Unit One - Dr.Antar Abdellah Home Page

Dr. Antar Abdellah
This chapter looks at an argument: certain kinds of
linguistic creativity traditionally associated with
(repetition, metaphor, rhyme and rhythm..etc) are a
feature of ordinary, everyday conversation.
Rather than seeing literature as distinct from ordinary
language, one can see the seeds of ‘literariness’ in
much more mundane linguistic activity.
The chapter tries to answer the following questions:
What forms does everyday verbal art take?
How is it used in interaction with others?
Why should people spend time ‘playing’ with
language in this way rather than getting on with
more serious business?
language is being used for routine, and everyday
purposes: to carry out the business of everyday
interaction, conveying information from one
person to another.
 But in each case language also seems to draw
attention to itself. Some formal aspect of
language [such as sound, rhythm, grammar,
meaning] is highlighted and this makes the
utterance aesthetically amusing, [Crystal, 1998]
 So some types of everyday language use may be
seen as ‘artful’, or creative, But what makes
them ‘artful ?
Consider the examples below:
1-A and B are sitting by some trees in a park:
A: (feeling bark) These are plane trees, aren’t they?
B: No, they’re quite patterned (wincing look) [ Joan
Swan, 2006 ]
This is a pun, a form of word play which relies on
ambiguity in word meaning. Puns often use
homophones, or near homophones, i.e. words with the
same or similar sounds but different meanings, in this case
plane and plain.
 Puns were famously defined by Samuel Johnson as ‘the
lowest form of humor; they are also a feature of literature,
and may be used for serious as well as humorous
2- A woman is talking about a man who works in her
And he knows Spanish,
And he knows
And he knows English,
And he knows German,
And he is a GENtleman
[ Deborah Tannen ,
1989, p.48]
This example involves repetition, which is a common
feature of conversation. The speaker repeats a set of
words, a grammatical structure and it includes also an
intonation pattern that contributes to a sense of rhythm.
3-Darrel explains how his father persuaded him to study
engineering at university, despite his uncertainty about
his subject choice:
DARREL: he said ‘you might want to think about engineering as a
major because you’re just pretty flexible when you get out, now I
don’t think he was actually twisting my arm,
ELLEN : right.
DARREL: but I was — I was just like a leaf in the wind at that
point, so I majored in engineering
(Adapted from Norrick, 2000/01, p. 251)
 This example includes metaphor as a type of figurative or
metaphorical language: Darrel compares himself to a leaf in the
wind, a phrase that encapsulates his uncertainty and
changeability. Metaphor is strongly associated with poetry and
other forms of literature, but it also occurs frequently in everyday
4- A family is eating a meal outside, facing a building with a door
high in the wall that leads to its loft, to allow access for
storage. The door is divided into four sections. Someone
remarks: ‘It’s a four-door store door.’ Instantly others begin to
extend the phrase: ‘If there was a battle here it would be called
the four-door store door war’; ‘If someone kept going on and
on about the battle they’d be the four-door store door war
bore’ ... etc. The game runs sporadically through the meal
This example involves playing with rhyme, along with the
formation of distinctly bizarre phrases and unlikely
explanations of these. Unlike the other examples, it is a
collaboratively produced game that runs across several
speaking turns and involves all participants in the interaction.
accompanied by despairing cries of ‘Oh no, not again!’ before it
finally peters out. [ Joan Swan, 2006 ]
In general, certain forms of language,
particularly those found in literature, are
highly creative; but there isn’t a clear-cut
distinction between ‘literary’ language and
more everyday forms.
Therefore, creativity is not restricted to
literary texts but is a common aspect of our
interactions with others.
According to Ronald Carter [ 1995b], examples
of everyday spoken discourse display literary
properties , and spoken discourse is associated
with naturally occurring spoken data.
Ronald Carter identifies its different forms , such
as ‘punning and playing’, ‘morphological
inventiveness’, ‘echoing and converging’; he
also distinguishes between what he terms
‘pattern-reforming’ and pattern-reinforcing’
Pattern-reforming examples include puns,
invented words or expressions: usages which, in
various ways, play with and transform words and
 Pattern-reforming choices involve a risk [ they
may not work, they may be embarrassing. But
speakers also stand to gain if they are successful]
e.g. they may achieve an ‘enhanced regard’.
 Pattern-reinforcing examples include repetition
or echoing a previous utterance, i.e. without
deviating from expected linguistic patterns.
Carter also argues that such forms of creativity
serve particular interactional functions: they are
often humorous; they serve in part to bring
people together; they seem to be associated
with informal, symmetrical social relations.
Deborah Tannen (1989) suggests that repetition
comes from a basic human drive to imitate and
repeat. Repetition may have certain
interactional effects, e.g. bringing people
together and signaling their mutual
involvement, but in most cases it would not
seem particularly creative.
Discussing the relationship between
everyday linguistic creativity and literary
language begs the question of what literary
language actually is.
Carter (1999) distinguishes three models of
literariness which underpin definitions
1-inherency model , 2- sociocultural model;
and 3-cognitive model.
Inherency model would see creativity or
literariness as residing in certain formal
properties of language: there is a ‘focus on
the message for its own sake’. This property
of language may also be termed selfreferential , where language is referring partly
to itself and not simply to entities in the
external world that are the object of
Sociocultural model sees literariness as socially and culturally
 Anthropological studies of literary performances in different
cultural contexts also tend to take a sociocultural perspective
on literariness. The concept is frequently extended to more
everyday activity in recognition of the fact that there are
parallels between ‘everyday’ and ‘literary’ performance.
 this notion of performance can also describe what is often
found in the most ordinary of encounters, when social actors
exhibit a particular attention to and skills in the delivery of a
 It also means to stress the fact that speaking itself always
implies an exposure to the judgment, reaction and
collaboration of an audience, which interprets, assesses,
approves, sanctions, expands upon what is being said.
(Duranti, 1997, p. 16)
Cognitive model relates literary language to mental processes.
Deborah Tannen [1989] suggests that linguistic repetition derives
from a basic human drive to repeat , and that is a kind of cognitive
 Furthermore, Guy Cook (1994, p. 4) argues that literary texts have an
effect on the mind, helping us think in new ways and ‘refreshing and
changing our mental representations of the world’.
 Carter sees some value in both ‘inherency’ and ‘sociocultural’ models,
but cognitive’ models are beneficial in that they help to explain the
prevalence of creativity in everyday language. Carter’s main
argument is that literariness is best seen as a cline[ continuum], or
more accurately, a series of clines: whatever aspect of literariness is
under consideration, it is appropriate to see texts as more, or less,
literary rather than in terms of an opposition between literary and
non-literary language.
 literariness is a matter of degree.
Guy Cook [ 1994] uses the term ‘language play’ for similar
phenomena to those discussed by Carter under the
heading of ‘creativity’. What benefits does Cook see in
language play?
 Basically, Guy Cook focuses on two aspects of play:
playing with the structures of language, and invoking
fictional worlds, He argues that linguistic play or fiction are
manifested in a variety of different activities: children’s
rhymes and games, adults’ informal and private play
with language, but also more public activity, such as
adverts and other media language, and serious examples
such as Martin Luther Kings speech. The mental
adaptability associated with literary or artful activity is,
according to Cook, beneficial to individuals but has also
benefited humankind as a species.
[ Language Play, Language Learning (Cook, 2000)]
Rather than simply being a literary or poetic device,
metaphor is an inherent property of language and the
human mind, so that the ‘fundamental roots of language
are figurative’
 metaphor is a way of understanding the world, and they
claim that language is a window on this process: the way
we use language provides insights into how we perceive
and think
 for instance, arguments are frequently seen in
 terms of war: they may be attacked or defended, won or
lost, a criticism may be right on target. Lakoff & Johnson [
1890] suggest that there is a conceptual metaphor or
metaphorical way of thinking about argument
Arguments may also be seen in terms of buildings, as may
theories: thus one can build, construct or demolish an
argument/theory. A theory may have solid foundations, or
it may need to be shored up, or buttressed (p. 46). Time is
often seen in terms of money: it may be spent, used
profitably, or wasted; one may invest time in something, or
have to budget one’s time (p. 8).
Lakoff and Johnson suggest, furthermore, that it is
possible to establish links between different metaphorical
systems: thus, up is generally positive and down negative
in the case of conceptual metaphors such as:
HAPPY IS UP, SAD IS DOWN: ‘I’m feeling up’, ‘boosting
one’s spirits’, that gives me a lift; ‘I’m down/low’, ‘my
spirits sank’, etc.
Lynne Cameron [1999] discusses ‘the cognitive
shift in metaphor studies’: how Metaphors do
not need to involve novel connections, or even
to be recognized as metaphorical by language
users. The term is also extended to a wider range
of figurative language, such as similes ,
allegories ,(characters or events represent or
symbolize ideas and concepts)
Cameron distinguishes between deliberate’ and
‘conventionalised’ metaphor and identifies uses
of both categories in educational and medical
As for the relationship between ‘everyday’ and ‘literary’ metaphor,
Lakoff and Turner (1989) argue that poetic metaphor builds on and
extends everyday metaphor, and also that our understanding of
poetic metaphor depends upon its relationship to everyday
metaphorical systems. They give the example of a poem by Emily
Dickinson, ‘Because I could not stop for death’.
Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held hut just Ourselves
and Immortality.
[ DEATH IS DEPARTURE] that is used in English in phrases such
as ‘he’s gone/passed away/no longer with us’, ‘dearly departed’,
someone ‘slipping away’, or being ‘brought back from the dead’.
Cameron notes that the ‘cognitive shift’ in the
study of metaphor has considerably extended
what counts as metaphor. Her own study takes
account of ‘conventionalized’ as well as
‘deliberate metaphor In discussing the limits of
metaphor however she concedes that there is a
danger of over-extending the notion of
metaphor. It’s also important to note that
metaphorical connections will differ in different
cultural contexts.
One set of experiments relates to common
idioms, often thought of as ‘dead’ metaphors.
Gibbs (1992) investigated peoples’
understanding of idioms such as crack the whip
(to be in control), spill the beans (reveal a secret
and blow your stack (get very angry), assumed to
be metaphorical in origin, but to have lost their
metaphorical aspect over time. MIND IS A
Basically, Conversational joking involves
spontaneous humor within the give and take of
conversation rather than telling a joke with a
recognized format. Accordingly, Janet Holmes
and Marra make a broad distinction between
‘reinforcing humour’ which reinforces or
maintains existing relationships; and ‘subversive
humor’ which subverts or undermines existing
relationships , and challenges power
Reinforcing humor : reinforcing solidarity (i.e. friendly, collegial)
CONTEXT Project team members at the start of a meeting.
SANDY: we should start in the traditional way and have Neville
tell us a story about his weekend.
[General laughter]
Neville obliges with an amusing anecdote, reinforcing and
further developing collegiality and friendliness within this team.
Subversive humor : challenging power relations between individuals
CONTEXT Project team member [Sandy] (acting as chair of this
meeting) calls his manager, Clara, to order.
SANDY: can we get back to business
CLARA: [laughs] sorry sorry.
[General laughter]
Sandy is here taking the opportunity to reprimand a superior. He
criticizes Clara for digressing, a fault
Holmes and Marra identify humorous episodes
not formally but functionally in terms of
participants’ perceptions of humor; whether an
episode seems designed to be humorous and
how it is responded to. Holmes and Marra
suggest that humor is used differently by
different types of participants in meetings : it
may be used by a person in authority to
reinforce existing power relations or by someone
in a subordinate position to challenge or subvert
Challenging institutional values
CONTEXT The team members discuss a proposal to
record incoming telephone calls. Peg uses Troy’s question on
the logistics of recording for a cynical retort.
TROY: how far do you get before you know it’s a
personal call
PEG : [laughs] right at the end
[General laughter]
The organization has proposed recording incoming
telephone calls in the section, purportedly in order to
monitor the business aspects of these calls. These group
members are sceptical about the organization’s
This chapter has explored various aspects of
the argument that ‘artful’ language is
pervasive and purposeful. It is therefore more
appropriate to talk about a continuity
between literature in its conventional sense
and more everyday uses of language .In
addressing these issues, the chapter has
looked at different approaches to the study
of creativity in spoken language.
Patterns of metaphor

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