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Sorry I Haven't a Clue and language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 5 Apr 2011, 10:19

The comedy programme "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" could provide useful examples of many aspects of language analysis.  For example, last week there was a reference to 20,000 odd people in Thanet where the comedy derives from the fact that the odd could be attached to 20,000, meaning about 20,000 or to the people, meaning that the people are odd (strange).

It is interesting how often comedy can help us be aware of how language works in context/discourse.  McCarthy's(1991) book starts with an example from Morecombe and Wise. 

McCarthy M (1991) Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers Cambridge: CUP

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I wonder if this is a particular characteristic of British comedy/humour. So much of our humour is verbal (rather than physical/slapstick) and relies heavily on ambiguity and double-meanings. And of course such humour is untranslatable cross-linguistically.
Patrick Andrews

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You might be right but I wonder if we mainly think that because our knoweldge of English is so much better (certainly in my case - I am not so sure about yours) than our knowledge of other languages.  My impression is that a lot of Chinese humour is also very much based on wordplay - perhaps the nature of the language with so many homophones has a big effect.  This makes me suspect that it may be common in many (most? all?) languages but getting this humour is so hard unless you are very good at the language.

My interest in this example is partly for teaching first language speakers or very advanced learners of English an awareness of how some aspects of the language work.