On National Features of English and Chinese Humor

By Michele White,2014-09-12 15:02
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On National Features of English and Chinese Humor


    th, On July 41976, in a passage from “New York Daily News”, Colby said

    “The men would rather admit being a treasonable offence, guilty of murder,

    crime of setting on fire, and trying to give a false impression tooth, wearing wig than admit scaring sense of humor oneself” It expresses sense of humor

    with humor way of the Britain and America. We can see humor in what high social value in American heart from it, at the same time, it reflects a great outstanding feature of American humor, too-exaggeration. Chinese people also like humor, but seem to far from having deep love for. Chinese people also advocate the humor, but seem not to publicize, they will usually explain “More or less sense of humor in everyone’s natural instincts, in the

    interpersonal communication, it is a peaceful and happy angel between the soul, having humor and having love and friendship.”(Sun Shaozhong


    From this, you can see that although humor is all human-being’s spiritual

    fortune, and under the influence of historical culture, so it is of sharp national features. This paper discusses respective feature of Chinese humor and English humor (Including Britain and America) by comparison.

1. the Functions of E-C Humor

    1.1 the Function of Humor

    Generally speaking, the humor includes the following general functions:


    •Releasing nervous psychology and alleviating the spiritual pressure.

    •Regulating the interpersonal relationship, promoting harmony.

    •And concordance.

    •Establishing sense of superiority.

    •Defending psychology injure.

    1.2 the Comparison of the Functions of E-C Humor

    However, developing extent of these functions has difference between Chinese culture and British and American culture. For example, the Englishmen and the Americans appreciate the unfriendly joke even more than Chinese people, because “On Americans, attack and violence, it seems to be

    more prevailing and conspicuous”. (A.•Jifu 1992, introduction page 6),

    perhaps Englishmen want to show their own wisdom by this way. It seems synthetically that British and American humor exert its functions of alleviating the spiritual pressure and establishing the sense of superiority. It seems that more Chinese people adapt the humor to lay particular emphasis on their function of social education. In the masterpiece of literary criticism of our country “Wenxin Diaolong”, the appraisal on the humorous from is

    ancient derisive articles and enigmatic languages, the purpose lies in sending out danger and releasing frazzle, indeed, Chinese humor is mostly used for satirizing and admonishing, to promote social harmony and concordance, or become simple tool of guiding and smiling at the forgotten.


2. the Contents and Using Occasions of E-C Humor

    2.1 the Contents of E-C Humor

    According to the occasions of humorous content and use, Sino-British humor reflects the features that have appeared one’s own, too. For

    instance ,”American a vast majority of jokes are relevant to sex and attack, while Chinese jokes are mostly around the social communication”.(A?Jifu

    1992, introduction page 7).In “Humorous Nation Style”, referring to

    humorous main subject ,English aggressiveness, has transferred from ethnic minority in the past, etc, to typical personality and occupation (doctor seems still at the top ), the most of English sex humor has strong behaving indecently to color; A joke of a large number of the same theme prevails in English frequently; There are the jokes of much homosexual subject material in Britain and America. However, there are no above mentioned features at all in Chinese humor. A vast majority of Chinese ancient jokes, which proceed from the working people’s love and hate, have reflected the wide social reality in Chinese ancient times, and it’s abundant and deep against feudalism

    thought contents are decided by Chinese long-term features of feudal society. The contents mainly show in the following aspects:

    ?Giving merciless revealing to darkness and corruption of the feudal local authorities.

    ?Giving merciless castigating to corruption and robbing of the high official and noble lord.


    ?Giving the extolling of enthusiasm to the working people’s resistance and struggling.

    ?Giving well-meaning trying to persuade and mocking to the superstition and ignorance within the people.

    Although the subject material of the contemporary joke is expanded to some extent, has not broken away from the general orientation of socialist spiritual civilization, generally.

    2.2 the Using Occasions of E-C Humor

     In America up to us president, to rank and file, they seem to have deep love for the humor, humorous words glimmer everywhere in their life. For example, US President Bush Jr ,while giving a lecturer in Yale University, he didn’t forget to add a little humor for these bad students in Yale “The aristocracies of the achievement are hopeful to act as the president, bad students of the achievement is also hopeful, but can only work as a vice president.” British humor appears each aspect in life, too, because in this country known as township of humorous literature in the world, “Lacking in

    a sense of humor is a kind of very heavy criticism to anyone.” (A?Jifu,

    1992:162). However, until initial stage of reform and opening –up, “Because

    of the reason known to all, this word of the humor has not been mentioned for many years already at home. As soon as mentioning humor, Chinese people think that it is equivalent to greedy evil tongue and frivolous, pointlessly amusement.” (Hu Xuqing 1981.12.24, the third print), Chinese


    stpeople who has entered the 21 century, their humorous consciousness had

    already been strengthened much, but it is not a part of Chinese national features absolutely.

3. the Means of the Language of E-C Humor

    A?Jifu concluded that in all anthropological study which is to compare with culture of every country, people all find the humorous skill is the same. Incongruity, surprise and local logic are the main factors making humor, and are a course of recognition, which is of universality, so we have no reason to expect that there are national and cultural differences about humor. (1992, introduction page 4). But the language means of incongruity, surprise and local logic demonstrates one’s own features among different culture, it is very value to discuss. For example, Chinese humor gives full play to the features of the Han national language, and utilizes some means of language such as dialect, spoken language, classical Chinese, two-part allegorical saying, tongue twister, unison words, shape nearly words, one word several meanings etc, which illustrates deep meaning and get up the artistic result of making someone laugh. In “English humor-understood and appreciated”. It has

    introduced systematically the language’s features of English humor, and divided the English humor into the following four kinds in view of the above:

    ?Based on the ambiguity of language.

    ?Based on the phonetic and grammatical phenomenon of some other



    ?Based on result of the language.

    ?Regarding some special means of language’s expression as the foundation.

    Among them, the part about phonetic ambiguity and ambiguity of vocabulary in the first kind, and the part about pronunciation and grammar in the second kind, if you don’t have the ability of two parts above, you can’t understand and appreciate humor of meanings, so when you wants to translate into Chinese, you must add the explanatory notes. I sent ambiguity of vocabulary as a example of English humor following:

    The phenomenon of one word several meanings is extremely general in English, and we often find these meanings of a word deviate from farther each other, so it is an important foundation of language to produce ambiguity and lead to pun. To Chinese readers without two many vocabulary, it is considerable difficult to understand and appreciate this kind of humor.

    For example:

    “How can you make a tall man short?”

    “Borrow dollars of him.”

    This humor seems to a riddle. Because of using “short” with “tall” together in the first sentence, “short” makes people think of only one of its meanings-矮的, If the readers are very clever, they will think of its other meaning-短缺的.


    Another example:

    Capital punishment: Income taxes.

    If you don’t know the meaning of “capital punishment” is “death penalty”, and if you translate the “capital” to “fund”, you are unable to feel the humor in it. This piece of “definition” for the income tax insinuate that to pay more attention to that it puts more emphasis on the intelligence composition than the Chinese aesthetic, temperament and interests sometimes.

    For instance:

    I can resist everything except temptation.

    This sentence is from one classical witty remark of Oscar wilder. In the view of British, the sentence is full of philosophic theory and sense of humor. But if you let a Chinese people to read it, he will think this sentence is nonsense. The joke that prevailed in Britain in the 1960s underlying can not get approval of Chinese readers even more:

    Why does the elephant dye his entail of toes to red?

    In order to hid on the cherry tree.

    Because this is just a pure words game, even to the Chinese readers whose consciousness of humor has been strengthened today, it is difficult to escape from the appraisal that is with a glib tongue and pointless.

    4. the Development of History and Social Value of E-C Humor 4.1 the Development History and Social Value of Chinese Humor


    Following, trace back to the development history of Chinese and English humor, from this, it’s easy to see, and it’s completely different for Chinese and

    the British and the Americans to impart the social value of humor. As a kind

    thof aesthetic noun, it’s not introduced in china until the 20 century. But as a

    kind of life phenomenon and literature phenomenon, it has been a long time. Many famous passages of “Shi Jing” have been full of humor, such as “Shou

    Shu”, “Fa Tan” and so on are all full of irony. “The chicken Chirps” is full of

    fun. Later, every generation went through also have many humorous works to emerge, such as some fables of the pre-Qing period, “Huaji.Liezhuan” in

    “Records of the Historian” of the Han dynasty period, the poem “Admonishing My Sons” of Tao Yuanming in who lived Eastern Jin dynasty, the “Xieying Pian” in the South and North dynasty work “Wenxin Diaolong” and legends of the Tang, Song dynasties, popular stories of the Song, Yuan dynasties, Opera of the Yuan, Ming dynasties, and the Novels of Yuan, Qing dynasties, that are full of rich humor, and representative works are “Strange Tales From Make-Do Studio”. “Journey to the West”, etc. In addition, there

    are joke collections up to the Former Qing Dynasty from Dynasty of the Three countries. However, though the humor is of long-standing and well-established in china, it has never become the mainstream of the social value, and humor literature has not occupied the illustrious position all the time. This is the main reason that they are affected by the idea of the confucian orthodox literature for a long time, Chinese people generally think


    that the humor damages the confucian gentle and hones. Actually, there was

    thopportunity of guiding the trend in China in the humor. In the early 20

    century, the Xin Hai Revolution and The May Fourth Movement have raised the new era of Chinese history, at that time, objecting to the feudalism, and criticizing feudal ideology became the main pulse, which pours into the humorous life blood, and arose such a group of humorous writers as LuXun, LaoShe, Zhang Tianyi, Zhao Shuli etc, at the historic moment. But because Chinese ideas were greatly influenced by the ideas of confucianists of orthodox, furthermore, the harsh class struggle exaggerated, which distorted a lot of thing, including humor, soon after the liberation, Chinese people lost interests to humor quickly. Up to today such as reform and opening-up, Chinese humorous consciousness begins to rise. For example, on Spring Festival Party, in recent years, there were a great number of programs of the cross-talk and sketch, and these programs are welcomed by most of people. According to the latest investigation result to the Chinese young women, we can find that sense of humor has become one of the main standards that they choose spouse.

    4.2 the Development History and Social Value of English Humor

    In Britain, the earliest humor traces back to William Duke to conquer Britain before in Normandy, at that time, one famous 'job' humorous personage has appeared, his name is Tower Germany. He is the same as a lot of other clowns raised by families and used to saying some absurd words to


    make somebody laugh. In Middle Ages, the first humorous master-Chaucer has born in Britain, During the period of the renaissance, Shakespeare has created 14 comedies in total. In 1660, Restoration of Charles II has brought a period that is symbols of indulgent sex life and appreciation of humor in British humorous culture. In the more than two eras, until the 19th century Victorian times, British humor should be prosperous forever, and a lot of famous comedy and satirize works were published, such as "Ruci Haodao", "Gulliver's Travels" etc. It was also pregnant with some greater British comedy writers, such an Charles Dickens and some greater fantastic writers, such as Lewis Carol, Edward Profit, the most quick-witted and most humorous dramatist Oscar Wilde, writers of always using the comedy devices-George XiaoBona. From the First World War to today, a great number of literatures of British humor are published continuously. Make a general survey to British humorous development history, we can find Britain is of tradition of humorous literature, sense of humour is a feature that can get high appreciation in Britain. British humor has own conspicuous national styles and funny weird theory and witty remark is the most popular form to show humor, and most common humorous topic is sex.

    4.3 the Development History and Social Value of American Humor

    In the 17th century, the colonists who is from old continent to New Continent had the tradition that cracking jokes and telling stories in the inns from the following series of list about several pieces of American "first", we


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