Research Article


DOI :10.26650/LITERA2019-0055   IUP :10.26650/LITERA2019-0055    Full Text (PDF)

The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories

Sifei Qın

This article analyzes Xiehouyu – a kind of Chinese proverb created by Chinese working people since ancient times. Xiehouyu consists of two parts. The former segment serves as a riddle for the addressee, the latter part acts as the answer. One would often only state the first part, expecting the addressee to grasp the true meaning of the sentence by himself. Xiehouyu falls into two main categories: Xiehouyu with multiple use of the material and Sound-Xiehouyu. Xiehouyu is similar to jokes in that its mechanism of pleasure can also be effected by ambiguity. Sigmund Freud’s theories from his joke research therefore apply to the analysis of Xiehouyu. In the rhetorical dimension, using the same word with multiple meanings or using two similar/ identical sounding words of varying meaning, Xiehouyu creates the “saving”, and thus in the psychical dimension, the pleasure mechanism of Xiehouyu works by relief from “psychical expenditure” that is already there, and economizing in psychical expenditure that is only about to be called for. The pleasure effect of Xiehouyu depends on the third person, namely the listener, who should hold an indifferent feeling against the second person, in other words, the laughter target. Over time, many old phrases of Xiehouyu have gone out of use, while new ones have continuously emerged in the course of industrialization and globalization. Consequently, modern Xiehouyu and western jokes share more similarities than before, making it easier for people with different cultural backgrounds to understand each other’s jokes.

DOI :10.26650/LITERA2019-0055   IUP :10.26650/LITERA2019-0055    Full Text (PDF)

Die Ambiguität des Chinesischen Witzes „Xiehouyu“: Eine Untersuchung Basiert auf Sigmund Freuds Witztheorien

Sifei Qın

In diesem Artikel werde ich Xiehouyu – eine Art von chinesischem Sprichwort – analysieren. Xiehouyu besteht aus zwei Teilen. Der erste Teil gilt als Rätsel. Der zweite Teil ist die Erklärung, und zwar die Lösung des Rätsels. Im Alltag spricht man häufig nur den ersten Teil von Xiehouyu aus, während der Hörer die wahre Bedeutung des Satzes selbst erfassen soll. Xiehouyu gliedert sich in zwei Hauptkategorien: Xiehouyu mit mehrfacher Verwendung des Materials und Klang-Xiehouyu. Da es viele gemeinsame Merkmale mit dem Witz hat, darf Xiehouyu auch für einen Witz gehalten werden, dessen Lustmechanismus sich durch Ambiguität auslösen lässt. Freuds Theorien aus seiner Witzforschung sind daher für die Analyse von Xiehouyu geeignet. In der rhetorischen Dimension schafft Xiehouyu durch Nutzung desselben Worts mit mehreren Bedeutungen oder von zwei Wörtern mit unterschiedlicher Bedeutung, aber gleichem Klang die Verdichtung, die für einen guten Witz wichtig ist. In der psychologischen Dimension funktioniert der Lustmechanismus von Xiehouyu durch die Ersparung des psychischen Aufwands. Die Lustwirkung von Xiehouyu hängt von der dritten Person ab, nämlich dem Hörer, der ein gleichgültiges Gefühl gegenüber der zweiten Person, also der Objektperson, haben soll. Im Laufe der Zeit verlieren viele alte Xiehouyu ihre Vitalität, während moderne Xiehouyu vor dem Hintergrund der Industrialisierung und Globalisierung kontinuierlich produziert werden. Immer mehr Ähnlichkeiten zeigen sich bei westlichen Witzen und Xiehouyu, also chinesischen Witzen, sodass Menschen aus verschiedenen Kulturen Witze aus der jeweils anderen Kultur immer leichter verstehen.


EXTENDED ABSTRACT


Across cultures, a particular case of ambiguity in languages would be jokes, especially word jokes, which feature multiple use of the same material and the use of similar/identical sounding words of varying meaning. “Xiehouyu”, a kind of Chinese proverb created by Chinese working people since ancient times, can also be regarded as a joke due to their similar features. In light of this, an investigation into Xiehouyu could lead us to Sigmund Freud’s theories based on his joke research. This paper explores the ambiguity of Xiehouyu from the rhetorical and psychical aspects, based mainly on Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious by Freud. Xiehouyu consists of two parts. The former segment serves as a riddle for the addressee, the latter part acts as the answer. In a conversation one would often only state the first part, expecting the listener to grasp the true meaning of the sentence by himself. Xiehouyu falls into two main categories: Xiehouyu with multiple use of the same material and Sound-Xiehouyu. Jokes with “multiple use of the same material” are of two types: the actual ambiguity and the ambiguity containing factual and metaphorical meaning. We can categorize Xiehouyu in a similar method. A case of the “actual ambiguity” is: A snail attends a party – an unexpected visitor (蜗牛snail 赴宴attend a party —— 不 not 速speedy/invited 之客visitor). The most common meaning of the word “速” is “speedy”. However, as in this context “速” can also mean invited, the “slow snail” here also serves as a metaphor for “unexpected visitor”. The next example is a piece of Xiehouyu regarding the ambiguity containing factual and metaphorical meaning: Eunuch in the palace – no descendant. In addition to its literal meaning, this sentence implies that there is no successor to whom the master can pass on his skill. Sound-Xiehouyu is similar to sound jokes, which contain words that are different in meaning but are pronounced the same. Confucius – a loafer (孔夫子Confucius—— 大great 贤wise/闲leisured 人man) is a particularly good example showing the pleasure effect due to the sharp contrast between the meaning of two homophones. “贤(wise)” and “闲(leisured)” have the identical pronunciation of “xian”. Therefore, both “a very wise man” and “a very leisured man” are pronounced “da xian ren” in Chinese. The fun of Sound-Xiehouyu lies in the way one speaks it, rather than its linguistic form. Similar to the type of “actual ambiguity”, the real thoughts of the speaker need to be understood in context. An intriguing point about Xiehouyu is that within certain contexts, it is able to express double meanings without changing its wording (modification), through which any word replacement and explanation are spared. In this process, as one sees no modification of the linguistic form but its contrasted perceived meanings, the psychical expenditure in terms of inhibition and suppression would be economized to a greater extent, which according to Freud is crucial to the mechanism of pleasure. Freud also proposes that to maximize the feeling of pleasure of a joke, in addition to the first person (the speaker) and the third person (the listener), we still need a second person who acts as the cause of the laughter, so that the psychical energy of the two persons is allowed free discharge. The second person, that is, the object of the ridicule, should ideally not be present. Since many phrases of Xiehouyu are used as irony or mockery, and do not refer to the listener, but to an absent person, the psychical analysis in jokes telling applies to the case of Xiehouyu: if the addressee has a close connection with the person mentioned, he will hear no joke, but invective. Only when the addressee is not a friend of the joke target and to some degree shows the indifference, will a Xiehouyu be a good joke to him. Over time, many old phrases of Xiehouyu have gone out of use, while new ones have continuously emerged in the course of industrialization and globalization. Consequently, modern Xiehouyu and western jokes share more similarities in content and logic than before, making it easier for people with different cultural backgrounds to understand each other’s jokes.


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APA

Qın, S. (2019). The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 29(2), 257-271. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055


AMA

Qın S. The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. 2019;29(2):257-271. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055


ABNT

Qın, S. The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, [Publisher Location], v. 29, n. 2, p. 257-271, 2019.


Chicago: Author-Date Style

Qın, Sifei,. 2019. “The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 29, no. 2: 257-271. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055


Chicago: Humanities Style

Qın, Sifei,. The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 29, no. 2 (Dec. 2022): 257-271. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055


Harvard: Australian Style

Qın, S 2019, 'The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories', Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 257-271, viewed 2 Dec. 2022, https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055


Harvard: Author-Date Style

Qın, S. (2019) ‘The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories’, Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 29(2), pp. 257-271. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055 (2 Dec. 2022).


MLA

Qın, Sifei,. The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 29, no. 2, 2019, pp. 257-271. [Database Container], https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055


Vancouver

Qın S. The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies [Internet]. 2 Dec. 2022 [cited 2 Dec. 2022];29(2):257-271. Available from: https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055 doi: 10.26650/LITERA2019-0055


ISNAD

Qın, Sifei. The Ambiguity of Chinese Joke “Xiehouyu”: A Research Based on Sigmund Freud’s Joke Theories”. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 29/2 (Dec. 2022): 257-271. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2019-0055



TIMELINE


Submitted15.09.2019
First Revision17.09.2019
Last Revision16.09.2019
Accepted28.11.2019
Published Online01.12.2019

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