I’ve been showing my kids clips of classic Sesame Street, particularly the yip yip aliens. After class last Wednesday in which we talked about how meaning is formed in signs, I realized that the yip yips were a great example of some of the concepts discussed in class.
A paradigm is a set in which the individual units in the set have commonalities, but each is different from the other. Metaphor is used to shift the characteristics of one object onto another. In the clip below the yip yip aliens assume the object in front of them is an Earth person and then check their book for verification. Based on the paradigm of Earth person , which includes a tall stature, a face, and hands, the yip yips conclude that the object is an Earth person. The paradigm is shifted by substituting a different meaning for face and hands. Westerners all understand that an analog clock’s face and hands are different from human face and hands, but people who have never seen an analog clock might not use those metaphors to describe the arrows that turn around on a circle of numbers.
One of the interesting aspects of this clip is it was intended for an audience average age of 4 and the goal of the sketch is to teach kids about clocks as the beginning of telling time. No mention had to be made that this wasn’t actually a human face or human hands. Kids seem to have an innate understanding of body parts and by age 4 have begun to pick up on the concept of metaphor.
Watching this clip really illustrated to me that personal experience lends itself to meaning and tweaking the meaning leads to humor. I also like the yip yips because watching a creature hide behind its lower lip is just plain funny.