Discuss the importance of context in understanding language play.

Essay by p1tst0pUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, July 2008

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In understanding the importance of context within language play I would like to define and explain exactly what language play encompasses. Beard (2007, p.83) defines language play as a feature of many types of discourse, both spoken and written. It can be found in several arenas such as general conversation, literature, advertising, news and song. Cook (2000 p.122) splits the features of language play into three categories: linguistic form, semantics and pragmatics.

Linguistic form focuses on the phonology of words and includes language features such as patterning, repetition and emphasis. An example of language play through linguistic form could be the use of homophones, i.e. words which sound the same but have the different meaning and spelling, e.g. allowed/aloud and bare/bear. Language play through linguistic form is regularly found amongst advertising or in news headlines, commonly it is an effective tool to attract attention through the use of a pun.

Semantics is concerned with the meaning of words and phrases. It concentrates on the syntactic (structure) levels of words, phrases, sentences and larger units of discourse or texts.

Pragmatics is related to semantics and actually forms its basis. Pragmatics is concerned with the very same meanings of words and phrases but as dependant on the speaker, audience and context of the situation.

As can be seen from the breakdown of the features of language play, pragmatics is the key factor in relation to context. Pragmatics affect semantics and they in turn determine linguistic form.

In relation to language interpretation, context has the problem of having multiple interpretations. Rilley (2002, p.18) states that context can be defined firstly as referring to the parts of an utterance surrounding a linguistic unit that may affect both its meaning and grammatical contribution. Context can also embrace the wider spectrum of a speaker, activities...