ISHS Conference Utrecht, Netherlands, 711 July 2014, http://ishs2014utrecht.nl/
Proposal for a workshop “Humorous intent and participation structure Linguistic and philosophical perspectives”
Format: presentations + discussion
Even though some forms of humour can be accidental, humour is normally the outcome of a strategy on the part of the speaker. In the imperfect world in which we live, such a strategy always risks failure and then the message may be assessed as inappropriate, uninteresting or even offensive instead of as amusing. What can be said about humorous intent in terms of the strategy or the planning of discourse on the one hand and the mutual development of it on the other?
Intent, intentions and intentionality are difficult concepts with different interpretations in philosophy, linguistics and folk psychology. Haugh (2008) points out that with regard to communication, intent can be seen in a number of ways. Firstly, it can be studied from a purely philosophical perspective, explaining the establishment of meaning. Secondly, it can be approached from a cognitivephilosophical perspective, as a resource in the planning of a speaker’s utterances. These a priori intentions are seen in terms of the effects speakers want to achieve for themselves, either from an individual position (I intentions) or from the position of the individual as a group member (weintentions). In planning humorous discourse, this means that the speaker must at least make sure that the message is delivered in such a form that its humorous potential is detectable by the recipients. Thirdly, the sociocultural interactional perspective is aimed more at researching the process of achieving mutual understanding, and intentions are regarded as the outcome of online negotiations between the interactants within the framework of a number of sociocultural constraints. While interacting, speaker and recipient must come to a shared interpretation of a story as humorous. Apart from negotiating meaning, the establishment of humorous intent may also involve an evaluation of the speaker as well as a number of other context factors (De Jongste 2013).
It seems clear that however we define humorous intent, there must be an agreement between the comedian and her or his audience that the message is jocular. One of the reasons why humorous intent seems to have been somewhat neglected in humour research may be the fact that many studies take this agreement for granted and treat the humorous nature of the examples presented (typically jokes) as given. It may be argued, however, that anyone reading a study on humour use has already agreed to accept the examples given as humorous, so that such studies set off after the authors and their audience have agreed to define the jokes presented as genuinely humorous, regardless of the context in which they are delivered. At the same time, humour researchers make disclaimers that the reader need not perceive their examples as funny at all.
Incongruity is often seen as the defining characteristic of humour and so the mutual construction of one or more aspects of the communication as incongruous can be expected to be an important step in the negotiation of humorous intent. In the case of one person telling a joke to another, it is easy to identify who are the participants in this construction process. In the case of television drama or film and other televised discourse, humour communication is more complicated. Essentially, more participants and communicative levels are involved, whilst humour construction and reception are even more complex (cf. Dynel 2011, 2012, 2013; Seewoester 2013). Also, it may be said that incongruity can be situated on various levels of communication involving many different roles, and humour involves metacommunication between the comedian and her or his audience (Brock 2004, 2009).
All in all, these considerations seem to provide enough food for thought to come to an interesting exchange of viewpoints and insights on the nature of humorous intent and the participation structure in various forms of humorous discourse.
II. Some suggested discussion topics:
- How can we define humorous intent? How is it negotiated? What are the conditions for it to come about? What might be the reasons to reject it? What can be said about accountability in connection with humorous messages?
- What forms does the (meta)communication of humour take? Who is involved? Are there various degrees of involvement in this (meta)communication process? What knowledge resources influence this (meta) communication process?
- What levels of communication can be identified and who communicates with whom on which level, whether in media discourse or in everyday interactions?
- What role does incongruity play in negotiating humorous intent? Is the joint construction of an incongruity enough to recognise and acknowledge humorous intent?
- What can be learned from different disciplines to shed light on the negotiation of humorous intent?
- Brock, A. 2004. Blackadder, Monty Python und Red Dwarf: eine linguistische Untersuchung britischer Fernsehkomödien. Tübingen: Stauffenburg.
- Brock, A. 2009. “Humour as a Metacommunicative Process.” JLT 3 (2): 177 – 194.
- Dynel, M. 2011. “I'll be there for you: On participationbased sitcom humour.” Marta Dynel (ed.). The Pragmatics of Humour across Discourse Domains. Pragmatics and Beyond New Series. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 311333. Dynel, M. 2012. “Setting our House in order: The workings of impoliteness in multiparty film discourse.” Journal of Politeness Research 8: 161194.
- Dynel, M. 2013. “Impoliteness as disaffiliative humour in film talk.” Marta Dynel (ed.). Developments in Linguistic Humour Theory. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 105144.
- Haugh, M. 2008. “Intention in pragmatics.” Intercultural pragmatics 5 (2): 99–110.
- de Jongste, H. 2013. “Negotiating humorous intent.“ Marta Dynel (ed.), Developments in Linguistic Humour Theory. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 311333.
- Seewoester, S. 2013. “Giving voice to the studio audience.” Marta Dynel (ed.). Developments in Linguistic Humour Theory. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 145–178.