas–bees) rather less favored. Similarity also governs mutations in that single-phoneme substitutions outnumber larger changes, and in phoneme substitutions, subphonemic features tend to be preserved. The process of spontaneous punning thus applies, on line, the same similarity criteria as govern explicit similarity judgments and offline decisions about pun success (e.g., for inclusion in published collections). Finally, the process of spoken-word recognition is word-play-friendly in that it involves multiple word-form activation and competition, which, coupled with known techniques in use in difficult listening conditions, enables listeners to generate most pun types as offshoots of normal listening procedures.
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