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A Pun Travels the Pathways of Your Brain


1. You hear from a jocular friend:

  • "This duck walks into the bar, orders a drink, and says: Put it on my bill! Har har har."
  • 2. Your phonological system interprets sounds to activate the lexical nection bill.

    3. This nection (a logonection) is connected to two separate conceptual subnetworks via two different conceptual nections (ideonections), one for the bill you would pay at a bar, the other for the mouth of a duck.

    4. Normally, other contextual cues would help your linguistic system choose one alternative, by activating one and not the other.

  • If you were talking about bars, or if you were in a bar, connections to the bar concept and its subnetwork would be receiving activated. The threshold of the BAR-BILL ideonection would therefore be easily satisfied by the activation from the lexical nection bill. No thought of ducks would reach your conscious awareness.

    However, if you were talking about ducks, or were in the presence of ducks, the DUCK-BILL ideonection would be activated.


  • 5. But the wording of this joke has caused activation surrounding both duck-related concepts and bar-related concepts. Therefore activation on the lexical nection bill proceeds to both conceptual areas. You thus get both interpretations, resulting from two different integrations of the spoken input to your system.

    6. But instead of laughing, you groan.


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    This page was last modified on 24 April 2000.

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