Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eye-umlauts

Savage Chickens never seems to fail to give me a laugh. This one especially had me chuckling...


The reason I liked this one so much is that it plays on a common convention where certain symbols (like hearts) replace the eyes of a character. I've likened this type of substitution to a kind of morphological change in words when a word changes in meaning through an internal change of the sounds. For example, to make the past tense of jump we add -ed to make jumped. But, to make the past tense of run we change the sound of the vowel to make ran. This internal change is called "umlaut."

In a sense, substituting a sign for the eyes or pupils of a character is similar to umlaut, since it makes an internal change in the face of a character to change its meaning. This creates a whole class of "eye-umlauts" that include hearts, stars, dollar signs (or any money signs), spirals, X's, and others. Indeed, we could even make new eye-umlauts too, such as using "+" plus signs in the eyes to insinuate someone is lying (for instance).

In this way, the morphology of images uses a similar strategy as the construction of words in language.

3 comments:

Simud said...

Interesting analysis. I've likened the joke more to a pun, where the first meaning conveyed by a word is proved wrong as we get to the end of the message. This is why I think I'd treat the hearts more like concepts or words qualifying the subject of the message (in this case the chicken), rather than an umlaut. We could even have those hearts on the chicken's forehead, or round his head, and the meaning conveyed would be the same (though the pun wouldn't work that way).

Neil Cohn said...

Thanks for the comment! I think you're right about hearts having that flexibility, but that's because they have a fairly fixed, symbolic meaning. I'm going to post another Savage Chickens related to this soon, but...

Think about doing this with stars. Stars change meaning depending on if they're placed in the eyes (desiring fame) or over the head (pain).

I think your likening THIS joke to a pun is right on. But the pun only works if you know convention of the eye-umlaut to begin with, right?

Simud said...

You're right. The example of the stars drives it home. Thanks!