Research Project Linguistics and Literary Studies:

Wordplay in Speaker-Hearer-Interaction

Textfeld: Last updated 03.08.2013

Welcome to the website of the interdisciplinary research project

Wordplay in Speaker-Hearer-Interaction:

Everyday Communication and Literature!


In this joint research project Dr. Esme Winter-Froemel (Romance Linguistics) and Dr. Angelika Zirker (English Literature) explore forms and functions of wordplay in everyday communication and in literary contexts. Their starting point is the observation that wordplay – beyond its diverse functions in various contexts, e.g., entertainment, comedy, the codification of taboo, double entendre, literary characterization – always also contains a metalinguistic component: Wordplay steers the recipient’s attention towards language and the act of communication itself by relating different meanings of linguistic expressions that sound similar or alike to one another. Through this as well as through its inherently artistic and creative character, wordplay is a phenomenon genuinely situated at the interface of linguistics and literary studies: one the one hand, characteristics of literary language become obvious in everyday communication, and, on the other hand, linguistic approaches and analytical methods become highly productive in literature.



Project description


Wordplay occurs in everyday communication as well as in literature. It often appears in particular kinds of texts and discourse, for instance, in jokes (What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? – A nervous wreck.), spoonerisms (Three cheers for our queer old dean!) and contrepèteries (e.g., Fr. l’art de décaler les sons que débite notre bouche). Wordplay of this kind can also be characteristic of literary works (e.g. in Shakespeare, Molière, Lewis Carroll, Christian Morgenstern, Ernst Jandl et al.).

Wordplay is an expression of the artistic handling of language. In our opinion it therefore is a genuinely interdisciplinary phenomenon: it reveals characteristics of literary language in everyday communication and also points towards the reflection of linguistic features in literature. The focus on its uses in speaker-hearer-interaction serves as a common ground and starting point for both disciplines to jointly analyze wordplay, each providing its own instruments of analysis and methods. In the project, the reference to various types of knowledge, the metalinguistic dimension of wordplay, and its relation to ambiguity will be examined.

By means of a series of case studies, wordplay will be focused on in diverse usages and contexts, genres and traditions of discourse. Thus, the analysis is extended to wordplay of varying degrees of complexity and planning.

We mainly concentrate on three questions:

1. How can the relation of wordplay and ambiguity be characterized? What is the role of ambiguity in wordplay? Can wordplay be characterized as a specific type of ambiguity?

2. In how far does wordplay contribute to metalinguistic reflection? Which spheres of language and communication does it reflect on?

3. Which roles do different types of knowledge and contexts play for wordplay? Can we differentiate between various types / categories of wordplay depending on the reference to particular kinds of knowledge in the production and interpretation of wordplay?

A central component of this project is the formation of a Practice Board, i.e., the integration of experts beyond an academic context, e.g. from the fields of comedy and cabaret, advertisement, translation, rhetoric and communication trainings.



Practice Board and WiT

Workshop and Conference