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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Linguistic theories of humor Journal of Pragmatics, Wladyslaw Chlopicki.

Linguistic theories of humor. Attardo and Chabanne, , and Attardo, , and to the incongruity-resolution theory of humor prevalent nowadays in cognitive psychology see Forabosco, Is the punch line truly so central in jokes?

Is resolution truly essential in humor? No matter whether the views established in humor studies will undergo revision or not, the new perspective outlined in Nor- rick's Conversational Joking will certainly contribute to the overall advancement of humor research.

References Attardo, Salvatore, Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Attardo, Salvatore and Jean-Charles Chabanne, Jokes as a text type.

Humor 5: Forabosco, Giovannantonio, Cognitive aspects of the humor process: The concept of incongruity. Jefferson, Gail, On the organization of laughter in talk about troubles. In: J. Atkinson and J. Heritage, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress. Schegloff, Emanuel A. Some sources of misunderstanding in talk-in-interaction. Linguistics Salvatore Attardo, Linguistic theories of humor.

Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, DM Mickiewicza 9, PL Krak6w, Poland. This is a truly remarkable book and a signal that the burgeoning field of humor research has entered a new phase of development. Attardo's aims in the book were manifold and ambitious, and, what is significant, he has managed to live up to his promises.

He has provided a critical survey of most of the available scholarship on linguistics of humor; he has made some progress in areas where not much research has been done so far; he has indicated where new research has already been started and where it is still needed. What is striking is Attardo's synthetic perspective on the state of the art in humor research. This is meant to be and indeed is the first textbook on the linguistics of linguistics of humor, which is made clear by its layout: each chapter is divided into short and clearly numbered sections and subsections, and provided with mid- and end-chapter summaries and evaluations.

The division is carried out so meticulously that some information is repeated and some subsections are introduced mainly to declare that the question is dealt with elsewhere or is beyond the scope of the book. Apart from that, the arrangement of material roughly resembles that of a textbook on linguistics deliberately so , which usually starts from phonology and morphology and only then passes to semantics and pragmatics.

Chapter 1 contains a survey of the literature and is exceptional in the care that the author takes to be explicit about the important reason for which he felt it necessary to write it and the book itself, as the survey of available scholarship is not confined to chapter 1 : " This leads to duplication of effort, both on the part of those who repeat observations that have already been made and by those who have to read redundant texts.

A rep- resentative survey may help to cure this particular ill. The majority of chapter 1, however, is devoted to the Greeks, the Romans and the Renaissance mainly Italian scholars who wrote about humor.

Attardo pays special attention to the scholars who made a contribution and have been forgotten, e. Chapter 2 brings the discussion of European structural linguistics, with particular attention to the works of Greimas and the consecutive variants of his concept of iso- topy.

After a very detailed discussion, Attardo supports the Greimas, variant, which treated isotopy as a repetition of semes, and considers it potentially useful in the study of text coherence and text topics. He also stresses that Greimas has unintentionally initiated an important humor research tradition in Europe, which Attardo calls the Isotopy-Disjunction Model IDM tradition. It consists, for exam- ple, in dividing jokes into three narrative functions parts : the first introduces the situation and characters, the second creates the expectation of a resolution and often contains an ambiguous word the connector , and the third the only one which occurs in jokes, but not in other narratives, necessarily appearing at the end of the joke text is responsible for the humor of the joke and contains a word or phrase which brings out the hidden isotopy the disjunctor.

In chapters 3 and 4 puns and their resolutions are discussed. Attardo criticises the centuries-old puns research tradition, which did not usually go very far beyond tax- onomies, and expresses support for contemporary research on phonemic distance notably Sobkowiak's study of paronomasic puns , which is more powerful in terms of humor theory and able to determine e.

He concludes that: "if two homonymic strings are encountered, the Cratilistic [sic] attitude of the speakers reduces them to the same meaning The speakers are aware of the unreality of this equation, and it is done in the same playful, make-believe spirit of jokes" p.

This discussion is interesting and highly compatible with the research into iconicity, which is fashionable in cognitive linguistics nowadays, although one cannot really see an appropriate place for this line of argument at least in its present form within the framework of the whole book. In chapter 5, Attardo discusses bisociation theories as well as some stylistic and textual theories, advanced particularly by Italian and German scholars. These semi- otic theories of humor are semantic in spirit, and, although less formalized than strictly linguistic theories, show findings remarkably similar to those of linguistics.

Their advantage, in Attardo's view, is the global point of view, which, when adopted, can allow linguistics to encompass, e. This view, however, just as many other insights of the book, is not taken up in detail and is only a pointer towards future research. Chapter 6 constitutes the theoretical core of the book, since the script theory developed by Raskin is considered by Attardo and rightly so "the first and only formal, full-fledged application of a coherent theory of semantics to humor Apart from the detailed pre- sentation of the theory, Attardo attempts to classify the surprisingly large number of follow-up, application studies inspired by the script theory.

The studies apply the theory e. The most impor- tant of the latter is the General Theory of Verbal Humor, which examines joke sim- ilarity not only in terms of the opposition of scripts, but also in terms of five other parameters logical mechanisms, situation, target, narrative strategy and language; discussed in detail in Attardo and Raskin Chapters 7 and 8 explore the possibility of linguistic research of texts other than jokes.

In chapter 7, Attardo probes into register-based humor and, having discussed various possible criteria for the definition of register subject matter, linguistic fea- tures, social roles or fields of discourse and pointed out the lack of discrete bound- aries between registers and subregisters, he claims that it is not easy to define regis- ter using classical categorization.

He claims that "clustering of registers around prototypical features will leave 'empty' spaces around them, which are regions of linguistic use that cannot easily be characterized in terms of registers" pp. What is important here is that register humor is 'weakly acti- vated' and thus does not prevent the serious message from getting through.

To explain the idea better, Attardo gives an example: "Suppose that a friend's huge Doberman is growling at me. By saying 'Could you call back your dog- gie? Here Attardo takes up the analy- sis of literary texts, making use of the spreading-activation model; he is quick to point out, however, that the analysis is not equivalent to literary criticism, although the two approaches may partly overlap.

First, one of E. Poe's stories is analyzed and taken to be a typical example of an elaborate joke with the surprising punchline and one main script opposition. What differentiates it from a joke is primarily the multilayered structure, which the spreading activation model seems to be able to handle more directly than script theory. The humor in the next two passages from T. Finally, the last text the m e n u - p r o p o s presents a problem for any traditional linguistic analysis, and less of a problem for the 'weak activation' model, since there is little internal consistency in the text which relies mainly on associations.

Thus the definition proposed by Attardo indeed seems to be able to gain new ground, although naturally a lot more research is needed to formalize and give further support to his hypothesis. Chapter 9 is devoted to an account of the cooperative nature of humor. The posi- tion Attardo takes here seems fairly complex.

On the one hand, he rejects the claim that humorous texts simply exploit or flout the maxims of cooperation and insists that the maxims are violated here. He also rejects, as unable to account for the data, the position that humor can be treated as the 'mention' of previously heard utter- ences. On the other hand, he acknowledges that humor is cooperative behavior and that the maxims are violated only at the first stage; after all, humor can convey infor- mation cf.

Zhao, and serve various communicative purposes. There is no clear conclusion to this chapter: Attardo only acknowledges different 'weights' of individual maxims maxims of quantity and relevance are taken to be more signifi- cant and stresses a need for the revision of Raskin's notion of the BF bona-fide , informative mode, which would reconcile it with a postulated hierarchy of different cooperative principles. In chapter 10, on humor in context, he comes back to these issues, however. Furthermore, since the factual information con- veyed by humor is mainly to be found in its presuppositional basis that's why it is called here a secondary social function, in contrast to primary functions of humor, such as social management or 'decommitment' , Attardo suggests that the BF and NBF modes should be placed "on a continuum on which the hearer and the speaker negotiate the level of factual information conveyed by the humorous text on the basis of contextual evidence" p.

In his view, the importance of conversation analysis for linguistics consists precisely in its ability to test this claim. Overall, the significance of the book cannot be overestimated. Attardo has made an outstanding contribution to linguistic research on humor, both due to the clarity and orderliness of his discussion of previous approaches, as well as to the originality of his postulates; I am quite certain the book will soon become a classic textbook on the subject.

The only major criticism of the book I feel compelled to offer concerns the bibliographical apparatus and the indexing system. There are over 20 parenthet- ical references in the text to works which have not been included in the bibliography, and a further 20 have been quoted apparently incorrectly, which makes locating them in the bibliography fairly difficult.

Apart from that, the bibliography is truly comprehensive over items and includes over a hundred sources not discussed in the book. The index of names is deficient in that it does not cover all the names, and those which it does include are not always fully indexed. More annoyingly, in over 10 places the author's editor's? I have heard, however, that the author is going to make all the missing information available on the Internet, which could be helpful to those among us who have access to the system.

These minor deficiencies obviously cannot overshadow the overall achievement of Linguistic theories of humor. I recommend the book without reservation to any- one interested in humor research.

References Attardo, Salvatore and Victor Raskin, Script theory revis it ed: Joke similarity and joke represen- tation model. Humor 4: Greimas, Algirdas Julien, Du sens.


Linguistic Theories of Humor (Humor Research, No. 1)






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