Subtext as humour: Grammatical ‘hidden meaning’ as part of pun and metaphor in English

Marija Milojkovic


Corpus-derived subtext is a new development in Contextual Prosodic Theory (Louw 2010a), which this paper employs, among other tools provided by CPT, in the attempt to give corpus-attested definitions of pun and metaphor. Subtext is defined as the most frequent lexical variables contained in a given grammatical string. Corpus stylistic research (Louw and Milojkovic, 2014) has shown that subtext participates in conveying meaning, albeit at a subconscious level, because lexical variables within grammar strings are opaque to intuition. In the process of providing the definitions of these two vastly different literary devices it becomes apparent that, although there is no grammar without its most frequent lexical variables, these do not participate in meaning creation when it comes to pun if the purpose of this device is solely to amuse, as in comic one-liners.  When pun is part of a grander design, however, within a broader context of situation, and where both its meanings create their own states of affairs participating in the transition in a text, corpus-derived subtext does play a meaningful role. Metaphor, unlike simple wordplay, always involves subtext, which can be objectively revealed by studying its interaction with the text’s context clues.


corpus stylistics, Louw, collocation, semantic prosody, corpus-derived subtext, pun, metaphor

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