The Language of Humor

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  • Topic: Comedy, Humour, Theories of humor
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THE LANGUAGE OF HUMOUR – THE HUMOUR OF LANGUAGE
IRONY AND HUMOUR IN INTERPERSONAL VERBAL ENCOUNTERS
Zsuzsanna Ajtony
Abstract: In this paper the problem of verbal humour and irony is approached from a sociolinguistic perspective, starting from the Semantic Script Theory of Humour (Raskin 1985), which establishes that all humour involves a semantic-pragmatic process. Humour should be understood and appreciated shared sociocultural knowledge; a common code should exist between speaker and recipient. As humour is subjective, this is especially true for the humour of nations, the root of which is hiding in national or ethnic stereotypes, in close relationship with ethnic and national prejudices. All these theoretical issues are put into practice in the analysis of G.B. Shaw’s humour as displayed in Caesar and Cleopatra. Concentrating on the target as one of the knowledge resources, it is concluded that choice of the target person has an effect on the identity of the person uttering the humorous remark.

Keywords: general theory of verbal humour, script opposition, target; solidarity, in-group identity

1. Introduction
The central topic of this paper is to apply the General Theory of Verbal Humour (GTVH) to conversational narratives and to relate it to socio-pragmatic approaches. Script oppositions are considered as the necessary preconditions of humour while its perlocutionary effect (i.e. eliciting laughter) as the characteristic feature of the humorous text. Although one of the most frequent social functions of humour is exactly the construction of solidarity and in-group identity, relatively little sociolinguistic research has been conducted in this respect. Therefore, one of the particular aims of this paper is to illustrate how can / does humour become a flexible discourse strategy in constructing certain aspects of social identities, focusing on the TARGET, as one of the knowledge resources of the general theory of verbal humour. Research of humour is a very serious and complex issue. In order to understand the simplest joke, one needs to be conscious of several background information, social competencies and certain intellectual operations need to be executed. Although nothing extinguishes humour as fast as the theory about it, it can still be a challenge to try to explicate it. Similar to the power of speech, the skill to calculate, the ability to produce tools or the thumb able to grasp, humour is also a feature characteristic to humans. It is a defensive or offensive instrument necessary in life, a method for raising different issues and for criticising, a way of expiation and conciliation. Humour has several forms of manifestations (both verbal and non-verbal), among which mention can be made of witty remarks, puns, slogans, captions, hints and parody, irony, satire, graffiti or a typically English “genre”, the so-called “limerick” (a five-line absurd poem rhyming aabba), but also of other humorous elements, such as jumbled spelling, “back-talking” rhyme or foreign or strange accent. The corpus of my research is the text of G.B. Shaw’s plays where I analyse the linguistic manifestations of ethnic identity, specifically the verbal means of expressing ethnic humour. In this paper, first I give a brief summary of a linguistic theory of humour based on script oppositions, then through examples I would like to show the presence of verbal humour and irony in one of Shaw’s plays, Caesar and Cleopatra, highlighting the target of these humorous utterances, as – in my intuition – the person who the speaker selects to be the target of his / her humour, in the same time qualifies the speakers themselves, the option will

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become part of the speakers’ identity. In this way a clearer image of the speaker can be formulated, based on his / her humorous utterances.
2. Theoretical background
Humour is a very serious form of communication. Exploring the many-layered semantic structure of a...
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