1. Conceptual Blending
2. Jokes and Their Analyses
2.1 Irish Joke
2.2 Lady – Cop Joke
2.3 Chinese Joke
2.4 Doc – Patient Joke
The emerging ability for blending different mental spaces, so argue Fauconnier and Turner (2002: V), allowed humans to gain the upper hand over competing species from the Upper Paleolithic onwards, since this ability gave them the imagination required to invent new concepts, tools and means of communication (among them language). (Ungerer. 2006: 345)
On the basis of this discovery and the initially developed Mental Space theory, Fauconnier and Turner advanced a striking theory called the Conceptual Blending theory. Since the 1990s the theory of Conceptual Blending has gained increasing recognition and has been used to explain numerous cognitive phenomena. Outside linguistics, the scale of application ranges from cognitive psychology to mathematics and from computing to musicology and archeology. No wonder that some linguists use the theory of Conceptual Blending to illustrate the relevance of this blending approach especially for joke interpretation. Therefore, in this term paper I focus entirely on jokes, which I attempt to interpret by means of the Blending theory. To investigate cognitive processes involved in joke comprehension, I have interviewed four English native speakers with the intention of finding whether all of them are able to explain why the joke is funny and which incompatible elements are responsible for its humorous effect. Taking into account the participants' answers I have tried to define the input spaces (by naming their constituents) and the blended space. Additionally, the participants' answers were evaluated with regard to the role of background knowledge, which is necessary in order to comprehend the joke. Finally, I examined whether the Conceptual Blending theory might be applicable for the analysis of joke processing and comprehension in general and what difficulties can arise during the creation of the input spaces and the blend.
Thus, in the following sections I will first introduce important information on conceptual blending and then analyze selected jokes according to the Conceptual Blending theory, taking into consideration the interviewees' explanations of the jokes.
1. Conceptual Blending
Central to Conceptual Blending theory is the notion of the conceptual blending network (or conceptual integration network), an array of mental spaces in which the processes of blending unfold (Fauconnier and Turner, 1998b). A basic conceptual integration network contains four mental spaces: two input spaces, a generic space and a blended space (see Figure 1).
Input spaces are on-line conceptual representations constructed under the influence of the incoming information but tapping stored cognitive models. Fauconnier and Turner state that
mental spaces are small conceptual packets constructed as we think and talk, for purposes of local understanding and action. (...) [They] operate in working memory but are built up partly by activating structures available from long-term memory. (Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 40; 102)
According to Conceptual Blending theory, two mental spaces (input spaces) are brought together and integrated, or blended. The result of this cognitive operation is a new blended space, which contains information projected from both input spaces. The blended space does not only draw on the input spaces but is characterized by a new, emergent conceptual structure in its own right, whose set-up differs from those of the two input spaces.
According to Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 48-49) projection from the input spaces into the blended space involves three processes: composition, completion, and elaboration. Composition is always involved when conceptual content from two or more mental spaces is fused in the blended space. The process of completion occurs when generic knowledge is projected into the blend and provides the necessary background frames. Finally, elaboration is envisaged in terms of `simulating´ or `running´ the blend. During this process the blend can be enriched by information deemed necessary, pertinent, or even just interesting. The process of elaboration is open-ended and can vary among readers. In order to establish the blend, the actions of the two input spaces are projected onto the blended space by means of composition and completion. As a result, the actions in the two spaces undergo what Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 92-93, 312-25) call compression, which represents the ultimate goal of the whole blending process. The crucial effect of compression is that the conceptual complexity of the inputs from several sources is reduced considerably. The input spaces not only feed the blended space by supplying the necessary projections, but are also linked to each other by cross-space mappings, which are based on what Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 89-111) call vital relations. The cross-space mapping reflects a more abstract and schematic structure, called the generic space. The generic space links two or more input spaces and contains abstract information which is common for the inputs. (cf. Ungerer 2006: 257ff.)
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Figure1. Basic integration network (Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 46)
What is remarkable is that any space in the integration network can undergo modification. For example, the blend can be projected back to the input spaces and thus alter them.