A pun is often considered the lowest form of wit. Sometimes, we might find ourselves shaking our heads a little and laughing at how ridiculous a punnster is. But we never really put an end to the punning and we do our fair share of it, to be sure. Puns are word plays, inevitable results of lingual interactions that even Shakespeare had artfully mastered.
The usage of puns can promote critical and creative thinking, too. They can expand our understanding of certain words and can also become tools for learning. But, sometimes, puns can cause issues in understanding. On Nov. 28, the Guardian reported that in China, this has become such a concern that the need for pun control has come to light and has been addressed. Officials over the matter don’t consider punning a funny thing at all.
In fact, China’s “broadcast and print watchdog” has made moves to outright ban the usage of puns and idioms in print and broadcast media. The reasoning being that punning “breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese” which makes the promotion of cultural heritage more difficult and misleads those who absorb the media, especially children. Officials take the possibility of such imaginable misunderstandings so seriously that they consider puns and idioms risks enough to cause “cultural and linguistic chaos.”
The Chinese language has many words that sound alike, which makes punning more than feasible. The culture is packed with puns as the result of its homophones. This is not just in the media but in everyday speech. Still, officials are very adamant about nixing this kind of wordplay from their media communications. The State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television reportedly said that “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.” Not only that, it has become two clicks short of a requirement for media makers to adhere strictly to the standardized spelling and usage of the Chinese language: What a word or phrase says is what a word or phrase should mean.
Many are saying that this is absolute crazy talk. Wordplay is an inherent feature of the Chinese language (and really, of language, period). Idioms carry so much cultural significance in culture because they contain within them cultural and historical significances that are part of speakers’ lives. Idioms and puns are intertwined with customs and social mores.
David Moser, the director of CET academic programs at Beijing Capital Normal University told the press that moves towards nixing puns and idioms in media may come from a small group of people “who are conservative, humourless, priggish and arbitrarily purist.” He also states that this move could be a preemptive one which will stifle (in the name of “linguistic purity”) “the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies.”
This “cute language” has become necessary if any discussion is to be had at all about politics and leadership figures in China. Such talk is something that the government would like to stave off, however, whether it’s puns or other forms of communication. The Guardian wrote that “Internet users have been particularly inventive in finding alternative ways to discuss subjects or people whose names have been blocked by censors.” China, for a long time, has been blocking efforts in discussions such as those mentioned above. It’s obviously dangerous ground and reason for Chinese government to take such action. One has to wonder, what’s next?