Publication details [#63788]

Chrzanowska-Kluczewska, Elzbieta. 2017. Humorous nonsense and multimodality in British and American children’s poetry. The European Journal of Humour Research 5 (3) : 25–42.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Cracow Tertium Society for the Promotion of Language Studies


Nonsense and humour are two cognitive and linguistic phenomena that oft overlay. This paper centers on chosen instances of humorous nonsense poetry, targeted at English-speaking children, which includes verbal and visual expression modes. Formal sources of nonsense-creation in natural language can be divers, among others semantic anomaly, syntactic ill-formedness and structural ambiguity, phonetic and graphological experimentation. The reciprocity of nonsense with the text visuality in children's poetry presumes three distinct forms: 1) visual poems, 2) multimodal texts, where illustrations, oft absurd and comic in themselves, bolster the verbal text, and 3) texts based on the phonetic play. Examples will be drawn from the classics of the Anglophone children's poetry: Mother Goose, the Victorian classics L. Carroll and E. Lear, 20th-c. British and American poets - L. Hughes, e.e. cummings, T. Hughes, J. Agard, as well as the Polish-British pair W. Graniczewski and R. Shindler. In all the poems to be assayed multimodality has a great role to play in the foundation and reinforcing of the effect of humorous bisociation/inanity. A set intertwisting of the phonetic, semantic and visual layers in such texts gets an additional defiance for their translators. The theoretical keystone for these considerations stays H. Bergson's study Laughter (1900/2008), which dextrously unites the Superiority, the Incongruity and the Release Theory of Modern Humour Studies. Bergson justly relates the sources and effects of the nonsensical and the comic to the concept of game/play and to the idea of dream-like phantasm they generate.