What Is the Role of 'Language Play' in Literature ?

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It will be helpful to first examine what is understood by the term "language play". Used experimentally, language is inextricably connected to play. It is intrinsically symbolic, adventurous, informative, and dynamic. As Marian Whitehead writes,

"Language and play share several characteristics: both use symbols to stand for a range of ideas, feelings and experiences; both are reflections of human thinking and also creators of new thoughts; both are part of our genetic make-up."

Terry Campbell identifies two major classifications of language play: playing with meaning and playing with sound. When teaching children, for example, literature that "plays with sounds" might well be very suitable. Not only do children delight in their perception that silly, babbling, nonsense sounds provide a sudden, surprising license to be childish and experimental, they also experience happy astonishment at their first encounter of a valid form of literature which is nevertheless not trying to be overtly didactic. Assumptions about the purpose of literature must be present in children's minds from a very early age indeed, and books designed for the very young bear the responsibility of changing their minds about reading and writing from the outset. Naturally there is a didacticism about all literature for children, but perhaps nursery rhymes and nonsense poems, limericks, etc, provide a unique opportunity to learn things in an enjoyable way: a way easily facilitated by the young child's mind already so keen to mimic and repeat and invent extraordinary sounds at every opportunity.

Outside of children's literature, language play is rife- for example in the media, wherever a writer aims to make some point memorable or pithy. We find examples of language play in the alliteration of a headline, in the rhymes and jingles of advertisements and radio shows, in pop songs, slogans, magazine headers and TV presenters' catchphrases. In short, whenever someone is trying to sell us...
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